Napoles cleared in one pork barrel case but convicted in another
MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan cleared businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles of 16 counts of graft in connection with the alleged anomalous use of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.’s pork barrel fund, but convicted her on separate charges for the misuse of a former Davao del Sur lawmaker’s discretionary fund.
The decisions, promulgated separately by the anti-graft court’s first and second divisions, were made public at the same time on Monday afternoon.
Napoles is presently serving multiple sentences at the Correctional Institution for Women from two earlier convictions in relation to the pork barrel scam, including life imprisonment imposed by the Sandiganbayan in 2018 for plunder.
In the 223-page decision in the Revilla case, Napoles was found innocent after state prosecutors failed to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt in all 16 charges of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The case accused Revilla of allocating P224 million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) owned by Napoles. He was one of many lawmakers who reportedly allotted their discretionary funds to ghost projects in exchange for kickbacks.
The anomaly came to light when Napoles’ cousin and bagman, Benhur Luy, blew the lid on the scam after he was supposedly detained by the businesswoman. The Inquirer broke the story in 2013, prompting several investigations that led to the indictment of then Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Revilla for plunder and multiple counts of graft.
In clearing Napoles, the First Division mainly argued that the graft charges were the same predicate acts of plunder, for which Napoles and Revilla’s chief of staff, Richard Cambe, had been convicted in 2018.
Both were raffled off to the First Division, which acquitted Revilla of all charges in 2021.
“The acts imputed to the accused charged in the two sets of cases are the same,” according to the decision written by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith A. Econg. “Moreover, the testimonial and documentary evidence adduced by the prosecution were essentially the same in the trial of both cases.”
Citing jurisprudence, the court said it was clear that the legislative intent in passing the anti-plunder law was “to address the procedural nightmare of filing separate charges for the different predicate acts.”
“In other words, the prosecution can incorporate all the predicate acts in one charge of plunder instead of preparing a multitude of information and proving all of them in court,” it noted. “Since the predicate acts were already used as basis [for] the crime of plunder, then the accused could no longer be charged separately for violation of the antigraft law.”
It did note that the prosecution was able to substantiate evidence that Cambe and Napoles received kickbacks in the ghost projects, “similar to the conclusion reached in the plunder case as it involved the same acts charged here.”
But in allowing both cases to prosper in court, the First Division noted that the prosecution “was simply made to present the same evidence against Revilla, Cambe, and Napoles twice, and the latter were made to defend themselves for the same action twice.”
The division also again upheld that Revilla’s endorsement of Napoles’ NGOs was merely recommendatory and that he was “performing acts that were customary at the time.”
Nevertheless, Napoles’ acquittal effectively cleared her in the criminal cases related to the misuse of Revilla’s pork barrel funds.
The alleged mastermind behind the plunder of P10 billion in public funds still faces a slew of cases before the Sandiganbayan, including those related to the discretionary funds of Senator Estrada and now presidential counsel Enrile.
In the decision promulgated by the Second Division, Napoles was found guilty of two counts of graft and two counts of malversation of public funds for conspiring with former Davao del Sur lawmaker Douglas Cagas and several other public officials to implement ghost projects in exchange for kickbacks.
This particular case accused Cagas of unilaterally choosing and endorsing Countrywide Agri and Rural Economic and Development Foundation, one of Napoles’ NGOs, to implement a fake livelihood project worth P8 million.
Also convicted were Technology Resource Center (TRC) officer Belina Concepcion and Napoles’ liaison Mylene Encarnacion for the graft charges, and TRC staff Maria Lacsamana and a certain Evelyn de Leon for the malversation charges.
They were all sentenced to serve six to 10 years in prison for the graft cases, and 12 to 17 years for the malversation charges. They were also asked to return P7.7 million to the government and pay the same amount as fine.
Sought for comment, House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro said she was “appalled” upon learning that the Sandiganbayan has acquitted Napoles in 16 criminal cases.
In a statement, Castro said this was shocking as she hoped that it would not set a precedent for the junking of the other cases against Napoles.
“I hope this acquittal of Napoles won’t be a prelude for the fate of other cases and I hope that this won’t be used to cover up other people involved in the pork barrel scam. If this happens, they might end up pocketing trillions of pesos,” Castro added.