President Benigno Aquino III said he received Janet Lim-Napoles in Malacañang to accept her surrender and offered to take her to Camp Crame to “impress on everyone” that he wanted her “alive.”
It was a gamble, the President said, explaining that he was aware of how the people felt about the pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Napoles.
But he said he did not want to repeat the mistake he believed he had made in the case of former Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who went into hiding after Mr. Aquino ignored his surrender feelers last year.
Wanted for the forced disappearance in 2006 of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, Palparan has not been found despite the P2-million reward the government is offering for his arrest.
“Part of the decision was Palparan’s case. He insisted that he had to talk to me first before he submitted. I said, ‘Why would you make demands? You have a warrant of arrest that you have to face.’ I refused to meet him. [Had I] met him, I wouldn’t be looking for him now,” Mr. Aquino said.
Grabbing the chance
“In this (Napoles) case, we already have a chance (to get her). So I grabbed it,” he said.
Speaking in an interview with Inquirer editors and reporters on Thursday night after addressing a gathering of Asean newspaper editors hosted by the Inquirer at its main office in Makati City, Mr. Aquino said the government did not ask Napoles to serve as state witness in exchange for security, as critics of his action on Wednesday night implied.
Napoles claimed there was a grave threat to her life, presumably from some people involved in the pork barrel scam.
According to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Napoles’ lawyer Lorna Kapunan told him that the businesswoman wanted to surrender to the President because she trusted him.
The businesswoman allegedly connived with lawmakers to divert P10 billion from their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her bank accounts and their commissions through bogus nongovernment organizations over the last 10 years.
She allegedly used the same trick to siphon off P900 million in Malampaya gas funds into her bank accounts.
If true, the threat to Napoles could be coming from some of the lawmakers or former government officials who amassed ill-gotten wealth through her racket.
Defending his decision to go with the group taking Napoles to police headquarters in Camp Crame on Wednesday night, Mr. Aquino said, “I really wanted to impress on, not only the people I was ordering, but even their subordinates, how serious I was in keeping this person alive so that she could serve the ends of justice.”
“The important thing is that she is now in custody,” the President added.
For good measure, the President himself checked the room at the police headquarters where Napoles would be held for the night.
“The way we look at it, people who are involved who might want to hide their tracks would be one group,” the President said. “There has to be another group that wants to provide an issue that they could exploit as some people would like to exploit the (Million People March against the pork barrel on Monday). There are many quarters, you don’t know. At the end of the day I keep telling everybody I was giving instructions to, if something happens to this person, there is no valid explanation. We will be hard put to explain.”
Closer to truth
Mr. Aquino said Napoles’ becoming a state witness would depend on determination of whether she was the least guilty.
“She has to meet the criteria of not being the most guilty,” the President said.
The same criteria would be applied even if she agreed to cooperate and squeal on the people who had conspired with her to steal state funds, Mr. Aquino said.
“We go back to whether she’s not the most guilty,” he said.
But in every step “anything she says that has value to tie up the whole story” would be evaluated by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and state prosecutors, the President said.
“Definitely she’s a witness. Is she going to be a cooperative witness? That’s the question,” he said.
But whether she tells the truth or lies to investigators and in court, her statements will bring the public “closer to the truth” behind the scam, Mr. Aquino said.
“If she says the truth in its entirety, that will fast-track the process. If [she lies, the truth] will come out in the cross-examination, [and that will nail] her further and get you closer to the truth,” he said.
The National Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into the scam, is expected to bring plunder charges against Napoles and her coconspirators, possibly lawmakers, in two weeks.
Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim disappeared on Aug. 14 after being ordered arrested by a Makati City court for the illegal detention of Benhur Luy, the principal witness in the pork barrel scam.
Mr. Aquino said Lim was also ready to surrender to the police.
The President also dismissed insinuations that Napoles could have contributed to his campaign for Malacañang in 2010.
“I don’t know her. Why would she help?” he said.
Mr. Aquino said the public could check the Liberal Party’s report on campaign contributors in 2010 with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes said on Friday that the commission was checking its records to see if Napoles had given contributions to any politician’s campaign.
“We’re just checking our records, since it’s all over the news now,” Brillantes said.
“She appears to be close to several politicians so we want to know if she contributed to anyone of them or not,” he said.
But the Comelec’s concern, he said, is not where the politicians and the contributors got their funds, but whether the contributions have been reported to the election watchdog.
“Did the candidates or the donors file the necessary documents for donations? Even the contributors should have filed reports,” Brillantes said.
He said politicians who failed to include contributions in their election expenditures report could be held liable for perjury.
There were also claims that Napoles had given the ruling Liberal Party at least P10 million for last May’s midterm elections, but Lacierda denied the party received a contribution from her.
April 17 letter
Mr. Aquino confirmed that Napoles’ April 17 letter denying allegations of her involvement in the pork barrel scam reached his office.
He said that by the time the letter reached his office, he had already been apprised of Luy’s kidnapping and the implication of certain personages in the scam.
He said he directed De Lima to refer the matter to the NBI.
As for Napoles’ alleged ties to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Mr. Aquino admitted that the MOST law firm, of which Ochoa is a founding partner, initially served as lawyers for Napoles in the kidnapping case but eventually withdrew from it.
“The way [Ochoa] explained it to me, she was a walk-in client. When [Ochoa] learned they had accepted her as a client, knowing fully well the issues involved—and he can’t be an active partner—he advised them to withdraw their services,” Mr. Aquino said.
MOST stands for the first letter of the last names of the law firm’s lead partners—Lisa Araneta Marcos (wife of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.), Ochoa, Edward Serapio and Joseph Tan. Ochoa is on leave from the firm.
According to Aquino, Ochoa had handled legal matters for him long before he became part of MOST.
Five senators—Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gregorio Honasan and Marcos—and 23 congressmen have been implicated in the pork barrel scam.
Like Napoles, the legislators have denied any wrongdoing.
Benefit of the doubt
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales declined to comment yesterday on Mr. Aquino’s alleged help for Napoles, but said she was giving Napoles the benefit of the doubt.
“Let’s give Janet Napoles the benefit of the doubt that she only trusted the President because maybe she feared she would be exterminated by those she might hurt along the way and probably she knew the President would see to it that everything would be fair,” Morales said at a forum kicking off the Office of the Ombudsman’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Morales is a member of an interagency council investigating the pork barrel scam. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Michael Lim Ubac
First posted 12:49 am | Saturday, August 31st, 2013