‘Napolist’ frenzy reignites Luy-Baligod tussle

Buena Bernal
‘Napolist’ frenzy reignites Luy-Baligod tussle
Benhur Luy's lawyer says his client did not consent to the release of the hard disk drive containing documents backing his testimony

MANILA, Philippines – Should lawyers divulge to the public sensitive information from their clients?

One of the current lawyers of pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy, Raymond Ian Mendoza, said in a phone interview Wednesday, May 14, that legal ethics prohibits lawyers from sharing information without the knowledge and consent of their clients. He was alluding to Luy’s former counsel Levito Baligod who, he said, should have been the “first line of defense” in protecting evidence that would fortify Luy’s testimony.

A relative and former aide of alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, Luy is under the government’s Witness Protection Program. He turned against Napoles, exposing what is now known to be the biggest corruption scandal to hit the country in recent years.

Mendoza said Luy never consented to the release of his records contained in a hard disk drive, of which a copy ended up in the possession of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Inquirer copied on April 27, 2013 the contents of the hard disk drive from Luy’s parents, who Mendoza said, were not really aware about the drive’s contents. During their April 27 visit to the Inquirer office, Luy’s parents were accompanied by Baligod.

“When his parents went to (the) Inquirer, the intention was to seek help with regards to Luy’s illegal detention and the Napoles operation,” he said. “It was not an informed consent, even if andoon yung parents ni Benhur (Benhur’s parents were there).” 

He said Luy never sanctioned the release of his records to the newspaper, adding that the disclosure of information backing up his testimony was among the subjects of discussion that ignited conflict between Luy and his former counsel.

“We are not sure what’s in that data. It was given without Benhur’s knowledge. They (the parents) were not really aware what’s inside the hard disk,” Mendoza said.

Luy relieved Baligod as his legal counsel on March 3 and sought a friend’s help to find a new set of lawyers.

Baligod was reported to have had differences with Luy and the other whistleblowers over testimonies involving Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong and Technology Resource Center head Dennis Cunanan. He was also said to have less time for the whistleblowers and had been absent in court. 

‘Ridiculous’

But Baligod denies divulging to anyone information from Luy’s testimony. He tagged as “ridiculous” Mendoza’s burdening him with having to be “the first line of defense” in protecting Luy’s documents.

Luy’s records as accessed by the Inquirer include bank account numbers and balances spanning 10 years of JLN Corporation, owned by alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

Based on its reports, the hard disk drive in the possession of the national daily provides a wealth of information: over 500 special allotment release orders (Saros) for more than 100 lawmakers, names in the guest lists for Napoles’ parties, records of Napoles’ properties and houses, remittances abroad for her daughter Jeane, payments of club shares, security and treasury bonds, and minimal tax payments. 

The daily said Luy’s current lawyer Mendoza was informed about the impending revelatory reports, when it decided to publish a series on the content of the digital files in its possession that back up the testimony of Luy. 

In its latest report, the Inquirer tagged 25 former and current senators as having transacted with Napoles based on Luy’s records.

The Inquirer released the names culled from Luy’s documents who are supposedly part of the elaborate scheme to divert their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus projects of fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs) associated with Napoles.

No consent on release

The implicated senators were quick to brandish the publication of the list as a political smear campaign. With some of these legislators even threatening to sue, Luy’s camp denied any involvement in the disclosure of his documents.

Mendoza said he does not even have “the authority to give that consent” to publicly disclose information from Luy’s records, as these are already part of the pool of evidence in the hands of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

According to Mendoza, it was Baligod who copied the data from Luy now in the hands of the Inquirer

“That data was copied by the former counsel. It was the former counsel who copied the data – which was meant for forensic examination – as back-up,” he said.

Denying ever divulging information from Luy’s testimony, Baligod said he will answer Luy personally if confronted.

But Mendoza said that while Baligod may not have divulged Luy’s testimony, the data backing up Luy’s testimony was another story. Baligod admitted to having copied Luy’s records to a hard disk drive but only for back-up purposes. 

Names can’t be disclosed without vetting

Asked why only 3 senators were tagged in the initially disclosed testimony of Luy, Mendoza said the involvement of the rest of the lawmakers Luy implicated in the PDAF scam still had to be probed further. 

Echoing the same sentiment, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Wednesday that the names involved in the scam would only be made public once the DOJ is ready to file a case against them.

De Lima admitted that the pool of evidence in the hands of the Inquirer was already with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) since Luy sought its help and protection. The NBI is an agency attached to the DOJ.

Alam niyo, yung hard drive meron din ang NBI niyan. Meron kami niyan. But pina-authenticate pa yan… I’m just being consistent with our stance na hindi pwede kaming nagne-name ng names until ready na kami magfile ng kaso,” de Lima said.

(You know, that hard drive, the NBI also has that. We have that. But we are still authenticating… I’m just being consistent with our stance that we cannot name names until we are ready to file a case.)

Out of the 25 past and present senators from the Inquirer-released list, only Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, and Jinggoy Estrada have been indicted for plunder over the scam.

De Lima said the first batch of PDAF scam cases which included the 3 senators’ plunder cases is based on a 2007-2009 state audit report, in addition to Luy’s and other whistleblowers’ testimonies and accompanying documents. 

Estrada and Revilla have cried black propaganda over what they felt was selective prosecution to protect administration allies. They are part of the Senate minority bloc.

Protect information

First to reveal the diversion of legislators’ PDAF to bogus projects of NGOs associated with his former boss Napoles, Luy was rescued by NBI agents in March 2013. He was allegedly illegally detained by Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim.

Facing a property forfeiture case himself for allegedly illegally acquiring wealth from the scam, Luy remains with the DOJ Witness Protection Program (WPP). 

Baligod suggested modifying the rules governing the WPP and further limiting outside access to state witnesses. He previously said he was relieved as Luy’s lawyer, as he would be a hindrance to certain quarters trying to influence Luy.

“If the witnesses are easily accessible, there is a way to influence them also,” he told Rappler.

Baligod also believes state protection under the WPP should extend beyond physical security to include the protection of information the witness provided. 

He proposed modifying Rule 134 of the Rules of Court, which pertains to a witness’ perpetuation of testimony, to automatically include all state witnesses sans a petition. This way, testimonies such as that of Luy’s will be preserved and can be used in court even after the witness’ passing or incapacity to testify. – Rappler.com

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