MANILA, Philippines – After reportedly naming more senators involved in the pork barrel scam, should Janet Lim Napoles testify before the Senate?
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago urged the Senate blue ribbon committee to invite the alleged scam mastermind to a reopened investigation on the controversy. Senator Antonio Trillanes IV supporter her call, saying only a Senate testimony will test Napoles’ credibility.
Santiago wrote committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, asking for Napoles’ second appearance before the panel. Napoles first faced the Senate in November 2013, where she repeatedly denied knowledge of the scam, and invoked her right against self-incrimination.
“[However] it appears that Ms Napoles has [now] also implicated some 19 other senators. On this basis, I believe that there are strong reasons based on the Constitution and the Senate Rules, for recalling Ms. Napoles to the witness stand,” Santiago said on Wednesday, April 23.
Watch this report below.
Guingona has yet to respond to Santiago’s call, which came a day after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima announced that Napoles offered to “tell all” about the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history.
Senate blue ribbon committee vice chairman Sergio “Serge” Osmena III said that Guingona must ensure that Napoles will say something substantial before inviting her. Osmeña said Guingona should secure a copy of Napoles’ affidavit and get in touch with her lawyers.
Osmeña said this was the agreement he reached with Guingona in the case of lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, the former chief of staff of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile. Santiago also proposed that Reyes be summoned to a hearing.
“It’s up to Senator TG to decide. The substance of our conversation is it’s useless to reopen the hearing if the person does not speak. What will we do? We sing the national anthem?”
Trillanes agreed, saying a Senate testimony will clarify reports that Napoles implicated senators other than Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile in the scam.
“Then she should say that in the hearing. The more we need to hear from her [is] who are these 19 and not just [take] her word [as reported in the media]. We have to reconcile that with the documents and with the testimony of earlier witnesses. It cannot be that out of the blue, people will be implicated. That’s going to be unfair,” Trillanes said.
Trillanes added that even the public will “demand” that Napoles face the Senate, calling it the best venue for her to show that she indeed had a “change of heart.”
Trillanes and Osmeña denied having dealings with Napoles.
Revilla, Estrada and Enrile face a plunder complaint for allegedly conniving with Napoles to funnel their pork barrel funds to her bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks.
Former Senator Panfilo Lacson said Napoles’ camp gave him a copy of her affidavit in a meeting in March, and he saw that there were at least 13 senators implicated in the scam. Napoles’ lawyer denied that she named 19 senators in her affidavit.
Greater interest of gov’t
Not all senators are open to the possibility of Napoles turning state witness. Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III earlier said Napoles was the most guilty as the “architect” of the scam.
Yet Trillanes and Osmeña said they were willing to look past Napoles’ initial denials to prosecute the other corrupt officials.
“This thing should not be looked at solely from a legal perspective. There’s a greater interest of the state: who were her co-conspirators? If we will be a stickler for rules, she won’t be a state witness as defined but you won’t know who are the senators, congressmen. So they are still out there, crafting policy, maybe committing acts of corruption so it’s best to know that,” Trillanes said.
Even after Napoles changed her statements, Osmeña said the committee will not sue her for perjury if she tells the Senate the truth.
“It all depends upon which is the more important factor and if we believe she is finally telling the truth, an apology will be sufficient.”
The two said the government can offer concessions to Napoles in exchange for information against the other officials.
“It might be a lower sentence. I’m not saying that is what the Department of Justice should do. I’m saying there is some leeway if a witness cooperates,” Osmeña said.
Minor contradictions okay
Osmeña and Trillanes also downplayed the likely contradictions between Napoles’ statements and the testimony of her former aides-turned-whistleblowers, who pointed to her as the mastermind.
“Not all evidence is consistent….For as long as it is not materially different, one does not say the wall is red while the others say it is green,” Osmeña said.
Trillanes also dismissed criticism that the administration is flip-flopping on considering Napoles as a state witness.
“If that word is broken, it’s not the first time it happened in this administration,” he quipped. – Rappler.com