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Senate committee probing Malampaya Fund scam urged: Call Napoles

Hearing opens Monday
/ 12:45 AM December 01, 2014
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Senators Francis Escudero and JV Ejercito insisted in radio interviews on Sunday that Janet Lim-Napoles (in photo) has to be invited to the Senate’s investigation of the alleged misuse of the Malampaya Fund. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/LYN RILLON

“It would be unfair to blame everything on her and then not give her the opportunity to answer.”

Even if she will just invoke her right to remain silent, Janet Lim-Napoles has to be invited to the Senate’s investigation of the alleged misuse of the Malampaya Fund, Senators Francis Escudero and JV Ejercito insisted in radio interviews on Sunday.

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The senators spoke on the eve of the opening of the Senate blue ribbon committee inquiry into the alleged embezzlement of P900 million of the government’s share in the operation of gas fields off Palawan province that was supposed to help victims of back-to-back storms in 2009. The scandal broke out over a year ago.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, the committee chair, said over the weekend that he did not feel it was time to summon Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the scam, to the hearing, recalling that in her previous appearance before the panel she declined to reply to questions, citing her right against self-incrimination.

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Guingona said the initial hearing on Monday would focus on the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA), on which COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan and her assistant commissioner, Susan Garcia, had been invited to testify.

Escudero on Sunday said Napoles should be called to future hearings because it was inevitable that her name would crop up in the inquiry and that she had to be given the chance to defend herself.

“Even if she lies or invokes her right to remain silent, she has to be given the opportunity to be heard because surely, her name will be used and mentioned,” Escudero said over dzBB.

He said Napoles’ absence from the first hearing would be OK with him, but she should be asked to appear at the proper time.

“It would be unfair to blame everything on her and then not give her the opportunity to answer. If she doesn’t want to use that chance, it’s her loss,” he said.

Unfair

If ever Napoles decides to speak up, he hopes she will tell the truth and not make up stories, Escudero added.

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Ejercito said he hoped to see both Napoles and Ruby Tuason, a former Malacañang social secretary who worked as an agent of the detained businesswoman, in subsequent hearings so the probe would be more thorough.

Who knows, Napoles might be in a more talkative mood, he said.

Napoles is among those facing plunder charges in connection with the alleged misuse of the Malampaya Fund.

Others named in the complaint were former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and several Cabinet officials during her administration. Arroyo is detained in a hospital while being tried on plunder charges over the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office funds.

Napoles has also been indicted for plunder over the alleged diversion of P10 billion from the Priority Development Assistance Fund to ghost projects and kickbacks. Indicted with her were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. The four are under detention. All have denied wrongdoing.

Times have changed

Napoles has implicated Tuason in the Malampaya Fund scam. She said Tuason convinced her to convert P900 million, coursed through the Department of Agrarian Reform, into campaign funds for the 2010 polls. Tuason allegedly pocketed a good portion of the Malampaya kickbacks.

Ejercito said he was glad that after a year, the Malampaya probe would finally start. He wondered whether the delay was due to the possibility that an administration ally might be implicated in the scam.

He also said in an interview over dzBB that it should not be assumed that Napoles would not talk during the hearing.

“Who knows, things may have changed. She has been in jail for a long time. For all we know, she may speak up now about this,” Ejercito said.

Asked if he would move to have Napoles summoned, Ejercito said it would depend on the proceedings during the first hearing. But he still thinks it would be better if she appears in the Senate.

Incomplete

As for Tuason, Ejercito also said he wanted to see Napoles testify in the inquiry since she had been implicated in the issue as well.

“I think the hearing will be incomplete if the two (Napoles and Tuason) will not show up. A lot of people following the issue know they have been mentioned in previous hearings as those who had used the Malampaya Fund,” he said.

Ejercito noted that in the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee inquiry into alleged corruption in Makati, so many resource persons have been asked to appear. The mother committee is very powerful and can subpoena a lot of people, he said.

The Malampaya Fund represents the royalties the government collects from the operation of gas wells off Palawan Island. Started in 2002, the $4.5-billion project involves Shell Philippines Exploration BV and Chevron Malampaya LLC. The government share is supposed to be used for energy projects but this was expanded to finance programs authorized by Malacañang.

The diversion of funds to victims of Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009 marked the first time that the Malampaya Fund was used for a project other than those related to energy development.

Then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman allegedly authorized the initial release of P300 million from the Malampaya Fund, deposited in Land Bank of the Philippines, to a dozen dubious foundations set up by Napoles.

Originally posted: 9:55 PM | Sunday, November 30th, 2014

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TAGS: Bong Revilla, Calamity, calamity rehabilitation, Commission On Audit, congressional inquiry, disaster, embezzlement, Francis Escudero, fraud, fund diversion, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Grace Pulido-Tan, Graft and Corruption, Janet Lim Napoles, Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, JV Ejercito, legislative inquiry, Malampaya fund scam, Malampaya funds, Nasser pangandaman, News, Philippine Congress, Plunder, Ruby Tuason, Senate, Senate blue ribbon committee, Susan Garcia, Teofisto Guingona III
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