Napoles hearing pushes through
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The long wait for alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles will not be extended.
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona turned down the request of his vice chairman Sen Sergio Osmeña III to postpone the testimony of Napoles by two weeks.
In a text message to reporters on Monday, November 4, Guingona said Napoles’ testimony will push through on November 7 and will start at 10 am.
Osmeña issued a press release Sunday calling for the postponement of the hearing to November 18, the resumption of the Senate session. Osmeña said more than half of the members of the Senate will be out of town on November 7.
"Senators must have the opportunity to propound questions to Mrs. Napoles. The credibility of the Senate would be enhanced by more openness and greater transparency,” he said.
Yet senators who have actively participated in the probe said there should be no further delay to Napoles’ testimony.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said he will be present on November 7. “I believe that justice should not be made to wait. The Senate should resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis Escudero is also against any postponement.
It took weeks before the Senate finally summoned Napoles. Senate President Franklin Drilon initially opposed signing a subpoena for her, saying the testimony might compromise the investigation of the Ombudsman, which is also looking into the multi-billion peso scam.
Yet after much criticism, Drilon eventually reversed his decision, pre-empting a Senate caucus to decide on the issue.
Napoles is accused of pocketing millions of pesos in pork barrel funds in connivance with lawmakers and officials from the executive branch. In the scheme, lawmakers supposedly endorsed her fake non-governmental organizations and accepted kickbacks amounting to 50% of ghost projects.
The three senators implicated in the scam – Sen Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, and Sen Bong Revilla – have inhibited themselves from the blue ribbon investigation. They and 35 others are facing a plunder and malversation complaint before the Ombudsman over the scam.
Over the weekend, Estrada left for the United States to seek medical advice on the lump and cysts diagnosed on his wife’s breast. His wife will join him later this week, along with their youngest daughter. He promised to return by November 18.
'Most high-risk witness ever’
Ahead of Napoles’ testimony, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms MGen Jose Balajadia Jr said the Senate security group has been meeting with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to coordinate security preparations.
Balajadia said authorities received no threat in relation to the hearing but Napoles has long been identified as a “high-risk personality.”
Asked if she is the most high-risk Senate witness ever, Balajadia told reporters, “So far, yes, since I was here more than 10 years ago, this is the most [high-risk]. That is understandable.”
Balajadia said the security arrangement will be similar to the testimony of principal whistleblower Benhur Luy, where officers were allowed to guard him even inside the session hall.
The sergeant-at-arms said he also requested 60 policemen to be on hand for crowd control in anticipation of protests outside the Senate gate.
Members of the public will be allowed to watch the testimony on a first-come-first-served basis, with only 300 seats available.
When she faces the Senate Thursday, Napoles will come face-to-face with her former aides-turned-whistleblowers.
Also testifying are Luy and other former employees of Napoles.
In their past testimony and affidavits, the whistleblowers accused Napoles of pocketing about 40% of the project cost, and maintaining a wide network of contacts that spanned the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Last week, Guingona said he will not allow a squabble to occur in the hearing.
“They can confront each other as well but the questions are controlled by the senators and the committee chairman. We won’t allow [a squabble]. We will maintain order,” Guingona said.
Estrada though downplayed Napoles’ testimony. Before leaving for abroad, the senator told Rappler that Napoles will just use the same strategy that other accused have used in the past.
"She will not say anything. What will she say? She will be like [military comptroller Carlos Garcia], 'I invoke my right [to remain silent.]' She will be like, may his soul rest in peace, [former Congressman Ignacio] Iggy Arroyo," Estrada said. – Rappler.com