Priest tells court Benhur Luy a drug addict, then backtracks
MANILA, Philippines—A Catholic priest testified in court on Wednesday that Benhur Luy, the principal witness in the pork barrel scam, was a drug addict and had committed offenses in the company owned by Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged brains behind the racket that cost the government P10 billion over the last 10 years.
But when asked by the prosecution how he learned about Luy’s alleged vices, Rev. Peter Edward Lavin, 53, replied that he had not been able to verify them.
Lavin, one of several priests who reportedly received regular stipends from Napoles, testified for the detained businesswoman in the hearing on her petition to be allowed bail in the serious illegal detention suit filed against her and her brother Reynald Lim by Luy.
Lim and Napoles have claimed that they did not illegally detain Luy, but sent him into a “spiritual retreat” in the care of Lavin.
But Luy, in his complaint being heard by Judge Elmo Alameda of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150, said Lim and Napoles kept him against his will for three months at Discovery Center in the Ortigas business center in Pasig City and in a house on Lapu-Lapu Street in Magallanes Village in Makati City from Dec. 19 last year to March 22 this year.
National Bureau of Investigation agents rescued Luy, who alleged that Napoles, in connivance with legislators, siphoned off P10 billion from the pork barrel Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) into her bank accounts through bogus nongovernment organizations.
Napoles, Luy’s first cousin and boss at JLN Corp., is detained at a police training camp in Fort Sto. Domingo, Sta. Rosa City, Laguna province. Lim remains at large, with a P5-million bounty offered for his arrest.
In his testimony, Lavin, an incorporator of JLN Corp. according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) records, said it was Lim who told him about Luy’s vices and offenses at work and about Luy’s supposed desire to go on a spiritual retreat.
Lavin, who has known the Napoles and Lim families since 2011, said he offered to be Luy’s spiritual adviser and suggested that Luy stay in a retreat house next to a seminary in Antipolo City in Rizal province.
Alfredo Villamor, a lawyer for the defense who led the direct examination of Lavin, noted that Lavin’s statement showed that Luy was not detained and instead stayed at the Magallanes house called Bahay ni San Jose (St. Joseph’s House), where priests stayed during spiritual retreats.
Lavin said on Dec. 26, he saw Luy moving around the Magallanes house freely and talking to someone on the phone.
“There was a time I said hello to him while he was praying in the garden. There was one occasion when I saw him in the chapel (in Magallanes house) with a Bible and taking down notes,” Lavin said.
Asked what was Luy’s reply, Lavin answered, “He said he was OK.”
He said he was told by a Msgr. Josefino Ramirez, who was staying in the Magallanes house, that Luy had chosen to stay there for a retreat.
At the start of the cross-examination, Christopher Garvida questioned Lavin about his being an incorporator and one of the directors of the JLN Corp., as shown by the company’s records at the SEC.
“[That is] a lie,” Lavin said.
But Lavin admitted that he visited Napoles in Fort Sto. Domingo on Monday.
Lavin also said Lim had shown him pictures of Luy that he described as “too scandalous” to be shown in court.
“It shows something about having sex with men,” he said when Garvida asked for details.
When shown eight pictures that according to Garvida showed Luy “naked and appearing dizzy” and asked what was scandalous about the photographs, Lavin appeared to have modified his opinion of the photos.
“Are these scandalous?” Garvida asked.
“Not so much,” Lavin replied.
“So you agreed to give (Luy) a spiritual retreat without confirming if what Lim had told you was true?” Garvida asked.
The priest admitted that he had not been able to confirm Luy’s alleged vices.
Garvida also suggested that the priest never had a conversation with Luy apart from simple greetings.
“So you would not know if he was undergoing a spiritual retreat or he was illegally detained?” Garvida asked.
“Yes,” Lavin replied.
The bail hearing, where the prosecution had presented eight witnesses and the defense one, ended on Wednesday.
“We will just be waiting for the judge to issue a resolution,” Garvida told reporters after the proceedings.
Asked why the defense presented only one witness when it originally planned to present three, Villamor said: “In a bail hearing, you don’t have to present all the witnesses. We have our own strategy. And to us, (having one witness) is what the case warrants.”
During the continuation of Luy’s testimony, he was grilled over some inconsistencies between his statements in three affidavits he had submitted and the information he had given in court.
“Our lawyer Levito Baligod told me to write in the affidavits only what’s important and the rest would be testified to in court,” Luy explained, stressing that nothing was inaccurate in what he had said in court and his statements in the affidavits.
His own business
He was also quizzed about his plan to set up a business similar to Napoles’, which he stated in his affidavits.
“Yes, but not illegal,” Luy said, stressing he would propose projects that would go through public bidding and he would make sure the projects would be implemented.
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