Regular jail for Napoles considered
MANILA, Philippines—Now that the door is closed to Janet Lim-Napoles as a state witness, President Aquino is weighing calls for the transfer of the alleged mastermind behind the P10-billion pork barrels scam from a police camp in Laguna province to a regular jail.
Speaking to reporters in Sampaloc, Manila, Aquino on Wednesday said he had observed Napoles’ insistence that she had no participation in the funneling over the past 10 years of P10 billion in legislators’ allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to phantom projects proposed by dummy aid organizations identified with her.
Despite that insistence, Aquino said Napoles had not said anything to justify her continued detention in Fort Sto. Domingo, a training camp for the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna.
Citing a threat to her life, Napoles surrendered to Aquino in Malacañang on the night of Aug. 28 last year, 14 days after the Makati Regional Trial Court ordered her arrest on charges of serious illegal detention involving Benhur Luy, the principal whistle-blower in the pork barrel scam.
To ensure her safety, Aquino rode with the security convoy that took Napoles to police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
She was briefly held at the Makati City Jail and then moved to Fort Sto. Domingo.
Napoles has not been heard saying anything again about the threat to her life.
“So there’s a camp saying, ‘What’s the need to isolate her (at Fort Sto. Domingo) when it seems there’s no more threat to her life?’” Aquino said.
Threat gone now?
The President said the threat might have dissipated, as Napoles had “not said anything [against anybody].”
“So there shouldn’t be any fear for her [safety],” Aquino said.
The President’s comments followed an admission by the PNP that holding Napoles in the SAF camp was costing it P150,000 a month just for securing her.
But Aquino said no decision had been made yet.
He said what the government was after was “evidence that could be used in prosecuting wrongdoers.”
That, however, seems no longer expected from Napoles.
The appearance of a new star witness in the case, 62-year-old socialite Ruby Tuason, with damaging testimony against Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile has eclipsed the importance to the prosecution of Napoles, who has refused to cooperate anyway.
With Tuason disclosing she had been handing tens of millions of pesos in kickbacks from the projects to Estrada and to Enrile’s former chief of staff, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said last week that she never considered taking Napoles in as a state witness.
In the first place, Napoles has never admitted to the crime, a requirement for turning respondents to state witnesses and discharging them from the case and giving them government protection, De Lima said.
Napoles, who is facing plunder charges in the Office of the Ombudsman together with Estrada, Enrile, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and several former members of the House of Representatives and government officials over the pork barrel scam, also must prove that she is the least guilty.
But with her former employees disclosing how she engineered the diversion of billions of pesos in rural aid funds to her bank accounts and Tuason admitting that she worked for her as bagman for kickbacks to Estrada and Reyes, Napoles needs to break her silence and tell all to convince the prosecutors that she was only a front and not the real brains behind the large-scale graft.
Last month, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga and other lawmakers said Napoles must be moved to a regular jail to dispel some people’s perception that the government was giving her special treatment.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello also said Napoles should be moved to a regular jail and that her transfer was “long overdue.”
After saying Napoles was not qualified to be a state witness, De Lima said she was studying those suggestions.
On Tuesday, however, Napoles asked the Makati Regional Trial Court to allow her to be examined for an ovarian tumor and to be placed under hospital arrest at the private St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City.
Aquino said he had no objection to Napoles’ request for a thorough checkup at St. Luke’s because that would help ascertain whether there was “medical reason” for her to be placed under hospital arrest.
“It’s our obligation to [ensure] the well-being of those in jail. So we’ll have her checked [up],” he said.
Aquino made it clear, however, that where to detain Napoles was a decision for the Makati Regional Trial Court and not for the government.
There were reports last week that the government was readying complaints against a third group of defrauders in the pork barrel scam, but the President said he had been quite busy with domestic and international affairs lately that he could not recall being informed about it.
Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, spokesman for the PNP, said the police would abide by whatever decision the court would hand down on Napoles’ petition for medical attention and detention at St. Luke’s.
Only after the court issues a ruling can the police start to plan changes in security for Napoles, Sindac said.
The Makati court will hear Napoles’ petition next Monday. The government doctor assigned to look after Napoles in Fort Sto. Domingo will attend the hearing, Sindac said.
Renato Reyes, secretary general of the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said in a text message that the government doctor should be the one to determine Napoles’ condition and say whether she needs to be confined in hospital.
“And why a private hospital like St. Luke’s? Doesn’t that indicate special treatment?” Reyes asked.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz on Wednesday said he found Napoles’ petition suspicious, as it came after allies of President Aquino called for her transfer to a regular jail.
“It is curious that when Napoles was in the main camp, she was not asking for hospital arrest. Now that there is a call for her transfer to [an ordinary jail], she is asking for hospital arrest,” Cruz told reporters.
If she was really in ill health, Cruz said, Napoles “should have asked for hospital arrest from the very beginning instead of [allowing herself to be taken] to the [police training] camp.”
“I’m not [saying that the story that she has this tumor is true or not], I’m just saying that it is suspicious,” Cruz said.
Cruz, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), observed that it has been a “regular option” for high-profile and wealthy people involved in irregularities to seek hospital arrest to remain comfortable even in detention.
Asked about her backing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative to Congress, to remain in hospital or be allowed house arrest, Cruz said it was evident that Arroyo is quite ill.
“If Napoles is really sick, that [should] be established,” Cruz said.—With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy in Manila and Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon
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