2 witnesses tell court what Drilon has long confirmed
MANILA, Philippines–Two witnesses told the antigraft court on Thursday what has long been confirmed by Senate President Franklin Drilon.
Drilon and spouse Mila had partied several times with Janet Lim-Napoles. In fact, the Drilon couple attended the death anniversary of Napoles’ mother at Heritage Park in 2009.
At the bail hearing of detained Sen. Bong Revilla in the Sandiganbayan First Division, Marina Sula, a clerk who was also president of one of Napoles’ bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs), disclosed that she saw photographs showing the Drilon couple at gatherings of the Napoles family.
Drilon has admitted attending several parties organized by Napoles but vehemently denied involvement in alleged schemes she had arranged channeling allocations from the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into ghost projects and kickbacks.
“We were there principally because of a priest from China. My wife works in the church and we were invited. It was a social gathering,” Drilon said when contacted by phone on Thursday.
“That has come out before,” he said.
Drilon could not recall if Napoles invited them.
But he maintained he had no personal or professional relations with the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
“There’s not a single transaction with her, not a single MOA (memorandum of agreement), not a single et cetera,” he said.
At an earlier press conference, he recalled having turned up in “less than 10” of these gatherings hosted by Napoles.
But in a separate Inquirer interview earlier, Drilon recalled seeing Napoles in at least three social gatherings and wondering what the woman was really into. “I was curious what her business was, why she has a lot of money,” he said.
Drilon noted how Napoles “moved around” during a birthday party for Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, chief of staff of then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, at the Makati Shangri-La hotel in October 2012.
The party was attended by the country’s top politicians, including President Aquino, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and a number of senators and congressmen.
Both Enrile and Reyes were charged with plunder in connection with the Napoles scam, along with many other lawmakers and officials.
Drilon would run across Napoles in social gatherings, though she was not exactly a member of the country’s social or political elite.
Party at a cemetery
In 2009, Drilon and his wife were invited to the death anniversary celebration of Napoles’ mother, Magdalena Luy Lim, at Heritage Park in Taguig City. At that event, Magdalena Luy Lim Foundation was supposedly launched.
Drilon confirmed attending the event with his wife but said it was Msgr. Josefino Ramirez who invited them. He said his wife previously met Ramirez in a group called “Love Your Priest Movement.”
Ramirez, former parish priest of Quiapo, is a known beneficiary of Napoles. He used to run a Napoles property in Magallanes Village as a Catholic retreat house.
Drilon also remembered attending a birthday party for Napoles at Manila Polo Club but seemed at a loss for words when asked why he would be invited to Napoles’ birthday and family gatherings if they were not friends.
But Drilon maintained that he didn’t know Napoles apart from those meetings and that he did not encounter her in the Senate, where the businesswoman was said to have transacted business with at least three senators—Enrile, Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada. Revilla and Estrada are also facing plunder charges.
P65,000 Montblanc pen
Drilon vehemently denied getting a Montblanc pen, said to be worth P65,000 and engraved with his name, from Napoles. One of the whistle-blowers, a former Napoles staff member, told the Inquirer that the pen was a birthday gift for Drilon in 2009.
The pen was purchased from Rustan’s Makati. Napoles’ driver gave it to Drilon’s security for the senator.
Drilon insisted that he did not receive the prized writing instrument, expressing his annoyance with a radio station host who kept insisting he did.
Besides, he said, he was not even a senator in 2009. Drilon completed his Senate term in 2007 and returned to a fresh six-year term in 2011.
After photographs of Drilon and his wife with Napoles at Gigi Reyes’ party went viral on social media, the Senate President regretted having been seen with the most controversial figure in the country to date.
“I didn’t know her business [then]. If I had known it, I would have avoided her,” he said.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Michael Ancheta, Sula, who has turned whistle-blower, said she saw pictures of Drilon partying with Napoles at her JLN Corp. office on the 25th floor of Discovery Center in Pasig City.
In her separate testimony, Mary Arlene Baltazar, Napoles’ former bookkeeper, corroborated the testimonies of Sula and primary whistle-blower Benhur Luy that several other lawmakers frequented social gatherings sponsored by Napoles.
When Ancheta, counsel of Revilla’s former political aide Richard Cambe, asked Sula if Drilon had also transacted with Napoles-owned foundations, she replied in Filipino: “I don’t know, sir.”
“I only saw the pictures of Senator Drilon at the events of [Napoles],” the witness said.
Speaking with the Inquirer after the court proceeding, Ancheta said he elicited the information since Sula presented to the court last week two photographs of his client attending the birthday party of one of Napoles’ employees.
“That only means that having been photographed with Napoles did not mean that a person has committed a crime,” the lawyer argued.
Sula said she also saw Revilla and his wife, Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado, attending family events of the Napoleses. She said the Revilla couple were present at the burial of Napoles’ mother, Magdalena Luy Lim, who died on Feb. 28, 2009.
Kickbacks not discussed
Revilla and his wife, who were sitting just a few steps away from the witness stand, also joined events marking the death anniversary of Napoles’ mother.
Joel Bodegon, Revilla’s lead counsel, asked Sula if she tried to approach the senator in one of the events to inquire if he had indeed received the kickbacks from Napoles which were allegedly collected by Cambe.
“I did not because that was not the proper occasion. The matter about the commissions [Revilla received] was never discussed [openly],” she said.
Sula testified that she personally gave P15 million to Cambe inside a Metrobank branch in Binondo, Manila, sometime in 2010. She said the money was part of Revilla’s “rebates,” or kickbacks from Napoles.
Wearing a light pink long-sleeved polo and dark-colored pants, Revilla looked straight at Sula while the witness was being grilled by the defense lawyers.
Revilla, who marked his 48th birthday with a rare appearance at his bail hearing, said there was nothing wrong with him and his wife attending parties hosted by Napoles.
He said Sula’s testimony was “expected” since she already detailed the occasions where he and his wife had attended with the Napoleses.
“The important thing is that [Sula] admitted that she did not see me receiving money,” Revilla told the Inquirer.
‘I didn’t break any law’
The senator said he never denied knowing Napoles. He said he attended the burial of her mother. He said his and Napoles’ children were classmates.
“The more important question here is if we stole public funds. We never took the people’s money. I did not break any law,” he claimed. “My mere presence in the parties of Napoles does not say anything about the allegations against me.”
Sula also disclosed that she had never met former National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) president Alan Javellana despite the state agency’s awarding of several multimillion-peso projects to her fake NGO, Masaganang Ani para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc. (Mamfi).
She said the memorandum of agreement and other documents pertaining to the projects that Nabcor assigned to Mamfi were already signed by Javellana even before she could sign them.
Upon Napoles’ instruction, she said she would go to Nabcor’s office to sign documents needed for the release of the grants for Mamfi culled from Revilla’s PDAF.
“It was only his assistant who would give me the copy of the memorandum of understanding, which I would then sign. All the documents were already signed by [Javellana],” she said.
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