De Lima asks senators to clarify immunity talk
MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday called on senators to clarify the reported offers of immunity to suspected pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, who has been invited to attend a hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee scheduled for Nov. 7.
“We should study first the issue of immunity. I’ve been hearing many positions on the matter. We should research as to what kind of immunity the Senate can give,” De Lima told reporters in an ambush interview.
She said she supported the view of one senator that any decision to give Napoles “transactional immunity,” or total immunity from criminal prosecution, in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) cases was for the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan to make.
But there is also a view that what the Senate can give Napoles is only “testimonial immunity,” which means that whatever Napoles would say at the hearing won’t be used against her although she can still be prosecuted if there are pieces of information, independently obtained, that can serve as basis for the charge.
“Does the Senate have the power to give transactional immunity? If they (senators) can give transactional immunity, will it bind the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan? Let us make sure what kind of immunity will be given to her,” she said.
Napoles, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and 34 others have been charged with plunder and malversation in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Principal whistle-blower Benhur Luy testified in the Senate last month that a legislator pocketed 50 percent of the supposed project cost. Napoles got 40 percent and government conduits, 10 percent.
The justice secretary added that talk about giving immunity to Napoles surfaced because of expectations that she might talk if she is offered immunity.
De Lima said that if there was a grant of immunity, it would not affect the PDAF cases.
“We should make sure that it will help in the successful prosecution of those involved,” she added.
On Wednesday, Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, a vice chair of the committee that investigates corruption in government, told reporters that the committee had the authority to grant immunity.
Osmeña said he wanted Napoles to identify all the congressman and senators she bribed.
Allowed in witness program
“The whole nation is dying to hear Napoles, and they are dying to hear Napoles because they want to hear the truth …. Will that happen? I don’t think so. Unless we offer her to become state witness—which means immunity from prosecution—she’s not going to say anything,” he said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, in a separate interview, told reporters that the Senate committee could grant immunity only in such a way that Napoles’ testimony before the panel may not be used against her.
“That’s in the law, in the Witness Protection Program,” Drilon said when asked about the possibility of Napoles being given immunity.
“That only means that the testimony that she will give may not be used against her. But that doesn’t mean she’s already absolved because there are many other pieces of evidence that may be presented,” he added.
Drilon said the grant of immunity may come from the committee and could be made anytime.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, blue ribbon committee chair, on Thursday left open the possibility of Napoles being recommended for immunity in exchange for ratting on her co-conspirators.
Asked if he would be inclined to recommend immunity to Napoles as an incentive for her to tell all, Guingona said: “We’ll have to see the quality of her answers to the questions. Right now, it is too speculative and right now I’d like to be able to judge that when I actually see her, when I see her demeanor in answering the questions I see the quality of answers that she has for the questions.”
“Then and only then can I determine whether I would like to recommend or not,” Guingona added.
Guingona, however, said that the issue of immunity was a matter for the courts to decide. “The most we can do is to recommend that she be included in the Witness Protection Program. But that’s about it.”
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, in a separate interview, said Napoles shouldn’t be given immunity, adding that those recommended for immunity from suit were whistle-blowers and those who were not the most guilty.
“What if what she will say will only sow confusion in the country’s justice system?” he asked.—With reports from Norman Bordadora and Michael Lim Ubac
Originally posted at 08:36 pm |Thursday, October 24, 2013