MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman has advised the Senate against inviting Janet Lim-Napoles to the chamber’s ongoing investigation into P10-billion “pork barrel” scam.
“Even as I recognize the Senate’s power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation, I submit that it would not be advisable, at this time for Ms. Napoles to testify before the said committee on what she knows about the alleged scam…” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said in her letter to Senate President Franklin Drilon dated Sept. 23, 2013.
The committee referred to in the letter was the Senate blue ribbon committee, which is investigating the scam.
Among the reasons cited by the Ombudsman for advising Napoles against appearing in the Senate were the filing of plunder and other offenses at her office against some legislators, Napoles and others last September 16.
“There are also other PDAF-related cases involving other government officials in conspiracy with other private persons which are pending investigation by the office,” the letter said.
PDAF is the priority development assistance fund known as “pork barrel” funds.
Summoning Napoles, the Ombudsman said, would not produce at this stage “complete, nay reliable information that legislation intends to affect or change.”
“Parenthetically, even if Ms. Napoles appears before the Senate to testify on what she knows given that she has publicly, consistently professed that she is now involved in any PDAF-related transaction, the objective of the Senate in summoning her to testify would be an exercise in futility,” the Ombudsman said.
Morales also invoked Section 15 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 which authorizes the Ombudsman to “publicize matters covered by its investigation of the matters mentioned in paragraphs 1, 2, 3 and 4 hereof, when circumstances so warrant and with due prudence.”
“Provided, that the Ombudsman under its rules and regulations may determine what cases may not be made public. Provided further, that any publicity issued by the Ombudsman shall be balanced, fair, and true,” the law further said.
The Ombudsman also invoked Section 2 of her own office’s rules of procedure against public disclosure on charges filed before her office.
“It cannot be gainsaid that the publicity that may be spawned by the testimony of Ms. Napoles, would among other things, adversely affect public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of cases against her and/or her co-respondents pending before this office, or unduly expose them to ridicule or public censure,” Morales added in her letter.
Drilon, in a press conference, said he would defer to the opinion of the Ombudsman “out of respect” for her office.
“Let’s not forget that the Ombudsman is not an ordinary government functionary. She is an independent constitutional official and the office of the Ombudsman is a constitutional office. Out of prudence and out of respect for her office, we must defer to the judgment of the Ombudsman as she has acquired primary jurisdiction over the case,” Drilon said.
The Ombudsman, he said, was in the best position to determine whether or not the prosecution of the case against Napoles et al. would be prejudiced by her appearance in the Senate.
“So on that basis, we’re deferring to the judgment and the ruling of the Ombudsman…” he said.
“Prudence dictates and out of respect for her office, I have decided to defer to her (Morales) judgment,” the senator added.
Drilon quickly dismissed any speculation that there was an attempt from the Senate or his office to stop Napoles from spilling the beans against other senators.
Three senators— Juan Ponce-Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. were among those charged with plunder at the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly using their PDAF to dummy non-government organizations linked to Napoles.’
“There is none. There is none,” Drilon said.
Asked if the Senate was reluctant to invite Napoles in the hearing, the Senate leader said: “There is no reluctance. We sought the opinion of the Ombudsman and this is the opinion that (she gave us).”
Meanwhile, Drilon signed a request to subpoena Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and produce principal whistle-blower Benhur Luy, and other witnesses in the scam, when the blue ribbon committee resumes its hearing on Thursday.