Justice Secretary Leila de Lima indicated on Friday that the resolution of the charges and the issuance of a warrant for pork scam whistle-blower Benhur Luy’s arrest were too fast and said that she would ask the prosecutor general to look into the matter.
The prosecutor recommended no bail for Luy.
Luy will remain free despite the issuance of a warrant for his arrest, De Lima said.
The Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) issued a warrant for Luy’s arrest on qualified theft charges, but De Lima said the whistle-blower had been admitted provisionally into the Witness Protection Program (WPP), putting him under government custody.
If the warrant of arrest is served, it will be coursed through the WPP, then the Department of Justice will inform the court that Luy is under government protection, De Lima said.
“He will not be turned over physically. We will not turn him over,” she said.
“We will ask that he remain under the WPP’s protective custody. Usually, the courts agree to such a request,” she added.
Judge Danilo A. Buemio of the Pasig RTC Branch 265 issued the warrant on July 9 following the prosecutor’s resolution of the complaint that Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion pork scam, filed against Luy on June 25.
De Lima said she was surprised at the fast resolution of Napoles’ complaint and the issuance of a warrant of arrest without bail.
“I was surprised that there was already a warrant of arrest. In other words, [the case] has gone through the prosecutor’s office. I’m having that looked into,” De Lima said.
“Actually, I discussed it with the prosecutor general (Claro Arellano). I’m going to ask him to look into the circumstances, because it seems someone… Look, the [resolution] was very fast and suddenly there’s an arrest warrant,” she said.
In a statement, a lawyer for Napoles, Alfredo Villamor, tried to scotch insinuations that the issuance of the warrant on July 9 was hasty and irregular.
“There is nothing anomalous about the warrant of arrest against Mr. Luy due to the qualified theft case against him. It took almost two months before it was resolved by the Pasig prosecutor’s office and more than a week before the RTC issued the warrant of arrest. It is therefore very clear that there is nothing hasty about the case and [the] warrant,” Villamor said.
Another lawyer for Napoles had asked the National Bureau of Investigation to turn over Luy to a regular jail because of the issuance of the warrant of arrest, an NBI source told the Inquirer yesterday.
The source said Napoles’ lawyer, Bruce Rivera, had written to the NBI requesting that Luy be transferred to a regular jail, as the Pasig court had issued a warrant for the witness’ arrest.
Unlikely to happen
But that is now unlikely to happen after Luy’s admission into the WPP.
Luy’s lawyer, Levito Baligod, said the court could not insist on taking custody of the witness.
“My client is a principal witness to a crime that affects public and national interests and he is under WPP custody. The court does not need to insist that he [be held in] an ordinary jail,” Baligod said.
“The trial court can’t insist on taking custody of Luy. The purpose of detaining a suspect is to prevent flight. Since he is under WPP custody, it serves the same purpose,” Baligod said.
Baligod said he had brought a motion for the recall of the warrant because the preliminary investigation had not been completed.
He said the court set a hearing on his motion for July 26.
Napoles accused Luy, a former aide who is also her relative, of taking out P5 million in loans from a savings and loans on her behalf but without her knowledge. She also accused him of pocketing P300,000 that she had asked him to deposit for her in her bank account.
The charges came after Luy’s rescue in March by NBI agents from an apartment owned by Napoles where, according to Luy, she and her brother had locked him up to stop him from striking out on his own using her business strategy.
Luy and five other former employees of JLN Corp. submitted affidavits and documents to the NBI detailing how Napoles allegedly siphoned off P10 billion from lawmakers’ allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel, over the past 10 years.
Five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives have been linked to the scandal and President Aquino has ordered an “exhaustive” investigation of what the NBI has termed the “mother of all scams.”
Napoles has denied any wrongdoing, charging that the whistle-blowers are out to discredit her and ruin her reputation.
Asked why Luy’s protection was only provisional, De Lima replied: “It’s always like that. Provisional coverage [is given] because there will be an evaluation first. After due evaluation, the coverage will be converted into regular.”
De Lima also confirmed that she and WPP officers personally met Luy at the Department of Justice on Thursday for a discussion of the whistle-blower’s request for government protection.
Reporters asked De Lima if another whistle-blower in the scandal, Merlina Suñas, also a former JLN employee, would also be given government protection.
De Lima replied that WPP coverage is voluntary and that Suñas has not asked for protection.
“If the subject does not like to be covered, we can’t do anything,” De Lima said.
“The most that we can do is try to persuade and convince [the witness to come in for protection], especially if we can see based on our assessment that there’s really a high security risk [for the witness],” she said.