Napoles in Senate? Ombudsman to decide

Ayee Macaraig

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Senate President Franklin Drilon asks the Ombudsman's opinion on the request to subpoena Napoles in the Senate probe

MARATHON HEARINGS. The Senate blue ribbon committee, chaired by Teofisto 'TG' Guingona III, is holding two hearings on the PDAF scam this week, Sept 24 and 26.

MANILA, Philippines – Will the so-called pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles finally face the Senate?

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the answer lies with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. 

Drilon wrote Morales on Monday afternoon, September 23, seeking her opinion on the request of the Senate blue ribbon committee to summon Napoles to its probe into the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.

The signature of the Senate President is needed for the subpoena but Drilon deemed it proper to first consult the Ombudsman after Senate Secretary Oscar Yabes pointed out that the Ombudsman Act prohibits publicity of cases it handles.

“Under [its] own rules, the Ombudsman [has] to determine the confidentiality of the proceedings whether or not it can adversely affect the case. So, that is for the Ombudsman to determine,” Drilon told reporters on Monday.

Earlier Monday, Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said that his committee asked Drilon to sign the subpoena for Napoles to attend its hearing on Thursday, September 26.

Yet upon Drilon’s inquiry, Yabes pointed the Senate President to the law saying the Ombudsman has the power to determine what cases to make public under its rules and regulations.

Yabes cited the Ombudsman’s Rules of Procedure stating that, “The Ombudsman may publicize in a fair and balanced manner the filing of a complaint … provided however that prior to such final action, no publicity shall be made of matters which may adversely affect national security or public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the deposition of the case, or unduly expose persons complained against to ridicule or public censure.”

In his letter to Morales, Drilon highlighted the need for the Ombudsman to quickly decide on the issue.

“Given the proximity of the scheduled hearing on Thursday, your immediate response will be deeply appreciated,” Drilon said. 

The Office of the Ombudsman is handling the complaint filed by the justice department on the pork barrel scam. The department filed the complaint last week against 38 individuals, including Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada.

READ: 38 charged in pork barrel scam

The senators and other lawmakers are accused of channeling their pork barrel funds to Napoles’ fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for commissions as big as 50% of the project.

No opinion on Napoles’ appearance

Napoles is currently detained at a police camp in Laguna for a separate serious illegal detention case. She was arraigned on Monday at the Makati Regional Trial court.

Drilon said he did not ask the court for permission to issue the subpoena.

“I haven’t thought of that but she is under the custody of the Makati court and any movement must be cleared by the Makati court. That’s the logical consequence,” said Drilon.

Guingona had said, “The appearance of Ms. Napoles in the Blue Ribbon hearing is important to our investigation as the Filipinos are looking for answers that may shed light to some issues at hand.”

While Guingona and Sen Francis Escudero said Napoles’ Senate testimony will be crucial, Drilon expressed no view on the matter.  

“I have no opinion precisely that’s why I ask the Ombudsman because beyond the relevancy and non-relevancy of the case is the power of the Ombudsman.”

The Senate President was dragged into the issue when photos of him with Napoles and her husband surfaced in the media. Drilon said Napoles was only an acquaintance he met in parties and he never talked to her about his pork barrel.

De Lima also cites Ombudsman rule 

While Napoles’ appearance is still unclear, Guingona announced in a statement that Napoles’ second cousin and principal whistleblower Benhur Luy will again testify when the hearing resumes on Tuesday, September 24.

Besides Luy, also testifying are his mother Gertrudes Luy, De Lima and other whistleblowers Marina Sula and Merlina Suña, according to Guingona. 

Yet in a letter to Guingona, De Lima said the Ombudsman now has jurisdiction of the case after the plunder complaint was filed. She cited the same Ombudsman rule on the publicity of matters under the body, saying she will defer to Morales on publicizing the testimonies of the whistleblowers. 

Two weeks ago, Benhur Luy made a surprise appearance at the probe and explained how the scam works. Luy though did not name the lawmakers involved, a condition Justice Secretary Leila de Lima asked in exchange for his testimony.

READ: Luy: Senators’ aides fetched cash from JLN 

At that time, the department had yet to file the plunder complaint at the Ombudsman. De Lima said naming names will compromise the case and the safety of the whistleblowers. 

The Tuesday hearing will start at 9 am. Rappler will livestream the hearing on its front page.

Should Napoles testify before the Senate? Let us know in the comments section below. – 

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