Aquino on new PDAF scam probe, Napoles: 'I'm confused'

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III said he is "confused" by the developments in the pork barrel scam investigation and the acquittal of alleged mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles in her serious illegal detention case.

Aquino made the statement when asked about the justice department's reinvestigation of the priority development assistance (PDAF) scam.

"We started from when Napoles was convicted and was overturned. Okay, shall we say at the very least I’m confused 'no?" Aquino said in a Rappler interview after he ended his year-long self-imposed silence following the assumption of new administration. 

Apparently adding to his confusion is the plan of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to tap Napoles as a state witness in the Department of Justice (DOJ) reinvestigation of the PDAF scam.

"There is speculation, there’s talk that she will be made witness and I don’t know how she would qualify as a witness being in the center of this whole thing if the criteria should be not the most guilty," Aquino said. 

He added: "How can she not be part of that when she was  at the center of this whole mess of which cases are at the present time being litigated?"

To make Napoles a state witness, Aguirre is targeting to implicate former budget secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad as the scam instigator. (READ: Ombudsman: Napoles will not become state witness)

Napoles had claimed in her earlier affidavits that Abad taught her to use non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to transact with lawmakers using their PDAF.

As Aguirre explained, if private person Napoles and public official Abad are found to have equal liability, then following an earlier Supreme Court (SC) ruling, it's the public official who's the most guilty. (READ: PDAF cases, Duterte-time: Napoles confident of freedom 'in less than 2 years')

Defending Abad

Aquino came to the defense of his former budget chief and partymate at the Liberal Party (LP).

"They’ve repeated that allegation that Napoles got the idea from Butch Abad. Now, all I have to say there and I’ve said this before, we were in the opposition when a lot of these things were happening. So how does a staunch member of the opposition tell the administration that they’re opposed, to do anything?" Aquino said.

As Napoles' story goes, she and Abad met in 2000 in a clandestine meeting where Abad supposedly arranged for a P10-million Batanes project to be channeled through an NGO. (READ: Napoles moves for bail again, this time via Supreme Court)

"When we talked about the implementation of the project, he asked me if I had an NGO or coop. When I said none, he said he will take care of it. In my recollection, he used the Batanes Electric Cooperative (BatanElCo) to implement the project," Napoles said then.

Abad was still representative of Batanes at the time. Aquino, meanwhile, was representative of the 2nd district of Tarlac. During that time, Abad also served as LP president.

"In particular, in my case, we left the coalition after the 2004 elections, and by 2005, if I remember correctly, we were no longer given PDAF. In fact, at some latter part there was talk that they were going to recall something that was given in 2001 to my district in Tarlac," Aquino said.

Abad had refuted Napoles' allegations saying the supposed P10 million BatanElCo project does not exist in any of the records in BatanElCo, National Electrification Administration (NEA) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

New affidavits

Aguirre said Napoles is preparing new affidavits which will become the basis of fresh complaints to be filed before the DOJ. The DOJ task force was created to handle the reinvestigation.

Aguirre had earlier quoted Napoles lawyer Stephen David as saying the fresh complaints will implicate Abad and opposition Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Franklin Drilon, and Leila de Lima. The senators had denied any involvement in the scam.

The DOJ under De Lima investigated the scam which led to the detention of 3 senators – Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramong "Bong" Revilla Jr.

Aguirre had refused to go into details of the fresh complaints, but made it clear it would include allies of the Aquino administration. He claimed in May that there was a "miscarriage of justice" during the Aquino administration which observed "selective justice."

De Lima said in one of her handwritten letters released from her prison cell in Camp Crame that Napoles is a "polluted source" who was willing to "implicate anyone in exchange for being discharged as a state witness and save her own skin.” (READ: How credible is Janet Napoles?)

“She was then willing to lie to avoid imprisonment. With her acquittal under this administration, it appears that she has finally succeeded in closing the deal that the past administration of the DOJ under my leadership refused her,” De Lima said.

Aquino repeated this in the interview with Rappler. He recalled Napoles saying after she surrendered to him in Malacañang: "Sir, hindi kami kalaban ng gobyerno. Handa akong tumulong (Sir, we're not foes of the government. We're ready to help)." But they decided to turn her down offer.

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.