Lawmakers question SolGen’s intervention in Napoles case
What’s going on?
Solicitor General Jose Calida’s intervention on behalf of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in the Court of Appeals has puzzled lawmakers.
But not Malacañang, although it has no explanation to offer for Calida’s siding with Napoles, who is appealing her 2015 conviction for illegally detaining her former finance officer, Benhur Luy, for which she is serving a life sentence in the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City.
It was Luy who blew the lid off the racket through which Napoles allegedly siphoned P10 billion off the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund into bogus nongovernment organizations that she owned in connivance with lawmakers.
Napoles is also facing criminal charges as a coaccused in the plunder cases of former Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile involving the pork barrel scam.
Lower court erred?
In a filing with the 13th Division of the appeals court on Wednesday, Calida said the Makati Regional Trial Court erred in convicting Napoles of illegal detention, as the evidence presented during the trial did not support the guilty finding.
Calida said he was not seeking to overturn the lower court’s decision, but only making his opinion known to the appeals court.
He said it was his duty not to allow an “innocent person to go to the gallows.”
Shock and surprise
Calida’s intervention came as a shock for the prosecution and as a surprise, because the court had not ordered the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on Napoles’ appeal.
On Thursday, Sen. Bam Aquino questioned Calida’s wading into the case to rescue Napoles.
“Why did the government need to protect Janet Napoles?” Aquino asked in a statement.
He also asked whether it was proper for the Solicitor General to use taxpayer money “to defend those involved in the biggest case of theft of the people’s money.”
“It is clear there is something wrong in this move and that our justice system [favors] the rich and the influential,” he said.
Aquino also asked whether this was the justice system to which Congress would give the power to reimpose the death penalty.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, an ally of President Duterte, said he, too, wanted an explanation for Calida’s action, but added: “I know this government does not act without a strategy.”
Cayetano, however, said he was not sure whether Calida’s move was part of a government strategy, as he had not yet talked with either the Solicitor General or Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
“If there is no strategy, then this is a bad thing to happen,” he told reporters.
Speaking to reporters in Malacañang on Thursday, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella offered no explanation for Calida’s move, but said President Duterte “trusts” the SolGen’s decision to boost Napoles’ effort to overturn her conviction.
No Du30 hand
Abella quickly dismissed as “speculations” claims that Mr. Duterte’s association with Napoles’ lawyers had to do with Calida’s decision to intervene on the jailed businesswoman’s behalf.
He also pointed out that the illegal detention case against Napoles was separate from the string of graft and plunder cases she was facing in the Sandiganbayan.
Asked if Calida had consulted Mr. Duterte before riding to Napoles’ rescue, Abella said he did not know, but added: “The President trusts his alter ego’s decision.”
But Calida’s view in Napoles’ case “doesn’t change [Mr. Duterte’s] position regarding corruption,” which the President vowed to eradicate during his tenure, Abella said.
Mr. Duterte has appointed Lanee David, one of Napoles’ lawyers, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Customs, which he had described as the most corrupt government agency.
David’s husband, Stephen, who is Napoles’ chief counsel, has been seen at official functions in Malacañang.
Abella said he did not know whether Stephen David had been appointed to some position in the government.
The Davids and two other lawyers for Napoles—Dennis Buenaventura and Bruce Rivera—are graduates of San Beda College, Mr. Duterte’s alma mater.
In the House of Representatives on Thursday, Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque gave assurance that justice would prevail in Napoles’ cases.
“She’s not off the hook and I will really lose it if she is absolved of the cases against her. But while she has not been absolved of the plunder cases yet, let’s not worry because it would be difficult to absolve her given the evidence against her,” Roque said.
He expressed hope that Napoles herself would come clean and disclose all she knew about the pork barrel scam, as “she would really end up in jail anyway.”
Roque also said he would not oppose any “arrangement” with Napoles that would encourage her to tell all about the pork barrel scam.
“All of them, regardless of who they are, should be punished for plunder stemming from what Janet Lim-Napoles did,” he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a statement that he was “gravely appalled” by Calida’s move.
“What the [Solicitor General] did was worrisome. Why is it that of all the cases in the [Office of the Solicitor General], there is a special interest in the Napoles case?” Zarate said.
It is ironic that the government wants to jail peacemakers, referring to the consultants to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in peace talks with the Duterte administration, while freeing people who stole billions of pesos from the people, he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM NIKKO DIZON
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