MANILA, Philippines – Assailing the asset preservation order (APO) on his select bank accounts and cars, pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy said he acquired the subject properties “through perseverance and hard work.”
In a motion for reconsideration (MR) filed April 16 before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) but released to the media Thursday, May 8, the state witness said the money he acquired as an employee of alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles was not necessarily illegally sourced.
“The money appearing in the bank account of Benhur Luy represents the salaries he earned during his ten (10) years of employment with Janet Napoles. Within the same period, he was permitted to use one of Napoles’ condominium. Consequently, he was able to save most of his earnings,” his MR read.
Luy added that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which filed through the Solicitor General (SolGen) the property forfeiture case against him before the Manila RTC, has no sufficient evidence to prove that Luy’s assets came from the pork barrel anomaly.
Revealed by Luy, the pork barrel scam is a scheme diverting lawmakers’ now-abolished Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus projects of nongovernmental organizations associated with Napoles.
The Manila RTC Branch 22 issued on March 25 the APO, which effectively froze properties suspected to have been acquired using money from the PDAF scam. As a result, Luy is prevented from making any “transaction, transfer, removal, conversion, concealment, or other disposition” of his properties covered by the APO.
The hearing on Luy’s plea assailing the APO – intially set last April 25 – was postponed to May 14 due to the absence of Manila RTC Executive Judge Mariano dela Cruz Jr.
Among the bank accounts covered by the APO is a dollar account containing the equivalent of over P500,000 (over $11,400). Luy said he opened the account sometime in 2005 when he wanted to attend the World Youth Day in Germany.
He said he acquired the money through the generosity of friends who allowed him to keep it, despite not making it to the trip. He was not given the leave of absence by his then employer, Napoles.
His brother, Arthur, was also affected by the APO. A bank account containing a little less than P1 million (less than $22,700) was frozen by the Manila court.
Arthur, however, said that he earned the money as a seafarer.
“It should be emphasized that Arthur is a seaman who started working since 1999 and has increased his take home pay over the years. It is naturally expected from him to earn such amount,” the MR read.
Exemption from assets freeze
Vehemently denying the allegation of ill-gotten wealth, Luy also maintained that his status as a state witness exempts him from the assets freeze.
As a state witness, Luy is immune from criminal prosecution over the PDAF scam.
The state witness cited a Supreme Court ruling on the administrative charge over unexplained wealth against former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Manuel Cabal that tags as “criminal” property forfeiture proceedings.
Luy argued that while property forfeiture proceedings are civil in character, the nature of the penalty goes into the substantive rights of a person.
Rebutting an argument made by AMLC using another SC decision classifying as “civil” the assets forfeiture case of a government employee, Luy said the ruling cited by AMLC was an earlier jurisprudence already superseded by the ruling on Cabal’s case.
The SC ruling Luy cited was issued in December 1962, 4 months after the release of the ruling cited by the AMLC through the SolGen.
The APO on Luy’s assets is effective until the final ruling of the Manila RTC on his assets forfeiture case, when the trial court finally decides if the select properties should be permanently seized by the state.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said that the APO on Luy’s properties is consistent with the affidavit he submitted to the Department of Justice.
(Read Benhur Luy’s motion for reconsideration below.)