Cab ride with ex-Napoles driver spooks PDI teamBy Juliet Labog-Javellana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Someone who knows a lot about alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles is roaming free in the city. But he’s not wanted at all.
In fact, “Manong” is only too happy he had been fired from the Napoles household before the P10-billion scam came to light.
If anyone’s been spooked by him, it’s the Inquirer team that got acquainted with him recently by some odd coincidence.
One night late last month, Inquirer reporter Nancy C. Carvajal and this writer hailed a taxicab at Sofitel Philippine Plaza for another event at another hotel.
Nancy broke the exclusive series about whistle-blowers who detailed how Napoles allegedly stole P10 billion in pork barrel funds of legislators by diverting them to bogus nongovernment organizations in a span of 10 years.
We were discussing (perhaps a little bit loud) her exclusive stories when the cabdriver butted in: “Kilala n’yo po si Ma’am Jenny (Do you know Ma’am Jenny)?”
We were momentarily hushed.
The driver volunteered information that he drove for Napoles from 2004 to 2008. He was fired, he said, for being a lasenggo (drunkard) and for frequently reporting late for work.
He explained that he was late for work at times because a son of Napoles went home very late from nights out. Then he had to report for work early to bring the other children to school.
“Paano naman po ako hindi male-late, eh mahilig gumimik ’yung anak niya. Alas kuwatro ng umaga kami nakakauwi. Kailangan ko din naman matulog (Why wouldn’t I be late, her son liked to stay out so late, we’d often get home at 4 a.m. I also needed to get some sleep),” he said.
He spoke about the members of Napoles’ family and her staff, referring to them by their nicknames, which Nancy confirmed.
Sacks of money
“Sako-sako kami kung mag-withdraw ng pera (We withdrew money from banks in sacks),” he said matter-of-factly.
Where? Nancy asked.
Land Bank of the Philippines, near the Department of Education office in Ultra, Pasig, he said.
Nancy, who knew details from the whistle-blowers’ affidavits and stories that had not even been reported, nodded in confirmation.
The cabdriver said they would withdraw money by the millions whenever it was “Saro time,” referring to the special allotment release order (Saro) from the Department of Budget and Management that clears the way for the release of the pork barrel funds of senators and congressmen.
He said they would take the bags of money to the Napoles residence at Pacific Plaza in Taguig.
He knows a lot
Our journalist’s curiosity now sufficiently piqued, we leaned forward to pick his brains and learn more about Napoles. Taxi drivers, as they say, know a lot.
Though he gave us his full name, he asked that he not be identified because he didn’t want to be involved.
“Lahat po ng nandyan sa TV, kilala ko, mga kasamahan ko sila. Kung hindi ako natanggal, baka napanood ko rin sarili ko (All of those I’ve seen on TV, I know them all. If I had not been fired, I would be seeing myself on TV, too),” he said, laughing.
(After our encounter with Manong, another driver for Napoles came forward and became the 10th witness against her. He narrated how he witnessed the delivery of millions of pesos between 2009 and 2011 to Gigi Reyes, then chief of staff of then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who was among the senators linked to the Napoles scam.)
Manong talked rather fondly of Napoles, saying he was her favorite driver. But Napoles’ husband, he said, fired him after the other staff members started to dislike him.
“Grabe pong magmura ’yan pero pagkatapos naman, OK na. Tapos bibigyan ka ng P1,000 pang merienda (She’d curse me to hell but afterward, it’d be all right. She’d give me P1,000 for snacks),” he said.
Manong dropped us off at the hotel and we soon forgot the incident while attending another event.
At around 11 p.m., I decided to go home, leaving Nancy behind.
As we waited for the hotel valet to get a cab for me, I told Nancy that if another former driver of Napoles turned up, I would be suspicious that she was under surveillance.
Soon a taxi pulled up and the door opened. To my surprise, it was Manong again. But even he laughed with us about the second coincidence.
Given his background, I would have backed out of the trip. It just seemed odd that out of the 28,000 taxicabs in Metro Manila, Inquirer writers would run—not once but twice—into someone who had intimate knowledge of a subject of their headlines. Could Napoles’ tentacles really be everywhere?
But Manong, a jolly guy with close-cropped hair and who must be in his early 50s, put me at ease.
On our way to the Inquirer office in Makati, Manong had more stories to tell about his former employer.
No coal business
Are the Napoleses really into coal trading, as Janet Napoles claimed? I asked.
“Wala pong ganun (They have no coal business),” he said.
I asked what the Napoleses’ real business was.
“’Yon lang po. Maghahanap kami ng mayors, tatanungin kung gusto nila ng project. Tapos gagawan na sila ng sulat at aayusin na ’yon (Only that. We would look for mayors and ask them if they wanted projects. Then letters would be written for them and we’d take care of the rest),” he said.
The Inquirer had reported that letters from at least 44 mayors asking for pork barrel projects from the Department of Agriculture in 2006 were coursed through Napoles.
Benhur’s special talent
He said Benhur Luy, the principal whistle-blower, had a talent for faking signatures.
“Isang tingin lang n’ya, kaya na niyang gayahin ang pirma (One look at a signature and he could copy it),” he said.
Manong rattled off the names of some senators and a congresswoman whom he had seen with Napoles.
Many houses, vehicles
He said the Napoleses had many houses and that at Pacific Plaza alone, they had 12 expensive vehicles.
Manong described the youngest daughter of Napoles, Jeane, as maldita (nasty) with a taste for luxury. It was Jeane who had caused an uproar by flaunting her Porsches, designer clothes, bags and shoes, and upscale penthouses in Los Angeles, and hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities.
He said Jeane would fume at family drivers if they fetched her from school with a less flashy car.
Almost NGO president
Manong said that at some point in his employment, he almost became president of one of Napoles’ many bogus NGOs, a thing he considered fortunate on hindsight.
He said he was paid P14,000 a month but he could borrow up to P60,000 from his employer.
Manong said he once tried to return to Napoles and she agreed to take him back. But Napoles’ husband was still angry with him and told him never to show up there again.
I told Manong it was fortunate they never fell prey to robbers during the times they withdrew millions from the bank.
Manong laughed and said no one would have dared, as their bodyguards themselves looked like goons.
When I told him that Napoles would be our guest at the Inquirer that week, he said to give her his regards.
Later, the whistle-blowers confirmed to Nancy that Manong was indeed Napoles’ former driver.
Their first words to her about Manong was that he was the lasenggo one, exactly as Manong described himself to us.
They showed her a picture of Manong and Nancy recognized him as our cabdriver that night.
Napoles, in an interview with the Inquirer, had denied being involved in the pork barrel scam.
She went into hiding after being ordered arrested for the alleged serious illegal detention of Luy, her second cousin and former aide, who blew the whistle on her racket after being rescued by National Bureau of Investigation agents in March.
But Napoles, who had reportedly claimed that she “controlled the government,” surrendered to President Aquino in Malacañang on Aug. 28. She is now detained in a police training camp in Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna province.