Senate has no power to grant Napoles immunity; only courts can — Santiago
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate cannot grant Janet Lim Napoles immunity, and her appearance at next week’s hearing on the P10-billion pork barrel scam may be turned into a political “circus’’ by senators obsessed with 2016.
Sen. Miriam Defendor-Santiago said Tuesday that neither the Senate nor the Office of the Ombudsman could grant immunity to the alleged pork barrel queen because only the courts could exercise such power.
The courts assume jurisdiction over an accused upon the filing of charges, and only then could it determine whether the accused is entitled to immunity in exchange for a tell-all testimony, according to Santiago.
“If that’s the case, the rules of court regarding immunity will apply only if the courts determine that the criteria set by law are met,’’ she said by phone.
The Senate, which is bound by the rules of court, could not “preempt what the court will do,’’ she added. “It’s not for the Senate to determine who is the most guilty; the most guilty can’t be state witness.’’
That’s why, the former trial court judge pointed out, the Senate could not compel Napoles to testify “on the enticement of complete immunity.’’
The Senate could not guarantee immunity to a witness even if he or she “tells the whole truth,’’ she said. “The Senate has no such power at all.’’
Even the courts would be “hesitant’’ about granting a state witness status to a witness “because that means that the most guilty will go scot-free because he has sung against his colleagues,’’ she pointed out.
If at all, the Senate could guarantee a witness that it wouldn’t take any action for anything that he or she would say, Santiago said. In the end, the most that the Senate could do would be to ask the Ombudsman not to consider Napoles as a state witness.
Napoles, who is facing a plunder complaint before the Ombudsman with three senators and 34 others, has been subpoenaed to appear at Blue Ribbon Committee’s hearing on the scandal on Thursday next week.
She will come face to face with six of her former employees who have turned whistleblowers and also been summoned to the hearing.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III has broached the idea of granting immunity to Napoles so that she would squeal on lawmakers and government officials who benefited from the conversion of pork barrel into kickbacks over 10 years.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the committee could grant immunity in such a way that her testimony would not be used against her. Some of their colleagues have objected to this.
Without such immunity to coax her to divulge her ties with senators, and given her right to invoke her right to protect herself from self-incrimination, among others, next Thursday’s hearing might just turn into a political circus, Santiago said.
“It will turn into a circus,’’ she said. She recalled that that when she was “sick at home’’ and watched previous hearings, she observed that the questions were “intellectually challenged’’ and showed “superficial grasp’’ of the issue. “Nobody is taking a very careful attention in scrutinizing the issues involved. Everyone’s trying to be cute.’’
But then again, this should not be surprising at all, the senator said.
“What the Blue Ribbon Committee wants to do is to turn the spotlight away from the Ombudsman and concentrate on senators who will run for President and Vice President. All the people involved are presidentiables and vice presidentiables,’’ she said of her colleagues.
Without a resulting legislation, the senator said the Senate’s power to conduct inquiries has been “abused’’ because it has been used to “focus public attention on certain senators running for election or other public office’’ in 2016.
Santiago also wondered aloud what new information could be extracted from her that has not been divulged by the media. By appearing in the Senate, Napoles would just risk her life, said Santiago.
“She’s afraid for her life. She’s not going to risk herself so that the Senate will get her to say what it wants her to say before the TV cameras,’’ she said.