MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The manhunt continues for the woman at the center of what investigators describe as one of the biggest scams in the country’s history.
More than 12 hours after a Makati court ordered the arrest of Janet Lim-Napoles and her brother Reynald “Jojo” Lim, agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have yet to locate the two.
In an interview with radio station dzIQ, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday, August 15, advised the Napoles siblings to surrender. She said she thinks someone gave the Napoleses a tip that the warrant of arrest against them had been issued since they are “well connected.”
NBI spokesperson Cecilio Zamora also warned those coddling them that they would be charged with obstruction of justice.
As of 8 am Thursday, August 15, the 4 teams deployed by the NBI Wednesday night to search for the two had yet to return to headquarters. De Lima confirmed teams searched her known residence addresses including Pacific Plaza Tower in Taguig and Dasmariñas Village in Makati but found no sign of the two.
Napoles’ lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, told Rappler: “If you were Mrs Napoles, would you surrender?” She criticized the process and questioned De Lima’s motive for the “hasty” issuance of the warrant.
All regional units of the bureau are now on alert for the manhunt, Zamora said.
The NBI may have their work cut out from them.
According to accounts from whistleblowers, Napoles has at least 7 residential properties in Metro Manila alone: Forbes Park, Makati; Pacific Plaza Towers, Taguig; Primea Tower, Ayala Ave; Magallanes Village, Parañaque; and an apartment in Serendra, Taguig.
Napoles owns two units at Pacific Plaza Towers alone, one in each tower, according to residents.
Other sources told Rappler the family has another house in Biñan, Laguna, and is renting a property in Dasmariñas Village, Makati.
Several leads point to Tagaytay as Napoles’ likely refuge at the moment. Napoles has a sprawling property in Tagaytay Highlands overlooking Taal Lake, according to a source. Investigators are believed to be scanning the vicinity.
Despite the non-conclusive search however, De Lima expressed confidence the two are still in the country as they have not received any alerts from immigration officers.
Napoles and her brother — the suspected masterminds of a pork barrel syndicate — are wanted for serious illegal detention for allegedly abducting and detaining for 3 months Benhur Luy, their cousin who served as a longtime personal assistant of Janet.
The judge recommended the case to be nonbailable.
Luy, who became the primary whistleblower after he was rescued by the NBI in March this year, has revealed that Janet Napoles owns at least 16 vehicles.
At least one, with the plate number JLN 128, was still at Pacific Plaza Towers in Taguig as of Wednesday evening, although a resident told Rappler Napoles was no longer in the building.
Napoles was last seen earlier this week speaking to media outlets and reporters.
Napoles is accused of having colluded with lawmakers for years to siphon off their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) using dummy foundations. The NBI is currently probing the alleged scam.
On Wednesday, De Lima clarified the arrest was in connection with the charges of serious illegal detention, and that no charges have been filed yet against Napoles and Lim in connection with the pork barrel scam. – Rappler.com