'Security threats drove Napoles to apply as state witness'
MANILA, Philippines – A "tearful" Janet Napoles wanting to "come clean" was praying the rosary when Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima entered her room at the Ospital ng Makati (OsMak) on Monday night, April 21.
Thus recounted De Lima her meeting with Napoles, who expressed interest to bare everything she knew of the controversial pork barrel scam in exchange of becoming a state witness. (READ: Napoles wants to be state witness – De Lima)
In a press conference Tuesday, April 22, De Lima said recurring security threats that Napoles received through calls and text messages drove her to apply as a state witness.
"We have not totally closed our doors to that possibility. Hindi po ang DOJ ang may final decision d'yan. Assuming lang na tingin ng DOJ ay p'wede s'ya, ibibigay namin 'yan sa Ombudsman for their own evaluation kung saka-sakali. She mentions of alleged security threats. The more na hindi s'ya nagsasalita, mas open target s'ya," De Lima said.
(We have not totally closed our doors to that possibility. The DOJ does not have the final decision on that [issue]. Assuming the DOJ thinks she qualifies, we will [still] refer that to the Ombudsman for evaluation, if ever. She mentions of alleged security threats. The more she remains mum, the more she becomes a target.)
Napoles is currently confined at the OsMak and is due to undergo surgery to have a myoma removed from her uterus.
Speaking to reporters, De Lima said Napoles' impending surgery gave her extra drive to testify, as it also puts her life at risk. "That is why she wanted to meet before the surgery," De Lima said.
Napoles is the alleged mastermind behind the diversion of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to ghost projects of bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) she owns. Her NGOs serve in paper as beneficiaries of the funds.
The sham was revealed by principal whistleblower Benhur Luy, who was rescued by National Bureau of Investigation agents in March 2013. Luy was allegedly illegally detained by Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim.
Napoles now faces plunder charges over the PDAF scam, an illegal detention case over Luy's claim of being detained, and a property forfeiture case over the assets she allegedly acquired through the scam.
If admitted as a state witness, she will be immune from criminal prosecution only on the plunder case over the illegal siphoning of lawmaker's PDAF.
Napoles submitted her affidavit to De Lima during their 5-hour meeting at OsMak. De Lima said Napoles previously refused to file a counter-affidavit in the plunder complaint she faced, making the April 21 affidavit Napoles' first documented statement detailing what she knew of the scam.
Napoles appeared in a Senate hearing on the scam on November 7 but repeatedly invoked her right to remain silent.
De Lima said Napoles also provided documentary evidence during their meeting, which the DOJ head refused to share on account of prosecutorial strategy.
De Lima refused to provide further details on the content of Napoles' affidavit but said Napoles had implicated more people in the pork barrel scam.
Napoles also disclosed additional details related to the alleged involvement of senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla, and Jinggoy Estrada with the scam, De Lima added.
Asked if Napoles' affidavit would contribute substantially to the prosecution of the pork barrel cases before the Ombudsman, a smiling De Lima simply commented: "There were really a lot of details."
The justice secretary said DOJ lawyers will visit Napoles again to ask followup questions. She said nothing's preventing her from seeing Napoles again, if needed.
De Lima, who gave President Benigno Aquino III a "heads up" prior to negotiating with Napoles, gave Napoles an ultimatum before meeting with her.
She said she would only agree to meet with Napoles on 3 conditions: Napoles would tell everything she knows about the scam; she would talk exclusively to the DOJ; there would be no commitment on the part of DOJ to automatically admit her as state witness.
De Lima felt she had to ask for Napoles to speak exclusively to the DOJ, after reports that certain quarters were reaching out to the alleged scam mastemind.
De Lima said Napoles' emissary, lawyer Bruce Rivera, communicated to the DOJ as early as April 16 Napoles' intent to become state witness.
It was agreed upon that details of Napoles' testimony would not be disclosed until a decision on her status as state witness is finalized, De Lima said.
Malacañang reiterated that Napoles' testimony is still subject to evaluation but considered it "a significant development in our quest to find the truth."
The justice secretary refused to provide a timetable for the evaluation of Napoles' testimony.
Reacting to Napoles' application as state witness, Senator Estrada said De Lima is flip-flopping for even considering the application to begin with.
Other senators also expressed reservations on the prospect of Napoles becoming a state witness.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III cautioned against the possibility that Napoles might simply be messing up with the prosecution against PDAF scam suspects as she has nothing to lose anyway.
"Puwede ring ginugulo na n'ya ang picture out of desperation – idamay lahat ng nakilala nya, lahat ng nakamayan n'ya, lahat ng nakausap n'ya. Since she's facing the prospect of life in prison, so why not 'taint' as many other personalities just to muddle the whole issue?"
(It is possible she is messing up the picture out of desperation – just implicate everyone she knows, everyone she's shaken hands with, everyone she's talked to. Since she's facing the prospect of life in prison, why not 'taint' as many other personalities just to muddle the whole issue?)
He also echoed a previous sentiment by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago that Napoles cannot qualify, as the rules of court prevents an accused who appears "most guilty" in the case from becoming a state witness.
"How could the person who put up the infrastructure for the PDAF graft scam be qualified as state witnes? Isn't the architect and engineer of the whole scheme the most guilty, hence disqualified from being state witness?" Pimentel asked.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, on the other hand, was more open to the idea. "I will support that but she should not hold back any information and she should return to the government all stolen money." – Rappler.com