DoJ goes slow on support for Napoles’ witness protection plea
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has hit the brakes on its legal support for alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles’ plea to be transferred to a safe house, saying she has no right yet to demand the government’s protection for now.
This was the position by newly appointed Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and his resigned predecessor Vitaliano Aguirre II, who apparently softened on his initial support for Napoles a day before President Duterte let him go.
Although the court on March 19 instructed the DoJ to justify its support for Napoles, the agency submitted instead similarly-worded manifestations before the Sandiganbayan Third and Fifth Divisions.
The Fifth Division manifestation was dated April 4 and signed by Aguirre, whose resignation was accepted the next day.
The Third Division document, meanwhile, was dated April 13 and signed by Guevarra. Both documents were released to reporters on Tuesday.
The DoJ manifestations stated that because Napoles was only “provisionally admitted” to the witness protection program last Feb. 27, she still does not enjoy its privileges since her application for full coverage “is still under evaluation.”
The provisional coverage “does not confer upon her an actionable right to demand detention or custody under the aforesaid Program,” the DoJ secretaries said in their respective manifestations.
Both Aguirre and Guevarra admitted that Section 1, Article IX of the 2012 implementing rules and regulations of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act prohibits witnesses “under detention for any lawful cause” from being taken into WPP custody.
The said rule has been cited by the Sandiganbayan First and Fifth Divisions in their respective April 5 and April 16 resolutions denying Napoles’ motion to be transferred.
The main difference between the two is that Guevarra floated the possibility that Napoles’ detention for her ongoing plunder cases “shall be taken into account by the Department in the final resolution” of her WPP application.
On the other hand, Aguirre’s manifestation merely said: “It appears herein that accused Napoles is under detention pursuant to a process issued by this Honorable Court.”
Still, the DoJ’s cold reception to Napoles’ March 15 motion for the transfer of her custody marked a departure from the Duterte administration’s previously enthusiastic support for her.
In fact, Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David even told the Sandiganbayan Third Division on March 19 that he filed the motion after consulting Aguirre and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on how to enforce her provisional WPP admission.
The following day, Medialdea denied David’s remark and said: “Why would I give legal advice to a lawyer for his client?”
On the other hand, Aguirre said he only told David of his “opinion” that Napoles could not be taken out of her detention cell in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, without asking the Sandiganbayan’s permission.
David did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Napoles was accused of running a network of fraudulent non-government organizations used to funnel the Priority Development Assistance Fund proceeds of several legislators. She is detained while facing plunder cases as a co-accused of former Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada before the First, Third and Fifth Divisions.
While the Ombudsman has clarified in the past that Napoles’ admission to the WPP should not affect the pending cases, Aguirre had expressed plans to use her to build up new cases.
This sparked fears that Napoles would be used as a tool to harass the critics of the Duterte administration.
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