Palace: Napoles key to ‘pork’ case; DOJ to study state witness status for her
MANILA, Philippines — Janet Lim-Napoles, who personally surrendered to President Benigno Aquino III by nightfall Wednesday, “is key to finding out the truth” about the alleged diversion of lawmakers’ pork barrel to ghost projects, Malacañang said on Thursday.
“Everybody has been crying blood and one of the people—one of the things—that they’ve been crying blood for the longest time is Janet Napoles. Now we have secured her and that’s the important thing. We can now move forward,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda at a briefing in the Palace on Thursday.
Aquino expects the investigation being handled by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to finally move forward with the surfacing of Napoles.
The President promptly accompanied Napoles from Malacañang to Camp Crame on the same night that she turned herself in.
But the Palace is mum on whether the brains behind the P10-billion scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) can qualify to be a state witness against the very lawmakers she had dealt with.
“He (Aquino) wants also the truth to come out and we’re now closer to the truth, hopefully, with her coming out and … hopefully, whatever testimony she has, it will be able to (shed light on the scam),” said Lacierda.
Lacierda took pains to explain the extraordinary circumstances that attended the surrender of Napoles.
No less than the President, after receiving her and her spouse Jaime in Malacañang, motored to Camp Crame to ensure the safety of Napoles as she went through the usual police booking procedures for suspected criminals.
The businesswoman had eluded the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and other law enforcement authorities for 14 days following the issuance of a warrant of arrest by a Makati court for charges of serious illegal detention filed by Benhur Luy, one of whistleblowers on the pork barrel scam.
Lacierda was quick to bely insinuations that Napoles has become untouchable after she surrendered to the Chief Executive himself, ruling out any plan to make her as an ammunition against the political enemies of the administration.
“I don’t even know what the (she knows). Well, I’m not aware of what she knows. We didn’t even discuss that. So what is undeniable is that she is wanted and she is a key to finding out the truth and that’s the most important thing,” said Lacierda.
“We’re all after Ms Napoles. Everybody was so outraged. She has become the—symbol of what we were so angry at (during the anti-pork barrel rally) last Monday. And by bringing her to us, by bringing her and surfacing, and voluntarily surrendering her to the President, now the process of finding the truth can begin in earnest,” said Lacierda.
He described the public uproar over PDAF’s misuse as “a fight against corruption.”
“Those who went to Luneta went there … because they riled at corruption. Here, the arrest of Napoles, is one step forward in further resolving the situation and further finding out the truth.”
It was Lacierda who facilitated the surrender of Napoles, fetching her from a plush cemetery in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, and brought her directly to the Palace for a meeting with Aquino, which lasted for only 10 minutes.
Asked to describe the President’s reaction when he met face-to-face the erstwhile fugitive, Lacierda said:
“Well, number one, the President really views this matter (on PDAF misuse) seriously. There’s no question on that. That’s why I have to raise it before the President. Number two, everybody has been looking for Janet Napoles. In fact, (to prove that) the President views this very seriously … he offered a P10-million bounty. So that shows the gravity of this wanting to find Ms. Napoles.”
“So now that she’s present, now that she has been secured, she has been detained, the case should move forward,” said Lacierda.
He begged off from commenting on the competence of Napoles to turn state witness, and thus be exonerated from any culpability in the pork barrel fiasco that was carried out with the alleged collusion of lawmakers and departments for at least a decade.
“The study will only happen when we know the testimony of Ms Napoles, which has not been given, at this point in time. So we cannot make a judgment as to whether she can be used as a state witness,” said Lacierda.
“And also, by the way, let me just stress that the fact of one becoming a state witness is with the prosecution. It depends now on who will handle the case. If it’s with the Ombudsman, it’s the Ombudsman who will determine whether she can be a state witness. So that is not within our prerogative, it’s within the body that will be prosecuting the case,” he added.
When she left the Palace for Camp Crame, Napoles was protected by police escorts and members of the Presidential Security Group.
Aquino reached Camp Crame ahead of the convoy, perhaps ensuring that the road ahead of Napoles was cleared of any security threats. Such a security blanket is usually reserved for the President and visiting heads of state.
Lacierda, when asked about the propriety of the President personally accompanying a high-profile fugitive to the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP), explained:
“First, let me emphasize that there is a history of Presidents receiving a surrendering fugitive. This is not the first time, and we will list to you the instances where a sitting President has received a fugitive,” he said, adding:
“Number two, given the situation right now, the very controversial situation and the very explosive situation where Ms Napoles finds herself in, being in the center of all this outrage, and considering that there were—according to their camp, there were serious threats on her life—in the words of Attorney (Lorna) Kapunan, there are those who intend to silence her permanently—the only person that they can trust is our President,” Lacierda added.
Thus, Kapunan had asked that her client be surrendered directly to the President, recalled Lacierda, who directly coordinated with Kapunan on when, where and how to go about surrender of Napoles.
“And this being not the first time it has happened, time and again, where a sitting President has received a surrendering fugitive, this is not extraordinary,” said Lacierda.
Besides Aquino, Lacierda pointed out a long list of Presidents from Quezon to Quirino who met fugitives who voluntarily surrendered.
“The Office of the President has been occupied by a number of past Presidents, and I just gave you the list of Presidents who have done so, so does it demean the Office of the President? President Quezon has done it. President (Elpidio) Quirino has done it. Did it demean the office at that point? No. People were very happy that (these fugitives)—they surrendered. And, I think, we should be happy that Ms Napoles has chosen to surrender and that we can now move forward with any cases, any investigation that are pending or are happening right now,” said Lacierda.
Quoting Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Lacierda noted that the public earlier complained about the failure of the NBI to locate and arrest Napoles.
“(V)oluntary surrender … is better than pursuing her—she already surrendered voluntarily. We already got her, (but) the people are still (seemingly) angry at us,” Lacierda said.
He complained that if government officials “don’t do something, we’re damned by some sectors. We do something to protect and to ensure that now the truth can move forward, we’re (still damned).”
“But we will still do the right thing. The President has chosen to do the right thing in this case to ensure that the truth now can move forward,” assured Lacierda.
He said the Aquino administration has been “doing the best to further bring us closer to the truth. That’s the important thing and the President also wanted to make sure, at least we already got her, we can bring her to court.”
The serious illegal detention case lodged against Napoles will now prosper besides the cases to be filed against her in connection with the pork barrel scam, according to Lacierda.
Lacierda claimed that the President’s “intention” in meeting Napoles in the Palace was to “let it (truth) come out,” and, in effect, for the wheels of justice to start grinding.
Lacierda justified his decision to personally fetch Napoles from the Heritage Park in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, and brought her to Malacañang using the same vehicle.
“The only thing that (we) discussed was the request of Attorney Kapunan because of the threat on her life (Napoles). We made sure that her safety is secured. That’s what we talked about. There are questions … whether she would be made a state witness. That was not discussed during the meeting. The only thing that was discussed during that voluntary surrender was the preparations that were done to ensure her safety,” said Lacierda.
Asked about his relations to Kapunan, Lacierda said he had worked for three years with the law firm of the late Senator Raul Roco, the Roco Buñag Kapunan & Migallos, a breakaway group from ACCRA law firm.
That was in the early 1990s, but Lacierda later moved to another law firm.
Told that the threat on Napoles’ life could have been a pretext for a one-on-one meeting between her and the President, Lacierda said the government was caught in a bind, as it were, since it would get flak if something happened to her.
“What would the public say? Isn’t it better that we receive her in person, we make sure that she is safe, and then the process of moving towards the truth will move, will start, isn’t it?” he asked.
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