Can Napoles be forced to tell the truth?
How does the Senate blue ribbon committee threaten Janet Lim-Napoles, alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam—with contempt raps and detention if she’s already under arrest?
A day after her appearance was more or less assured with Senate President Franklin Drilon signing the subpoena for her testimony, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III raised the issue of how to make Napoles tell the truth.
“Good question. What if she lies? What is her punishment which is worse than her present situation?” Pimentel told the Inquirer on how the Senate blue ribbon committee could cite Napoles for contempt given her detention on a charge of serious illegal detention.
Asked how the Senate could compel Napoles to tell the whole truth, Pimentel said, “Man has not yet invented any mechanism which can compel all kinds of people to tell the truth.”
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said it would be better for Napoles to just shut up instead of speaking out and causing confusion in the Senate hearing.
“Will she (Napoles) tell all? Will she be hiding anything? Because if that’s the case, she might as well not speak up anymore, [especially] if her testimony will just obfuscate, mislead, confuse or muddle the scenario of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam cases,” De Lima told reporters.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the blue ribbon panel, said Napoles would be well within her rights if she invoked the constitutional guarantee against self-incrimination.
“That would be per question. Every time you ask a question, she can invoke her right. But it has to be something that can incriminate her. It cannot be like, ‘What is your name’ and then ‘I invoke my right,’” Guingona told reporters.
Asked how the Senate could sanction somebody with contempt when he or she was already detained, Guingona said, “You’re already presupposing that we are citing her for contempt.”
“Let’s not jump the gun there…. ‘(W)e are going to call her and listen to what she is going to say,” Guingona said.
No blanket protection
Napoles cannot invoke her right against self-incrimination as a “blanket protection” against all kinds of questions, according to Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares,
Colmenares contended that the Senate could force Napoles to answer questions posed to her at its Nov. 7 hearing if the questions did not deal with a crime.
He said the Supreme Court had ruled in several instances that the right against self-incrimination had to be invoked for each question, and used as a shield against all queries.
Center of controversy
“Since being in a picture is not a criminal act, she has to answer questions about her picture taken with the President and some senators. She cannot claim the right if the question only deals with facts and who among top government officials she is friendly with and for how long,” Colmenares said in a statement.
Napoles has been at the center of a pork barrel controversy where funds allotted for lawmakers’ pet projects were allegedly diverted to private pockets using her supposed network of fake nongovernment organizations.
The alleged scam was disclosed by Napoles’ former employees, who also alleged that Napoles had gotten hold of P900 million from the Malampaya Fund using a similar scheme.
Three senators—Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile—have been charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman along with Napoles and 34 others in connection with the misuse of some P10 billion in PDAF, or pork barrel, over a 10-year period. Also charged were former members of the House of Representatives.
Principal whistle-blower Benhur Luy testified in the Senate last month that that a lawmaker got 50 percent of the supposed project cost, with Napoles pocketing 40 percent and government conduits receiving 10 percent.
In the plunder complaints it filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, the National Bureau of Investigation said Revilla got kickbacks amounting to P224.5 million; Estrada, P183.8 million; and Enrile, P172.8 million.
Senior staff members of the lawmakers also received kickbacks, according to Luy.
Similar to Arnault case
Pimentel, who topped the bar examinations in 1989, said the one closest to Napoles’ situation was Jean Arnault in 1949. The Senate at the time cited Arnault for contempt after he refused to identify the government officials he supposedly bribed in the course of his business.
The chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, however, said that Arnault wasn’t detained for another case at the time he took the stand as a Senate resource person.
“Arnault was detained only by the Senate hence he was really penalized. Napoles is in a no-lose situation. What to her is the Senate’s deprivation of her liberty. Wala [nothing],” Pimentel said.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, in a separate interview, said Senate detention for Napoles could be quite an improvement from her present quarters in a police facility in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
“That is a very valid question. Others attend [the hearings] because they do not want to be detained in the Senate,” the Senate majority leader told reporters.
“But in the case of Napoles, she might prefer to be detained in the Senate than in another place because there’s air-conditioning. The facilities are better and she might even get a chance to use the computer or a cell phone,” Cayetano said.
He said the committee must come up with ways to encourage Napoles to tell all she knows about the scam she hatched and the lawmakers and government officials involved.
“The threat of being held in contempt does not evoke fear in Ms. Napoles because she’s already charged with plunder. So, that’s why the committee has to be creative to create an atmosphere wherein Ms. Napoles would want to answer,” Cayetano said.
Summon staff, Tuason
If the members of the Senate blue ribbon committed really wanted to get a complete picture of the PDAF scam, they should also summon the staff of the senators said to be involved in the racket, De Lima said.
“I am very interested in Gigi Reyes and Ruby Tuason. Shouldn’t they be called? Let’s see if they were willing to talk or will they also be invoking their right against self-incrimination or their right to remain silent?” De Lima told reporters in an ambush interview.
She was referring to lawyer Lucille Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, former chief of staff of Enrile, and Ruby Chan Tuason, whose principal is unknown.
Aside from Reyes and Tuason, other members of the senatorial staff being investigated for alleged involvement in the PDAF scam include Revilla’s chief political adviser Richard Cambe, Enrile’s deputy chief of staff Jose Antonio Evangelista and Estrada’s deputy chief of staff Pauline Labayen.
De Lima said her office was also preparing a course of action to compel Reyes, Tuason and former Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza and former Technology Resource Center Director General Antonio Ortiz Jr. to show up at the investigation.
“I’m thinking of a remedy to put pressure on them so they’ll show up [at the investigation], so that they will return home. I’m studying intensively the Philippine Passport Act if we can use a proper group to have their passports canceled, even if they still can’t be strictly considered fugitives from justice,” she said.
All four left the country either in August or September.
De Lima, who was again asked by reporters for her reaction to the Senate’s issuance of a subpoena to Napoles, expressed opposition to her being made state witness should she decide to tell senators what she knew about the scam.
“I hope the Senate will not think of giving immunity to Mrs. Napoles because it will affect the proceedings before the Office of the Ombudsman (which is investigating the first batch of PDAF cases filed by the NBI),” she said.—With a report from Leila B. Salaverria
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