Ombudsman has last say on Napoles as witness
It’s the Office of the Ombudsman’s position that should prevail in the issue of whether or not to turn Janet Lim-Napoles into a state witness in the “pork barrel” scam cases, the President’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday.
Panelo’s statement came after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II aired conflicting opinions on what to do with Napoles, who was accused of masterminding a scheme by which lawmakers allegedly pocketed so-called pork barrel funds.
Aguirre had said he was considering turning Napoles into a state witness, arguing that his powers included an “exclusive right” to place a person in the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
But Morales nixed the idea because the prosecution believed Napoles was “one of the alleged principal malefactors” in the pork barrel scam.
“Under the law, its’s the Ombudsman who will prosecute plunder cases. If that’s the opinion of the Ombudsman, then it should prevail,” Panelo told reporters.
As to whether Napoles could still be a state witness in pork barrel cases to be filed in the future, Panelo said this would still depend on the role she played in these new cases.
But the decision would still be the Ombudsman’s.
Panelo surmised that Aguirre just wanted the Ombudsman to consider the alternative idea about Napoles.
“I can see what Secretary Vit wants. He wants to nail the cases, meaning he will do everything to help the Office of the Ombudsman to win the cases against those accused of these plunder cases,” he said.
Napoles’ desire to be state witness apparently stemmed from her wanting to be exonerated or for her liability be mitigated, Panelo said.
If Napoles merely wanted to lower the penalty to be imposed on her to one degree, she could plead guilty, he said.
“In any case, if you enter a plea of guilty, your penalty would go down one degree lower,” he said.
Aguirre on Wednesday said Napoles would only be used as state witness in the possible criminal cases which may arise from her new testimony regarding the corruption scandal.
In any case, he said Napoles’ would-be new deposition would not be used in the pending cases against her and several lawmakers in the Sandiganbayan.
“I am not referring to those (pending) cases (in the Sandiganbayan). Those will not be affected if she would become a state witness,” Aguirre told reporters after meeting with state prosecutors in Batangas City.
“I’m referring to the new cases which may be filed (in connection with the pork barrel scam),” he added.
He said Napoles still had to submit first her affidavit for evaluation, and if qualified, “we have a duty to name her as state witness.”
He again insisted that he has the sole authority to place anybody under the WPP.
“Even if there is no case yet, we can accept anyone to the WPP as long as he or she complies with the requirements set under the law,” he said.
Napoles is a coaccused in the plunder cases filed against former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada for the alleged misuse of pork barrel funds.—WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS
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