‘What an unbelievable, crazy development’
Dumbfounding and disturbing.
Several lawmakers on Friday were appalled at the decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to include alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in its witness protection program (WPP), a step closer to making her a state witness.
“What an unbelievable, crazy development,” said Senate President Koko Pimentel.
“Do some people in the DOJ really believe that Janet Lim-Napoles is qualified to be a state witness in the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam, which she herself invented, organized and perpetuated?” the Senate leader said in a text message to reporters.
Napoles was admitted provisionally into the WPP on Feb. 27 but the DOJ’s move was disclosed only on Friday.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II clarified on Friday that she was still not a state witness as prosecutors were still assessing a confidential affidavit she had submitted.
Being covered by the WPP would allow her transfer to a more secure and comfortable accommodation from her Bureau of Jail Management and Penology detention cell in Bicutan where she is being held while on trial.
Napoles is facing five plunder cases along with several other graft and malversation charges in connection with scams involving PDAF and Malampaya funds—the government’s share from the natural gas wells off Palawan that was supposed to be used for victims of two major storms in 2009.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros called the DOJ move a “travesty of justice,” which she said was not surprising under President Duterte.
“After all, this is the same government that used the testimonies of convicted and self-confessed drug lords (who have everything to gain and nothing to lose) to intimidate and unjustly incarcerate one of the leading figures of the political opposition,” she said, referring to Sen. Leila de Lima.
Hontiveros and fellow opposition lawmakers Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano and Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin believe Napoles may now be used by the Duterte administration to go after its enemies.
“The government’s provision of witness protection for Janet Lim-Napoles would now afford her means to just point and put blame on anyone as has been the habit of this administration,” Alejano said.
Sen. JV Ejercito said he was “disturbed and dismayed” by the reports.
“This is a setback in our fight against corruption and the pork barrel system. I am not prepared to accept the idea that Mrs. Napoles is the least guilty in the PDAF scam. Napoles rigged the system in order to enrich herself and others at the expense of the public,” he said.
Review DOJ performance
Ejercito, whose half-brother, former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, is among those charged in the pork barrel scam, urged Mr. Duterte to review the DOJ’s performance.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Napoles’ new status “has no effect on the cases under trial in court.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson tried to calm his fellow lawmakers, saying the Ombudsman, not the DOJ, was prosecuting the PDAF cases, “which means that the DOJ has no control whatsoever over (Napoles’) possible discharge as a state witness.”
He said it would be the court that would decide whether she may be dropped from the case and used as a witness.
“What is interesting in this move of the DOJ is, who Ms Napoles will implicate who have not been investigated and charged yet,” he said.
Villarin said the justice system was being “weaponized” to silence the political opposition by the DOJ under Aguirre.
“After the DOJ prosecutors absolved confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, Peter Co, among others, and after using them against Sen. Leila de Lima, now Aguirre is setting up Napoles as state witness to implicate former officials of the Aquino administration, including incumbent elected officials,” he said.
Some of the whistle-blowers who were key witnesses in the pork barrel racket were alarmed and confused by the DOJ’s decision, their lawyer, Stephen Cascolan, said.
‘Cases may be diluted’
“Where is this leading to?” Cascolan asked. “After looking at the official certification of the DOJ, we only got confused because her (provisional) admission did not mention to which cases she would be used as witness.”
He said there was no need for the DOJ to place her under the WPP since she was already being held in a state facility.
The whistle-blowers were worried that Napoles’ possible testimony would only lead to the dismissal of the pork barrel scam cases, he said.
“The cases may be diluted and their credibility as witnesses would be eroded,” Cascolan said. —WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS
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