President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday night said the “hunt for the truth” would now begin following the surrender of Janet Lim-Napoles.
“She has been taken into custody by the proper authorities, after which she will undergo due process and face the charges filed against her. In place of a manhunt, the real hunt can now resume: The hunt for the truth, which I have pledged to our people, will go wherever—and to whomever—the evidence will lead,” Mr. Aquino said at a dinner hosted by the INQUIRER for visiting officials of Asia News Network.
The President described Wednesday, when Napoles surrendered to him in Malacañang, as “rather eventful.”
“The Inquirer (reporters), together with their counterparts from other media organizations in the country, had to scramble for one of the biggest headlines of the year,” he said.
“Shortly before 10 in the evening, Janet Lim-Napoles, a fugitive wanted for illegal detention and a central figure in a graft and corruption scandal, surrendered to me,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said reports on the surrender of Napoles to the government was an example of the “interplay” between two institutions—the government and the media—“as the media ask us questions about what took place, and we answer, with both sectors accountable to one audience constantly judging our every move: The people.”
Mr. Aquino went on: “This interaction can be complicated and noisy. I can only hope and expect the people we serve know that we are both trying, in our own ways, to arrive at the same place: The truth.”
In a freewheeling interview with Inquirer editors and reporters following his speech, Mr. Aquino denied extending special treatment to Napoles by personally escorting her to Camp Crame.
“It’s to emphasize to everybody (that) it’s important for her to stay alive,” the President said.
Asked why Napoles was not handcuffed before she was taken to Camp Crame, Mr. Aquino cited health reasons—Napoles’ blood pressure was shooting up.
He begged off from commenting on the possibility of Napoles turning state witness, saying he was still waiting for the recommendations of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
The matter would also depend on whether Napoles was the least guilty and the “value of her testimony” in relation to the participation of lawmakers in the pork barrel scam, Mr. Aquino said.
The President told the Inquirer cases against Napoles, president of JLN Group of Companies, would be filed in two to three weeks. One of the charges is plunder, penalized by life imprisonment, officials earlier said.
Napoles, 49, the alleged mastermind of the scheme to channel to fake agencies the allocations of five senators and 23 congressmen from their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), was whisked to the Palace for a 10-minute meeting with President Aquino after her surrender on Wednesday night at Heritage Park, a posh cemetery in Taguig City. Napoles’ mother is buried at Heritage.
“He wants the truth to come out and now we’re closer to the truth, hopefully, with her coming out,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who arranged the surrender to Mr. Aquino of Napoles with her lawyer, Lorna Kapunan. Lacierda said he and Kapunan had worked together for three years in the “Robocop” law office led by the late Sen. Raul Roco.
State witness least guilty
De Lima told reporters that although Napoles appeared to be the “most guilty” in the alleged racket disclosed to the National Bureau of Investigation by at least 10 whistle-blowers composed of her former employees, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was not discounting the possibility that the JLN head would be used as state witness.
Under the law, she said, the state witness should be the least guilty among participants in a crime. “If there is sufficient evidence to pin down the other accused, that means you don’t need the accused to be discharged as a state witness,” she said.
De Lima maintained that for now the “principal” sources of the evidence in the P10-billion pork barrel scam were the accounts made by the whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas that pointed to Napoles “as the most guilty” in the scam.
“She is the one being pinpointed by the whistle-blowers, she was the one giving them instructions to create these bogus nongovernment organizations to be conduits of the pork barrel funds,” she said.
The whistle-blowers said that up to 70 percent of the funds secured from PDAF went to lawmakers who gave to Napoles access to their pork allocations.
If the DOJ eventually files a plunder case, De Lima said Napoles would be considered the “principal by direct participation … a coconspirator.”
Still, De Lima said it would also be best to see whether Napoles was willing to “tell all.”
“It would depend what she would say or what she knows. It’s also different if she knows a lot but she might not say what all these are,” she said.
De Lima said Napoles’ surrender had only strengthened her belief in the testimonies of the whistle-blowers. She said statements from the Napoles camp revealed “inconsistencies.”
She said Napoles’ explanation that she surrendered because she feared for her life only showed that the whistle-blowers were telling the truth.
“Before, she was denying everything. She denied she had NGOs, that she has connections, linkages to senators and lawmakers, and that her source of wealth is her alleged coal business. She has become inconsistent,” De Lima said.
De Lima said the NBI had not monitored any threat against Napoles. “But in the realm of possibility, it’s possible. If it’s true that there are other powerful people involved, it’s possible that the threat would come from them,” she said.
In the Palace briefing, Lacierda said that since revelations of the pork barrel scam broke out “everybody has been crying blood.” He said this was evident in the Million People March at Manila’s Rizal Park on Monday. “Everybody was so outraged.”
“One of the things that they’ve been crying blood for the longest time is Janet Napoles. Now we have secured her and that’s the important thing. We can now move forward,” the presidential spokesperson said.
Lacierda shrugged off insinuations that Napoles was now untouchable after she surrendered to the Chief Executive himself. He also dismissed suggestions that Napoles would be used as ammunition against the political enemies of the administration.
“I’m not aware of what she knows. We didn’t even discuss that. So what is undeniable is that she is wanted and she is a key to finding out the truth and that’s the most important thing,” Lacierda said. With reports from Norman Bordadora and Tarra Quismundo