Benhur Luy was never detained, court told

Bea Cupin
In the first hearing on Napoles' bail petition, lawyer Lorna Kapunan insists Napoles never abducted the whistleblower

FREE TO ROAM. Lorna Kapunan shows media stills from a CCTV camera showing Benhur Luy was not restrained by Reynald Lim. Photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – If pork barrel whistleblower Benhur Luy was really detained against his will, then why was he able to walk around, even going out for meals with Reynald Lim, one of 2 accused of illegally detaining him?

Lawyer Lorna Kapunan made this argument in court on Friday, September 27, during the hearing on the motion for bail of her client Janet Lim Napoles at the Makati Regional Trial Court branch 150.

Kapunan zoomed in on the prosecution’s witness, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Special Task Force agent Dante Berou who was part of the team that investigated the complaint filed by the Luy family. He was also present during what the NBI described as a “rescue operation” for Luy in March this year.

Two hearings are scheduled on Friday for Napoles’ urgent bail plea. She is detained at Fort Sto Domingo, Sta Rosa, Laguna.

As of posting, Berou is the first and only witness to testify in court. Prosecutor Chris Garvida earlier said they would present “at least 8” witnesses while Kapunan said they had 17 witnesses ready to testify.

“How did you ascertain that Benhur Luy was seriously illegally detained?” Kapunan asked Berou.

Berou said the NBI based their actions on the affidavits of Benhur’s family: father Arturo, mother Gertrudes, sister Annabelle and brother Arthur.

Benhur Luy, a cousin of Napoles, served as her longtime assistant before he eventually became the principal witness in the plunder complaint filed against her. His affidavits filed with the Ombudsman and testimonies before the Senate blue ribbon commitee illustrate an intricate syndicate behind the misuse of billions of lawmakers’ funds that were meant for government agencies and communities.

READ: Luy: Senators’ aides fetched cash from JLN

No basis for search, arrest?

Kapunan asked Berou whether the NBI had visited the places where Benhur could have been detained, based on the family’s testimony.

“In my experience as an investigator, you can’t do that because the victim might be killed,” said Berou.

Lim and Napoles both face serious illegal detention charges, for allegedly keeping Benhur Luy in their custody from December 2012 to March 2013 — when he was “rescued” by the NBI at the posh Pacific Plaza Towers in Taguig.

The unit where Benhur was found, Berou said, was owned by Janet Lim Napoles but occupied by Lim and his family.

Recounting the night of the rescue operation, Berou said it was Lim who opened the door of Napoles’ ground floor unit at Pacific Plaza’s South tower. Lim tried to prevent the NBI from entering, but relented when NBI operatives forced themselves in. The Luy family was seated on a sofa. Benhur was also there with his family members.

At first, Benhur looked scared when the NBI agents approached him. “Walang ginagawang masama si Kuya Jojo,” said Benhur, referring to Lim. The NBI later explained they were there to rescue him from Lim, and that the Luy family had pressed serious illegal detention charges against Lim.

Benhur was trembling at that point, Beruo said. “So you are the source of threat,” Kapunan told the NBI agent in court.

According to Kapunan, the NBI did not have the authority to arrest Reynald Lim that night. Lim was arrested by the NBI and taken to St. Luke’s after he complained of chest pains. He was later released when the justice department initially junked the case against Napoles and Lim.

“So you did not only threaten [Benhur] Luy, you also caused the heart attack of Reynald Lim?” Kapunan added. Judge Elmo Alameda ordered the statement stricken off the record.

‘Benhur wasn’t detained’

After the hearing, Kapunan showed media pictures from the Pacific Plaza Towers’ CCTV cameras taken on the night Benhur was rescued. The images show Benhur walking alongside Lim; he could’ve easily left, Kapunan added.

The images Kapunan showed media, however, were not yet marked as evidence in the case.

Kapunan also attempted to play a CCTV footage taken outside Pacific Plaza Towers on the night of Benhur’s rescue. But Judge Alameda disallowed its showing since he said it needed to be authenticated first.

The defense team also showed media a letter that Benhur allegedly wrote on Feb 19, 2013, while at the retreat house in Magallanes subdivision. They said it was further proof that he was not detained against his will.

Watch the defense team reading the letter below.

There is no basis in saying Benhur was restrained, not let out of the retreat house. Benhur and Reynald Lim were going out for meals, coffee,” said Kapunan. -Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.