Court scolds Napoles’ lawyers for wasting time
Lawyers of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles were on Friday repeatedly told off by the snappish magistrates of the Sandiganbayan Third Division for wasting the court’s time.
During the cross-examination of Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Director Carmencita Delantar, Associate Justice Samuel Martires could barely contain his irritation over the way defense lawyer Dennis Buenaventura was conducting the questioning on the procedure for securing a special allotment release order (Saro).
Instead of speeding up the process, the justice said, Buenaventura’s line of questioning was prolonging the summary hearing of Napoles’ petition for bail.
At one point during the four-hour court hearing, the silver-haired Martires told Buenaventura to ask questions that Delantar could easily answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”
Martires also expressed his displeasure when Buenaventura refused to just “stipulate,” or admit in open court, the dates when the nine Saros covering the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was received and approved by the DBM.
“What we’re discussing here is very simple. You can just stipulate the dates so that Mrs. Delantar does not have to talk because her lipstick is already fading,” he said, eliciting laughter from the people in the courtroom, including his two fellow magistrates.
“Her lips are already drying up. I will just translate it into Tagalog. Can you just stipulate the dates? Or do you want me to say it in Visayan?” the justice said.
To which Buenaventura replied, “I’m from Pampanga, Your Honor.”
Several times, an exasperated Martires offered to rephrase the lawyer’s questions to the witness concerning the allowable period in the processing of the Saro.
“You’re just wasting the time of this court. I thought you wanted this bail hearing to be concluded immediately,” he said sternly.
Appearing as a prosecution witness, Delantar told the court that one of the Saros released to a livelihood project handled by a dummy nongovernment organization (NGO) linked to Napoles was issued on the same day that the DBM received a request from Enrile for its release.
However, the prosecution did not mention the amount reflected in the Saro, which the DBM received and approved on July 9, 2009.
“There’s nothing wrong with that because as much as possible we try to speed up the processing of Saros,” said Delantar, the chief of the DBM’s budget and management section.
Under questioning from Buenaventura, she said it usually took at least 15 days for her office to approve a Saro, a prerequisite to obtaining a notice of cash allocation from the DBM.
Delantar also testified that she had never met Napoles nor heard of her during the period from 2006 to 2010 when her company, JLN Corp., was following up the release of Saros, as alleged by principal whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
“I only came to know her and see her pictures in the (media),” Delantar told the court. She said private individuals were not allowed to inquire about the status of Saros.
Although her office conducts a background check of every project listed in the accompanying documents for the issuance of Saro, Delantar did not verify the existence of the individual beneficiaries of the PDAF-funded projects.
Lawyering for Enrile
Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, the division chair, was piqued at Buenaventura’s insistence on eliciting Delantar’s opinion on the special audit report that the Commission on Audit (COA) conducted on the legislators’ PDAF allocations.
She sustained the prosecution’s opposition to the defense panel’s attempt to question the witness on the contents of the COA report.
“The witness has already answered that she did not read the entire COA report. Move to another question,” Tang told Buenaventura.
After Napoles’ lawyer pointed out that Enrile did not have a role in the release of Saros to the Napoles-linked NGOs, Martires was moved to ask Buenaventura if he was “lawyering” for Enrile.
But Buenaventura and another Napoles lawyer, Stephen David, were undeterred, saying that they were successful in proving that Napoles did not contact the DBM as claimed by Luy.
“We just showed that Napoles did not intervene in the issuance of Saro. The witness admitted that,” David said.
He said it was inevitable that they would appear to be helping Enrile as they were trying to debunk the prosecution claim of conspiracy involving the accused individuals.
“If [Enrile] will be exonerated, then the private individuals would also be cleared of the charges because you cannot conspire with yourself,” he argued.
“In conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all. So if one of them did not do the alleged [crime], then all of them are also [innocent],” said David.
The court allowed Napoles to be returned to her cell a few minutes after the hearing started after the court doctor determined that she had a slight fever, with a temperature of 37.73 degrees Celsius.
David explained that Napoles has been under the weather since being moved to her new cell at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, last Monday.
He said his client had yet to adjust to the new conditions at the female dormitory of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology lockup.
“She’s very sad, but she’s not complaining. It’s just normal for her to feel sad because nobody would be happy if you’re in jail,” he said.
A pale-looking Napoles was brought around 7 a.m. to the courtroom in handcuffs and wearing the hoodie that she has been using since she surrendered last September.
As soon as the hearing started at 8.30 a.m., lawyer Buenaventura informed the court that Napoles was running a fever.
Tang immediately asked the court physician, Dr. Eduardo Viola, to check up Napoles. The doctor said Napoles’ body temperature was 37.73 degrees Celsius, indicating that she had a slight fever, while her blood pressure was 140 over 80.
With the prosecution declining to oppose her lawyers’ request to have her excused, Napoles was allowed to be immediately returned to her cell.
David said it would take a few days more for Napoles to adjust to her new situation in Bicutan because she was already acclimated to the conditions in her last detention cell at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna province.
“She’s in solitary confinement there. It can really drive anyone crazy,” the lawyer said.
Masses for Napoles
The 50-year-old Napoles is being held in a 20-square-meter cell in Bicutan. Her coaccused, Gigi Reyes, is in an adjoining cell but the two have yet to speak to each other, David said.
“They cannot even reach each other’s hands because of the concrete wall separating the cells,” he said.
Reyes, the former Senate chief of staff of Enrile, has also been charged with plunder for her alleged role in funneling tens of millions of pesos in Enrile’s pork barrel allocations to Napoles’ dummy NGOs.
David said some priests have been holding Masses for Napoles, who is said to be a devout Catholic, at the jail since Tuesday.
“Mrs. Napoles has been religiously attending Mass even before she was jailed. The jail officials are happy because other inmates also attend the Mass inside the prison,” he said. With a report from Tarra Quismundo
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