MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) acquitted businesswoman and alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles in her serious illegal detention case.
In its 35-page decision promulgated last Friday, May 5, and released to media on Monday, May 8, the CA 12th Division reversed the 2015 conviction of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150, which found Napoles guilty of holding former employee Benhur Luy against his will. Makati RTC Branch 150 had sentenced Napoles to at least 30 years in prison.
The CA 12th Division said Napoles’ guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.
“The prosecution has not discharged its burden of proof in establishing the commission of the crime charged and in identifying the accuse-appellant as the malefactor responsible to it… Thus, the oft-repeated truism that the conviction of the accused must rest not on the weakness of the defense but on the strength of the prosecution must be applied in the present appeal,” the court said.
With the acquittal, the CA 12th Division ruled that Napoles should now “be immediately released from detention, unless she is confined for any lawful case.”
Napoles will stay detained as she still faces plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan.
She was earlier granted bail for plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam cases of former Masbate representative Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and former APEC party list representative Edgar Valdez. But her bail petitions in the cases of former senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada, and Juan Ponce Enrile were denied.
Last January, the Office of the Solicitor General had submitted a manifestation to the CA recommending Napoles’ acquittal.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said the manifestation was just based on his “fair reading” of the case. (READ: SolGen parrots Napoles arguments in Luy case)
Duterte himself expressed support for Calida’s bid to have Napoles acquitted, saying Luy “was not restrained at all.” (READ: FACT CHECK: Where should the Solicitor General stand in Napoles’ case?)
Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David earlier said he believes Calida’s manifestation would have a positive effect on Napoles’ plunder cases because it would cast doubt on Luy’s credibility as a witness.
“Malaking bagay ‘yun, kasi kung ang kredibilidad ni Benhur, tatamaan ‘yun. Kasi kung ang sinabi niyang kinidnap siya at dinetain eh kasinungalingan naman ‘yun eh. Kung kaya niyang magsinungaling sa mga gano’n katinding pangyayari, eh paano natin paniniwalaan ‘yung mga statements niya sa Sandiganbayan?” David told reporters last March.
(For me, that’s a big thing, because Benhur’s credibility will be questioned. If Benhur lied about being kidnapped and detained, and if he could lie about such serious events, how could we believe his statements before the Sandiganbayan?) – Rappler.com