De Lima: Disclosure of Napoles list up to Senate
MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who divulged within hours of Janet Lim-Napoles’ revelation last month that senators were involved in the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, has stood her ground not to talk any more—unless compelled by the Senate.
“By law and the Constitution, yes, the Senate can compel me to disclose the list, under pain of contempt,” De Lima said in a text message to reporters on Monday amid calls by lawmakers at the resumption of Congress’ session following a Lenten break that she make public the affidavit Napoles gave to her on April 22.
“I will appeal to them to wait for the proper time and give me enough space to discharge my mandated tasks with utmost responsibility,” she said.
Following the five-hour meeting with Napoles at Ospital ng Makati, De Lima announced that the businesswoman had offered to turn state witness in a “tell-all” conversation because she said she had been getting death threats. De Lima said she had her execute and sign an affidavit containing her account of the alleged scam.
Asked during the nationally televised news conference if Napoles had implicated Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, De Lima said, “Yes, absolutely.” The three senators were indicted by the Office of the Ombudsman on April 1 for plunder in connection with the alleged P10-billion scam.
Two days after De Lima’s disclosure, former Sen. Panfilo Lacson told reporters that the Napoles family had given him an unsigned affidavit, about a third of a ream of bond paper thick, giving the names of former and current members of the Senate, enough, he said, to constitute a quorum.
Sandra Cam, the president of the Whistle-blowers Association of the Philippines, claimed she also had a list of senators involved in the alleged diversion of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to ghost projects carried out by dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) controlled by Napoles.
At least one newspaper has published a purported list of 13 senators allegedly involved in the racket involving state funds intended to ease rural poverty.
The night after her meeting with De Lima, the 51-year-old Napoles underwent surgery for a cancerous ovary. She had been confined in the hospital for nearly a month for a procedure medical experts said required treatment for several days.
In a report to the Makati City Regional Trial Court, Dr. Florentina Villanueva, head of the hospital’s obstetrics and gynecological department, said Napoles would be discharged when her blood sugar stabilizes and after she gets clearance from her endoctrinologist.
De Lima said National Bureau of Investigation agents had been visiting Napoles to ask clarificatory questions on the affidavit she gave the Secretary during their meeting last month.
Napoles had been detained at the antiterrorist training camp at Sta. Rosa, Laguna, on charges of serious illegal detention of her former aide, Benhur Luy, who had turned whistle-blower. She had surrendered to President Aquino in August last year, saying she feared for her life.
‘I cannot be pressured’
In her text message to reporters on Monday, De Lima said she preferred that the Senate not use its prerogative to cite in contempt persons invited to legislative inquiries.
She stressed that she wanted to divulge the contents of the list “in due time” and after she had verified the claims of Napoles, who had vehemently claimed in an appearance before the Senate blue ribbon committee last November she knew nothing about the pork barrel scam.
“I already said that I cannot be pressured to release the list at this point. I will do so in due time, i.e., upon completion of the Napoles statement and the vetting process,” De Lima added.
The secretary also refused to comment on claims by Sandra Cam that Senate President Franklin Drilon and the administration Liberal Party were trying to silence her. “Sorry, I don’t intend to react to that,” De Lima said.
She earlier expressed doubts about claims by several people that they, too, have a list of pork barrel scam suspects. De Lima claimed such people might be part of a plot to pressure her to divulge the list she got from Napoles.
The Office of the Ombudsman has announced that there was sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of plunder charges in the Sandiganbayan against Napoles, Enrile, Estrada, Revilla and six other people in connection with the PDAF racket. The senators have denied wrongdoing.
Enrile couldn’t care less
At the resumption of the Senate session on Monday, Enrile said he couldn’t care less about the lists implicating more senators in the racket.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether they have a list or no list. It’s all the same,” Enrile curtly told reporters at Monday’s resumption of the Senate session. He declined to answer other questions on the scam.
“For the truth to come out, they should release it. They have already shown it. Might as well tell the people. The truth should come out,” Revilla told reporters when asked about the De Lima list.
Revilla lamented that while the government had been quick to “persecute” him, Enrile and Estrada, it had been dilly-dallying in releasing the list. “Let’s hope and pray that the truth will come out,” he said.
Estrada offered a different take on the purported incriminating list. “They might be sanitizing it. I do not know why they are keeping it from the public,” he told reporters.
Revilla shrugged off an online petition urging him, Enrile and Estrada to resign. “Let’s wait when we’re judged guilty. From the start, we’ve aired our sentiments, and left everything up to God. Whatever the judgment is, I will accept. But spare us from trial by publicity; have pity on our families,” he said.
Estrada also belittled the petition. “That’s been circulating a long time ago. Those who voted for me were 18 million Filipinos, and I cannot abandon them,” he said. Otherwise, he would wait for the final court ruling.
Courts best venue
Commenting on the online petition, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the courts would still be the best venue to hear the complaint against his colleagues.
He said the Senate ethics committee would have been the appropriate body to tackle the complaint against the three senators, if the Ombudsman did not look into it.
“The easiest way and the fairest way is for the Ombudsman to file the case, and they will be automatically suspended and a warrant of arrest will be issued,” he said.
Cayetano also challenged Napoles to make good her promise to tell everything she knew about the alleged misuse of the Malampaya Fund, in addition to the PDAF scam.
“Why doesn’t she just come here and tell all? I’m a little bit cautious in believing someone who never told us the truth in the past. My advice to her: ‘Just do it,’” he said.
At the same, Cayetano wondered why Napoles had not been detained in a regular jail. “There are powerful people behind her. Who they are, I don’t know,” he said.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III earlier said De Lima should disclose the Napoles list of culprits as soon as possible because not doing so would put everybody in Congress “under suspicion” and it would be “brutally unfair.”
Cayetano and Sen. Francis Escudero also joined calls for the release of the list, citing transparency and accountability.
Osmeña, Cayetano and Escudero also made the same call to Lacson, the presidential assistant on rehabilitation and recovery in typhoon-devastated Eastern Visayas.
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