To cut costs and ensure full security, Senate President Franklin Drilon on Monday proposed that the arraignment and trial of Janet Lim-Napoles be held at the Philippine National Police antiterrorist training school in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Drilon said the Supreme Court could be asked to allow the branch of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to hold its hearings on serious illegal detention charges against Napoles inside her detention facility in Fort Sto. Domingo.
He said this had been arranged before in the cases of convicts facing other charges at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
The multiple murder trial of 197 people—105 under detention—in the 2009 massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao is being held at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
“You can bring the court to the detention center,” Drilon told the Senate finance committee hearing the proposed 2014 budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
“If we are concerned about security and expense, that is a better arrangement than transporting Napoles back and forth to Makati,” he added.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, however, said the administration could only assess the best security arrangement for Napoles after her arraignment next week.
“It’s not for us to say; we will just follow what the court orders us to do,” Roxas told reporters after the hearing.
Napoles, the alleged brains of the P10-billion pork barrel scam, is detained at the Special Action Force (SAF) training school of the PNP in Fort Sto. Domingo, where former President Joseph Estrada and Moro rebel leader Nur Misuari had previously been detained.
She is facing charges in connection with the alleged illegal detention of her aide and cousin Benhur Luy for three months until he was rescued by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation. Plunder charges are also being prepared against her in connection with the pork barrel racket.
The Makati City RTC ordered her transfer from Makati City Jail to the police camp after jail officials admitted they could not guarantee her safety there. She surrendered to President Aquino on Wednesday night.
Roxas said detaining Napoles inside the police camp would be covered by the operational funds of the PNP, but could not give yet an estimate of the daily costs.
“We’d rather be criticized for doing our job and making sure that she appears alive before the whole process of the law,” he said, responding to criticisms of the government’s perceived VIP treatment of Napoles.
Roxas said the PNP had managed to secure Napoles even if it could not use two of its helicopters on court orders.
“We were able to do it without them. We can live with that,” he said.
Detaining her in the police camp reduced the “security risk,” since she is surrounded by SAF personnel, trainees and their families, Roxas said.
Given Napoles’ knowledge of the racket, and the “big names” involved, Roxas said there are people who want to “silence her permanently.”
“We’re just security guards here,” he said.
‘Better alive than dead’
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Monday shrugged off criticism of Malacañang’s treatment of Napoles, pointing out that her detention was decided by the court. “The government would like to see her alive than dead,” he said. “People are free to criticize the manner of protecting her, but on our side, we are accountable to the people.”
On Monday, RTC Judge Elmo Alameda dismissed the motion for voluntary inhibition by lawyers of Napoles, saying there was no valid reason for him to stay away from the case at this point. He promised to maintain the “cold neutrality of an impartial judge” in hearing the case.
Lawyers of Napoles’ brother Reynald Lim, her coaccused in the illegal detention case, also announced Monday they had filed a motion in the Court of Appeals to stop Alameda from hearing the case, saying he had failed to make an independent evaluation of the existence of probable cause against the siblings.
Perpetuation of testimony
The procedure, called “perpetuation of testimony,” is composed of “deposition” and “discovery” that will ensure the preservation of evidence when the trial begins “even if something happens to the witness,” she said.
The deposition would consist of Napoles’ written testimony that is given in writing outside of the court. The discovery is given if a party to a criminal case requests compulsory disclosure of information that relates to the litigation, she said.
“Any adverse event could prevent Napoles from fully identifying the senators and congressmen with whom she had PDAF transactions. For example, any of the suspects could hire operatives to silence her, or she might inflict physical damage on herself. She might contract a life-threatening ailment,” she said in a statement.
For any of these reasons, the Rules of Court allow her to give her testimony before trial through this procedure, said Santiago, a former trial court judge.
“If Napoles decides to perpetuate her testimony in order to reduce the level of threats to her security, she has to file a verified petition in court,” she said.
The petition could contain the identities of adverse parties, such as the lawmakers who gave pork barrel funds to Napoles-related NGOs, she said.
“It can reasonably be expected that Napoles will name the senators and representatives as expected adverse parties. The rules require her to serve notice at least 20 days before the date of hearing,” she said.—With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Christine O. Avendaño and Niña P. Calleja