Plunder trial starts for Enrile aide, Napoles
Carrying a pricey Goyard handbag and wearing Tory Burch designer shoes, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes showed up Wednesday at the Sandiganbayan at the start of the trial of one of the criminal cases stemming from the P10-billion pork barrel racket.
The trial of Reyes, 53, former chief of staff of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, got under way more than 18 months after the Office of the Ombudsman filed complaints against dozens of public officials and private individuals in the alleged diversion of the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into ghost projects of fake foundations.
The presence of Reyes at the hearing was prompted by the decision of the antigraft court’s Third Division last week to dismiss her motion seeking a postponement of the proceedings pending the resolution of a petition she had filed in the Supreme Court.
Reyes is standing trial for graft and plunder. She is one of the principals accused, along with Enrile and businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, of allegedly embezzling P172 million in pork barrel allotments of the senator. They have denied wrongdoing.
Enrile, who spent more than a year under hospital arrest at Camp Crame, has secured his temporary liberty following the Supreme Court’s decision to grant him bail on humanitarian grounds last December.
The court also granted his petition for a bill of particulars, allowing the 90-year-old senator to temporarily skip trial until the government prosecutors had given him a list of the specific allegations and evidence linking him to the scam.
Reyes, on the other hand, has been detained at a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facility at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, since July 2014.
Asked how she was, a visibly thinner and pale Reyes just smiled at reporters while she was being led by BJMP personnel out of the courtroom after the two-hour hearing.
Wearing a dark blue blazer over her orange prison garb, Napoles also attended the hearing, which kicked off with the testimony of Marina Sula, the businesswoman’s former employee who has turned whistle-blower.
Sula looked at ease as she retold her participation in the multibillion-peso scam during the direct examination conducted by Assistant State Prosecutor Jennifer Agustin-Se.
Sula said that on orders of Napoles, she formed dubious nongovernment organizations (NGOs) through which Enrile’s PDAF allotments were allegedly funneled.
“We were also ordered by Napoles to supply the names of the incorporators of the NGOs and forge their signatures,” she told the court.
But Napoles, who was seen smiling at times while Sula was testifying, questioned the “special interest” that the court allegedly showed in trying to hasten the resolution of the case.
She was seen approaching Reyes twice after the hearing. At one point, she was heard telling Reyes something about how Sula delivered her testimony.
When the Inquirer asked what she told Reyes, Napoles said: “We were not able to talk.”
“She (Reyes) did not want to talk to me,” Napoles told reporters as her security escorts from the Bureau of Corrections tried to cover her from members of the media.
Speaking through lawyer Stephen David, Napoles, the alleged architect of the systematic raid on the PDAF, the official name for the pork barrel, also assailed the court’s order for her to be present at the hearing.
“We were also surprised (why she was ordered to attend) because when you have a waiver of appearance, you need not appear (before the court). It’s the right of an accused to attend or not to attend (the court proceedings),” David said in an interview.
He said his client was also concerned about her safety, claiming Napoles and her family had been receiving death threats through “calls and letters.”
“The problem with Napoles’ situation is her security. Many people are being inconvenienced. The government is also paying (for her travel) and we don’t want to burden the government with unnecessary expenses. That’s her sentiment,” the lawyer said.
David said it was “surprising” that the court had set the trial of the case twice weekly after it held the hearing of Napoles’ bail petition only once a week.
“Isn’t it strange? The court even allotted special sessions (for this case). If you look at other cases, they are being heard during the regular court hours. What if the (respondents) in other cases also request the court to speed up their trials?” he added.
When told that speeding up the resolution of the case would actually benefit Napoles, David said: “It’s OK. But she was just puzzled why the court looks at this case as something special and why it has to sacrifice (the resolution of) hundreds of cases still pending in the court.”
Besides Enrile, two other opposition senators—Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla—had also been indicted for plunder and multiple counts of graft over the PDAF scam.
The Sandiganbayan First Division had set the pretrial of Revilla’s case on Feb. 4, more than a year after it dismissed his bail plea in December 2014.
The antigraft court’s Fifth Division has yet to start Estrada’s trial, as it threw out his petition for bail only on Jan. 7.
Estrada, who is being held at Camp Crame along with Revilla, has until today to file a motion for reconsideration.
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