‘Pork scam queen’ loses gov’t protection
The alleged mastermind in the P10-billion peso pork barrel scam has been removed from the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP), the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Friday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he had sent a letter to lawyers of Janet Lim-Napoles “giving notice of the termination of her provisional coverage, under the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Program (WPSBP) effective May 25.”
Guevarra said the “main purpose” for which Napoles had sought to be admitted into the WPP “has become moot and academic.”
“As there has been no further claim of threats to her personal security inside Camp Bagong Diwa, (we) found no reason to extend further Ms Napoles’ provisional coverage under the WPP,” Guevarra said.
He said Napoles had requested witness protection due to alleged threats to her life. She also sought her transfer from Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, where she is currently detained on plunder charges, to a secure housing facility of the WPP.
The First, Third and Fifth Divisions of the Sandiganbayan, where she is facing a string of plunder and graft charges linked to the pork barrel scam, had all denied her urgent motions to be transferred to the custody of the WPP of the DOJ.
Napoles was provisionally admitted into the program on Feb. 27 under then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in exchange for her affidavit implicating more people in the multibillion-peso scam involving legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
New PDAF cases
Under Republic Act No. 6981, or the Witness Protection Act, a person to be admitted into the WPP must first execute a sworn statement describing in detail the manner in which a certain crime had been committed and his or her participation in it.
Napoles’ affidavit reportedly identified a former Cabinet secretary and more senators involved in the scam.
Invoking confidentiality, the DOJ did not release her affidavit.
Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David earlier said that his client was open to standing as a state witness in the new PDAF cases being investigated by the DOJ.
But Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales rejected such a role for Napoles, saying she was “one of the principal alleged malefactors” in the scam and was therefore not qualified to become state witness.
The decision of Guevarra, who earlier vowed not to let the DOJ be used to persecute administration critics, may have aborted Napoles’ supposed plan to testify against politicians identified with former President Benigno Aquino III.
It was the latest of Napoles’ legal setbacks in her attempt to win back her freedom following the Supreme Court’s decision in April tossing out her bail petition due to “a great presumption of (her) guilt” in the pork barrel scam.
Napoles spent only two years in the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City after she was convicted by the Makati Regional Trial Court for the serious illegal detention of her cousin Benhur Luy, the primary whistle-blower in the scam.
She was taken back to a jail in Camp Bagong Diwa in May last year after Solicitor General Jose Calida’s intervention prompted the Court of Appeals to reverse her conviction.
Napoles is accused of running a network of bogus foundations that received PDAF allocations from several lawmakers, who in turn allegedly earned kickbacks in exchange.
In July 2013, the Inquirer broke the story on the scam.
In June 2014, the Ombudsman indicted former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and other government officials in the Sandiganbayan for plunder and graft in connection with the scam, with Napoles as their coaccused.
Revilla was accused of receiving P224.5 million in kickbacks, Estrada P183.8 million and Enrile P172.8 million. All three have denied any wrongdoing.