MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) rejected on Tuesday, July 8, the request of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles for the prelates to take her under their custody.
In a statement, CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said bishops “face obstacles from both Church and State laws” in heeding Napoles' request for the CBCP to “take her under protective custody.”
Villegas explained: “Existing Church laws do not allow an episcopal conference to stand as guarantor before civil courts that the accused will not abscond and will be available at every trial date. Furthermore, we are not sure that under civil law, we are qualified for such a role as Ms Napoles would wish us to assume.”
The CBCP released this statement after reports on Monday, July 7, said Napoles requested the CBCP to take her under its custody. GMA News quoted Napoles' lawyer, Stephen David, as saying Napoles believes “she would be safer with the clergy.”
Napoles is detained at Fort Sto Domingo in Sta Rosa, Laguna, for serious illegal detention charges.
In rejecting Napoles' request, Villegas added that agreeing to take Napoles into the CBCP's custody will establish a precedent.
“Once we allow CBCP's offices to take recognizance of Ms Napoles, we must, to be fair, accept similar requests from all other accused. Not only would this strain CBCP's resources. It would render impossible the discharge of its principle functions,” the CBCP president said.
Napoles’ camp, however, denied having ever sent a request to the CBCP. “Sabi nga ni Mrs Napoles, hindi niya alam kung ano ibig sabihin ng request for custody,” Napoles’ spokesman lawyer Bruce Rivera told Rappler in a phone interview.
(Mrs Napoles herself said she doesn't know what they mean by request for custody.)
Rivera said David might have been quoted out of context in his statement. The Napoles camp never sent a letter to the CBCP, he added.
"Syempre nahihiya [si Mrs. Napoles] kasi di ba hindi naman kami...in fact, napaka-presumptuous na sabihing may support ang CBCP sa amin," said Rivera.
(Mrs Napoles was embarrased to hear the reports. It would be presumptuous for us to even say that the CBCP supports us.)
'Tell the truth,' Napoles told
Villegas said the CBCP, in any case, will “continue to be vigilant that the rights of Ms Napoles, as of all accused, are respected and safeguarded; in the same measure that we urge government prosecutors to be resolute and non-selective in the indictment of offenders and in holding them accountable for all their actions.”
Villegas earlier granted one of Napoles' requests – for him to visit her “for prayers and blessings for fast recovery.”
The CBCP president did this, but “told her the blessing will only give healing if she tells the whole truth without being selective.”
Villegas himself has criticized the pork barrel system. (READ: 'Man does not need pork to go with bread')
In a pastoral statement in July 2013, Villegas said the pork barrel, or Priority Development Asssistance Fund (PDAF), “in theory...is pro-poor and pro-marginalized.”
Under his watch, the CBCP also challenged the Aquino administration to investigate corrupt officials within its ranks as 3 opposition senators – Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr – face plunder charges over the Philippines' biggest corruption scandal in recent history. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.