5th conviction for Napoles, this time over llocos Sur pork
Count this as her fifth conviction—and the second in just a week.
The Sandiganbayan has again found Janet Lim-Napoles guilty on three counts of graft and three counts of malversation of public funds over the misuse of congressional pork barrel, this time involving allocations for Ilocos Sur province worth P35 million.
Napoles, the so-called brains behind the pork barrel scam that the Inquirer exposed a decade ago, was sentenced to a minimum of 78 years, three months and three days in prison, according to the decision released on Friday by the antigraft court. The maximum sentence imposed was 150 years.
Also found guilty were four other persons who worked for organizations that served as conduits for the funds.
The lawmaker for whose district the funds were allotted—then Ilocos Sur Rep. Salacnib Baterina—was acquitted in the graft and malversation cases, as well as in a separate case of direct bribery involving P3 million.
Napoles’ latest conviction came a week after the same court sentenced her to at least 66 years behind bars for four counts of graft and four counts of malversation of public funds allotted to South Cotabato.
In Friday’s 60-page decision, the Sandiganbayan’s Special Second Division also ordered her to return to the national treasury a total of P35 million or the amount that was “illegally and wrongfully disbursed.”
This includes the P25 million that went to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Kaagapay Magpakailanman Foundation Inc. (KMFI) and P10 million that went to the Philippine Social Development Foundation Inc. (PSDFI).
Like in other previous pork scam cases, money coursed through bogus NGOs put up by Napoles were supposedly spent on livelihood projects for farmers.
She was ordered pay a fine also amounting to P35 million.
Convicted along with Napoles were then KMFI treasurer Godofredo Roque; legislative liaison officers Belina Concepcion and Maria Rosalinda Lacsamana of the Technology Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC); and PSDFI president Evelyn de Leon.
The TLRC was the implementing agency for the projects supposed to be funded by Baterina’s priority development assistance fund (PDAF) in the first district of Ilocos Sur.
Concepcion and Roque were given sentences of at least six years for each count of graft and reclusion perpetua (20 to 40 years) for malversation. They must also return P25 million to the government and pay a P25-million fine.
Lacsamana and De Leon were sentenced to a minimum of six years each for the graft case and reclusion perpetua for malversation. They must return P10 million and pay a fine of P10 million.
Baterina was acquitted of all charges, including a case of direct bribery where another politician, former Pampanga Rep. and Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Zenaida Ducut, was a coaccused.
But the court ordered Baterina to indemnify the government and return the P35 million that was illegally disbursed from his PDAF to Napoles’ “bogus and sham” NGOs—KMFI and PSDFI—in 2007.
KMFI and PSDFI—with given addresses in Quezon City and Taguig City, respectively—were supposed to be the “partners” tapped to implement agriculture livelihood projects in Baterina’s district.
However, eight municipal and city agriculturists from the district denied there were any activity done or delivery of materials made in connection with the projects.
The Sandiganbayan said there was “no evidence to sufficiently prove that Baterina had any participation in the conspiracy to commit the crimes” of graft and malversation.
It gave credence to Baterina’s defense that his signatures on 11 documents—with dates from 2006 to 2007—were forged.
The court also heard the testimony of an expert witness, Leonito Cantollas, about “substantial distinctions” between Baterina’s standard signature and the signatures that appeared on the questionable documents.
“The court, like Cantollas, finds significant deviations in the questioned signatures that obviously, repeatedly consistently appear in the questioned signatures to the point that two patterns in the said signatures may be readily observed,” the court said.
It also noted irregularities in the notarization of the three memorandums of agreement (MOAs) with KMFI and PSDFI, like inconsistencies in the notarial document numbers, page numbers and book numbers, and the lack of any notation that Baterina appeared before the unnamed notary public.
“When taken together with the finding of forgery, these badges of irregularity bolster his (Baterina’s) defense because the due execution of these MOAs where duties and responsibilities of the parties therein may arise becomes questionable to say the least,” the decision said, adding:
“Apart from the testimonies of witnesses and documents proffered as evidence containing his forged signatures, the prosecution had no other means of showing his supposed ‘indispensable participation’ in the anomalous use of the PDAF funds.”
As to the charge that Baterina received P3 million from Napoles, the Sandiganbayan said that aside from the “bare allegations” of whistleblower Benhur Luy, “there is none therein to support or even remotely refer to the agreement and meetings between Napoles and Baterina through Ducut, much less accused Baterina receiving said kickbacks.”
“It was established that Baterina’s signatures in the documents that would have shown that he misused to preselect and endorse KMFI and PSDFI to implement his projects were forged. All things considered, Baterina should be acquitted of direct bribery,” the decision said.
‘Not beyond reproach’
However, the antigraft court said Baterina, as a “veteran congressman,” was “not totally beyond reproach regarding the misuse of his subject PDAF allocations.”
“His claimed inaction or omission to safeguard the proper disbursement and utilization of these funds allowed under individuals to take advantage of such negligence and misappropriate the same,” it said, adding that Baterina “should not have therefore acted deficiently as he had unfortunately done with the subject fund allocations involving such extremely large amount, the wastage of which the government could ill afford.”
The Sandiganbayan stressed that Baterina’s acquittal in the graft cases “does not prevent a judgment from still being rendered against him on the civil aspect of the criminal cases” and that he “should therefore be held civilly liable.”
8 more acquitted
As to Napoles, the Sandiganbayan said there was “no iota of doubt” that she “had absolute control of the NGOs which were utilized as conduits to funnel [public] funds… into private pockets.”
It cited the testimonies of Luy (Napoles’ former personal assistant) and Mary Arlene Joyce Baltazar (former bookkeeper) on her role in the scheme, as well as documents linking her to KMFI and PSDFI.
The decision noted that Napoles transacted with lawmakers for them to choose her NGOs as PDAF “beneficiaries,” then used her contacts in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the TLRC to ensure the release of the funds to the NGOs.
“The scheme would not have been consummated without the indispensable involvement of accused TLRC officials Lacsamana and Concepcion, together with accused private individuals such as Napoles, Roque and De Leon,” it added.
In the same decision, the antigraft court acquitted TLRC’s Dennis Cunanan, Francisco Figura, Marivic Jover and Maurine Dimaranan, and DBM’s Mario Relampagos, Rosario Nunez, Lalaine Paule and Marilou Bare. INQ