Sandigan denies bail to Janet Lim-Napoles
Finding strong evidence of guilt against her, the Sandiganbayan Third Division has denied bail to accused pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles even as she continues to be tried for plunder and graft.
“Plunder was indeed committed” and “Napoles played a stellar but perfidious role in this grand conspiracy,” the graft court concluded in a 249-page decision issued minutes before the close of business hours on Friday.
The court stressed, however, that its evaluation of the prosecution’s evidence was not a prejudgment of the businesswoman’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, or the guilt of her four coaccused.
Accused with Napoles are Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Enrile’s former chief of staff Gigi Reyes and Napoles’ aides Ronald John Lim and John Raymond de Asis, who are both at large.
They were accused of conspiring to amass P172.8 million in kickbacks from 2004 to 2012 by assigning Enrile’s Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel to bogus nongovernment organizations controlled by Napoles.
“The court stresses that in resolving the petition for bail of Napoles, it is not passing judgment on the culpability or non-culpability of Senator Enrile, Attorney Reyes, Napoles, Lim and de Asis. In a petition for bail, the court is only mandated to determine, whether, based on the pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution, proof of evidence exists or the presumption of guilt is strong,” it said.
“The prosecution has presented clear and strong evidence which leads to a well-guarded dispassionate judgment that the offense of plunder has been committed as charged, that Napoles is guilty thereof and that she will probably be punished capitally if the law were administered at this stage of the proceedings,” the court added.
The unanimous decision was penned by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice and Third Division chairperson Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Sarah Jane Fernandez.
“This is not a prejudgment on the merits of the case. The finding of whether there is guilt beyond reasonable doubt must be done during the trial proper,” said clerk of court Dennis Pulma.
In a separate opinion, Martires said he voted to deny Napoles bail because she was a flight risk.
The court found credible the testimonies of Napoles’ former employees turned whistle-blowers Benhur Luy, Marina Sula and Merlina Suñas who recounted the scam in detail.
The court admitted that “none of the prosecution witnesses testified that Senator Enrile directly received the kickbacks/commissions/rebates from accused Napoles.”
Based on Luy’s records, Napoles repeatedly gave the kickbacks to Enrile’s middlemen including Ruby Tuason, who has turned state witness.
“Although there is no direct evidence that Senator Enrile received the kickbacks/commissions/rebates repeatedly given by Napoles to his middlepersons, there is more than compelling evidence consisting of the testimony of Tuason, that Attorney Reyes received Senator Enrile’s share,” the court said.
The matter of Napoles’ temporary liberty is moot since she is serving a 40-year prison term at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong for the serious illegal detention of Luy.
But the decision nevertheless boosted the prosecution’s case.
Napoles is facing plunder and graft charges in all the five divisions of the Sandiganbayan with several lawmakers, including three incumbent senators and their aides, as coaccused.
The Sandiganbayan First Division had earlier denied her bail petition along with that of Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.
The Fifth Division is still conducting the bail hearings for Napoles and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.
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