MANILA, Philippines – Pork barrel scam central figure Janet Lim Napoles’ sphere of influence knows no boundaries. That’s the emerging extent of her clout based on fresh testimonies of new witnesses to the pork barrel scandal.
Four employees of Napoles have come forward this week to spill more beans on their boss, dragging the name of one Sandiganbayan justice to the mess.
This brings to 13 the number of witnesses whose testimonies have been secured by the National Bureau of Investigation in connection with its probe on the pork barrel scam. Napoles is tagged as the alleged main architect of the scam, which includes several lawmakers.
Lawyer Levito Baligod said the fresh testimonies include a narrative where one Sandiganbayan justice was mentioned as a fixture in parties hosted by Napoles.
Baligod refused to name the magistrate but hinted that the Sandiganbayan justice belonged to a division that handled the Kevlar helmet case where Napoles was formerly charged for misuse of public funds.
Clout and influence
A photo obtained by Rappler over the weekend showed Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong in a group picture with Napoles and Sen Jinggoy Estrada. Estrada himself has been dragged into the scandal with most of his Priority Development Assistance Fund supposedly funneled to Napoles’ alleged dummy non-government organizations.
Baligod said the particular testimony on the magistrate shows that Napoles’ influence and clout “reticulates through society as well,” and is not only limited to politicians or lawmakers.
Like in a sinking ship, employees of Napoles are now abandoning her, joining the others who have spilled the beans on the scam. Still, some have remained loyal to her, backing out at the last minute.
Collaborating lawyer Lourdes Benipayo, in a separate interview, said the new group of witnesses “have come forward for fear of their lives.” She said the new witnesses have “personal knowledge of certain events that are definitely damaging…”
As employees and as supposed “officers” of the NGOs that were put up by Napoles using them as dummies, the new witnesses “have direct knowledge of certain transactions” and offered “additional names” of people who may be involved in the scam, Benipayo said.
She was referring to the flow of pork barrel that was coursed through the alleged fictitious Napoles-linked NGOs and released to them at the behest of certain lawmakers in both houses of Congress.
The new set of witnesses corroborates the earlier testimonies of whistle-blowers who were also employees and “officials” of the NGOs identified with Napoles. The new testimonies provide “a pretty good picture of the puzzle,” referring to the Napoles pork barrel scheme, the lawyer said.
Benipayo said they came forward after realizing that cooperating with authorities would be for their “best interest.”
On Wednesday, Napoles finally surrendered to authorities two weeks after she went into hiding to avoid being served the arrest warrant issued by the Makati Regional Trial Court in connection with the serious illegal detention charge filed by the NBI in Luy’s behalf.
While she was in hiding, salaries and payments of Napoles’ employees also stopped, Benipayo said.
“Madame Jenny” in hiding led to low morale among the employees and could have contributed to the employees decision to come out.
Benipayo said more witnesses would have come forward but Napoles, just hours before she turned herself in, was still trying to convince her staff not to abandon her. “They are being asked not to turn their back (on her),” Benipayo said.
One of the witnesses that backtracked at the last minute was Evelyn de Leon, also an officer of one of Napoles’s alleged NGOs. De Leon was among those charged and convicted in the Kevlar helmet case.
Benipayo warned that those who refuse to testify against Napoles could be included in the charges that could be filed against her over the pork barrel scam. “There’s a huge possibility that they will be included in the charge.”
Among the witnesses so far, only Benhur Luy is covered by the government’s Witness Protection Program.
More names dragged
Baligod acknowledges that the 4 new witnesses strengthened the case being built against Napoles while dragging more names into the ongoing saga.
Apart from the anti-graft court justice, one lawyer is also mentioned as Napoles’ conduit to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Baligod said he would file a disbarment case against the lawyer at the proper time. – Rappler.com