Napoles subpoena now up to senators, says Ombudsman Morales
MANILA, Philippines—Some senators are now calling for a vote on whether the Senate should exercise its authority to subpoena Janet Lim-Napoles to its inquiry into the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
After advising the Senate blue ribbon committee against compelling Napoles to testify, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said Monday she was now deferring to the senators’ “collective wisdom” to decide on the matter.
Administration Sen. Ralph Recto, who has a list of questions for Napoles, said it was about time the Senate met as a whole to discuss whether to compel the businesswoman to testify at its hearing.
“Clearly it will be decided by the entire Senate. I’m sure the majority of us want to listen to her testimony if she will say anything or not at all,” he said. “Normally, if there is a conflict, it’s only the Senate as a whole that decides on matters of this nature.”
The matter could be decided in a plenary or in a caucus, he added.
Morales, in a Sept. 27 letter to Senate President Franklin Drilon, said she was standing by her earlier opinion that it wasn’t advisable for Napoles to appear in the Senate inquiry ahead of the hearing on a plunder complaint against her.
But Morales on Monday said she recognized the Senate’s authority.
Supreme in its sphere
“That the Senate is supreme in its own sphere was never meant to be challenged. I thus submit to the collective wisdom of its members,” Morales said in her three-paragraph letter to Drilon.
Drilon, whose office released Morales’ letter, did not reply to calls. When the Inquirer called, his staff said he was in a meeting.
When the blue ribbon committee resumed its inquiry on Tuesday last week, the committee chair, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, castigated Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for not bringing the whistle-blowers. De Lima said their appearance would telegraph the prosecutors’ punches in the plunder complaint against Napoles.
When Guingona issued a subpoena for them for Thursday’s hearing, however, De Lima complied.
For the same hearing, Guingona also forwarded for Drilon’s signature a subpoena for Napoles. But Drilon sought the opinion of the Ombudsman, who opined it wasn’t advisable for Napoles to appear at the inquiry.
Morales asserted that the publicity that would be set off by Napoles’ testimony would affect public interest and prejudice the safety of witnesses and disposition of cases against her.
The National Bureau of Investigation has filed the first set of complaints against Napoles, three senators and 34 others in connection with the scam.
Guingona said Drilon was wrong to seek the Ombudsman’s comment on the matter, insisting that the power of the Senate was supreme.
Guingona later wrote Drilon appealing for a reconsideration of his earlier move. Drilon, whose photograph with Napoles in one of her lavish parties has been widely publicized, referred the matter anew to Morales.
“Ongoing judicial proceedings do not preclude congressional hearings in aid of legislation. This was upheld several times in the Supreme Court. I agree that we should put this to a vote,” said Sen. Grace Poe.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III agreed with the Senate’s authority to compel witnesses to appear, but said it was useless to invite Napoles since her own lawyer said she wouldn’t talk.
Sen. Nancy Binay said she was more inclined to move on and focus the inquiry on other nongovernment organizations used in the scam.
Napoles has been at the center of the pork barrel scam. The businesswoman allegedly ran her racket from a posh hotel in Pasig City, where her staff churned out letter-requests for funds from lawmakers, using fake signatures of local officials and concocting dummy foundations as recipients.