Testimony on close ties with Ong angers Napoles
MANILA, Philippines—Don’t worry, I got this.
Detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles assured her employees she had set to work falsifying pork barrel documents that they need not worry about running afoul of the law as she had an ace in Gregory Ong, the Sandiganbayan associate justice who was recently dismissed by the Supreme Court for his close ties with Napoles.
This was revealed by whistle-blower Marina Sula who returned to the witness stand yesterday for the continuation of Napoles’ bail hearing in the antigraft court’s Third Division.
Sula, who would sometimes break into a smile during her testimony, said her former employer used to tell her and her coworkers that Ong was Napoles’ “contact” in the 15-member antigraft court.
Napoles, who was seated just a few steps away from the witness stand, got angry as Sula disclosed the alleged closeness of the suspected mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam with the dismissed justice.
“I’m really angry. I could not stand her lies. I really wanted to approach her and pull her hair because she’s a liar,” Napoles told reporters after the hearing.
“I wonder how these people could sleep at night. I pity Justice Ong because his years of hard work were put to waste because of the lies of these people,” she said, her voice rising.
On cross-examination by one of Napoles’ lawyers, Lanee David, Sula told the court how she and other employees forged the signatures of the supposed incorporators of the bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that Napoles had founded.
On orders of Napoles, Sula said they submitted the documents bearing the spurious signatures of several individuals to register several bogus foundations with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The fake NGOs were among the organizations that received billions of pesos from the pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation of several lawmakers.
Asked by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, the Third Division chair, if she was aware then that forging the signatures of other people was against the law, Sula said she knew that their activities were illegal.
It was then that Sula dropped the bombshell that made her former patron reach for her handkerchief to wipe away tears.
“But Madam told us, ‘I can handle this. I’ll take care of you. Look at my Kevlar case. It was dismissed (in the Sandiganbayan),’” Sula quoted Napoles as telling her.
“She said she was acquitted in the case by Justice Ong. That’s the name she would often tell us. She said he was her contact in the Sandiganbayan,” she continued.
Sula was referring to the graft case that the Office of the Ombudsman filed against Napoles and several private individuals and military officials over the allegedly irregular purchase of 500 Kevlar helmets for the Marines.
In 2010, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, then chaired by Ong, acquitted Napoles in the case.
‘Janet Napoles Jr.’
According to Sula, Napoles used the trading company of Evelyn de Leon, who was identified by whistle-blower Mary Arlene Baltazar as “Janet Napoles Jr.,” to avoid conviction.
Napoles, who usually says the rosary while attending her bail hearing, could be heard hurling invectives at the witness.
Associate Justice Samuel Martires asked Sula if she thought Napoles could influence the entire antigraft court.
“Do you believe Napoles could buy all the justices?” Martires asked the witness.
To which Sula replied, “No. But she always mentioned the name of Justice Ong to us.”
Martires, who had been providing comic relief to the otherwise dreary court proceedings, asked Sula in jest: “Would you believe Napoles if she tells you that (I was her) boyfriend in high school?”
During a break in the proceedings, Napoles left her seat and approached her lead lawyer, Stephen David, whispering something to him.
Counsel, wife crying
When the hearing resumed, David told the court that his client wanted to say something.
But Tang did not allow Napoles to speak, telling David that Napoles would have her turn to address the court from the witness stand if lawyers decide to present her as a witness.
“We would just like to manifest that Napoles did not give even a single centavo to Justice Ong even if she dies right now,” David told the court.
At that point, Napoles bowed her head and started to sob. David and his wife Lanee could also be seen crying.
“Maybe you can just have an interview with the media after the hearing,” Martires told Napoles.
In an interview with reporters, Napoles reiterated that she never spoke with Ong to fix the graft case against her.
“God is my only witness. I swear I did not give even a single peso to Justice Ong. If they want to destroy me, they should just go after me. They should not drag other innocent people into this,” she said.
According to Napoles, the case against her had already been dismissed when she met Ong in 2012. She said the justice had asked her to help him gain access to the Black Nazarene image.
In an earlier interview, Napoles said Ong sought her help in contacting Msgr. Josefino Ramirez, the former parish priest of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, commonly known as Quiapo Church, the home of the religious image that many Filipino Catholics regard as miraculous.
“If you have been covering the Sandiganbayan, you know how strict Justice Ong is. Besides, all the three justices (of the Fourth Division) voted to dismiss the case. It was not just the decision of Justice Ong,” she said.
Asked if Ong was her friend, Napoles said: “If he was my friend, then the case against me would not have prospered.”