Bail for Napoles sparks outrage
The Sandiganbayan’s decisions to grant bail to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and two former lawmakers charged with plunder have sparked outrage among lawmakers and lawyers’ groups.
Having investigated the alleged misuse of the congressional Priority Assistance Development Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, senators believed evidence was strong against Napoles, the alleged brains behind the P10-billion scheme to use fake foundations and ghost projects for allocations meant to ease rural poverty.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the blue ribbon committee that investigated the pork barrel scam, said he understood the people’s anger at the court’s decisions to grant bail to Napoles.
“At this juncture, we strongly urge the prosecution to be diligent in presenting sufficient evidence and the court to exercise due caution in its proceedings. After all, this is people’s money, more so public trust, that we are talking about,” Guingona said in a statement.
He noted that the reports of the bail grant to Napoles had ignited public outrage.
“The people’s frustration and fear are understandable: Plunder is a serious criminal offense and an outright affront to the people’s trust,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he was “greatly appalled.” He said the court ruling could create a “domino effect” in Napoles’ other PDAF cases.
“As a lawyer I know that this means the case is weak. We should remember that within and outside the Aquino administration, Napoles has several allies,” said Cayetano, an independent candidate for vice president and running mate of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Cayetano said the ruling should be a “wake-up” call to the Aquino administration because it meant that the case against Napoles indicated an acquittal.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, a vice presidential aspirant, expressed shock. “I did not expect the Sandiganbayan to grant her bail even if she won’t actually get out because she still has other cases in other divisions that will keep her in jail,” he said.
Escudero said the news was doubly sad because while Napoles was granted bail for stealing billions of government funds, the 79 Kidapawan farmer-protesters continued to remain behind bars just for demanding the rice that government had promised them as assistance for the damaging effect of El Niño on the farms.
Senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares said it was disheartening that the farmers were refused bail just because they were not as well-connected as Napoles.
Colmenares said the Napoles bail showed how the Aquino administration was using the courts to favor allies and get back at its opponents.
“This shows the selective justice under the Aquino administration and these cases are being used for the harassment of its critics and opponents,” Colmenares said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the court practically gave Napoles a key to her own jail cell.
“This is a failure of our justice system. Let’s see an end to daang matuwid, where plunderers and the corrupt roam free, and the poor and oppressed are imprisoned,” he said.
Zarate said that in the interest of justice and humanity, the government should drop trumped-up charges filed against Kidapawan farmers, in the aftermath of the April 1 violent police dispersal of the farmers protest that left three of them dead.
“There are now 79 detainees after the Kidapawan Massacre on April 1. We also reiterate the call to free these illegally detained farmers, especially the elderly, pregnant and the minors,” he said.
“It is imperative that our judiciary recognizes the absurdity of the [Philippine National Police’s] claim that they are guilty of the charges filed against them,” Zarate added.
Former Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Vicente Joyas said: “It means evidence against her is weak, that the evidence is not strong enough. And that’s a shame. I was surprised … the danger is that it may affect other cases undergoing trial, because Napoles has the same role in all the cases, that she siphoned government funds to fictitious [nongovernment organizations]. That’s my apprehension. That may be used by Napoles in her other cases.”
Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said: “It will puncture holes in the so-called anticorruption campaign because she is the effigy of brazen impunity embedded and permeating every interstice of government up to the top, where the buck stops.”
“You can’t see the grant of bail to big-time insatiable glutton plunderers like Napoles without gnashing one’s teeth over the denial of the reduction of bail for literally starving Kidapawan elderly and pregnant farmers who are facing ludicrous charges,” Olalia said in a text message.
“That is the monumental tragedy and indictment of our justice system. That is why people gather in the streets and elsewhere dying to fight,” he said.
Former University of the East law dean Amado Valdez called for vigilance so that the anticorruption campaign would continue despite the bail grant’s potential impact on ongoing efforts.
“Temporarily, that will be the perception,” said Valdez, when asked if the bail grant might prove detrimental to clean governance efforts.
“But as long as there are continuing investigations and court actions without discrimination taking advantage of official positions will be minimized. Eternal vigilance must be observed,” he said. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Gil Cabacungan, Tarra Quismundo and Niña P. Calleja