Court grants bail to Napoles, 2 ex-lawmakers

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has granted bail to two former congressmen and businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles in connection with their plunder cases stemming from the alleged misuse of the  Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

On Wednesday morning, April 13, the Sandiganbayan's Fourth Division cited weak evidence of guilt in granting the bail petitions of former Masbate representative now Masbate Governor Rizalina Seachon-Lanete and Napoles.

The court set bail at P500,000 for each of them.

Radio dzMM reported that Lanete paid a total of P830,000 – P500,000 for the plunder charge and P330,000 for 11 counts of graft.

While Lanete would be released after completing the procedure for posting bail, Napoles would remain in jail as she is serving a life term time for the illegal detention of her former employee, Benhur Luy, the primary whistleblower in the pork barrel scam.

The court had earlier rejected Napoles' petitions for bail in PDAF scam cases involving detained senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr and Jinggoy Estrada, and Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

Lanete is charged with plunder and 11 counts of graft for misusing P112.29 million ($2.44 million) of her PDAF or pork barrel from 2007-2009.

In exchange for kickbacks, Lanete allegedly allowed her PDAF to be unlawfully diverted to ghost projects of foundations controlled by Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the PDAF scam.

Also on Wednesday, the Sandiganbayan's Fifth Division granted the bail petitions of Napoles and former APEC party list representative Edgar Valdez, also in connection with the PDAF scam.

Valdez faces plunder charges and 7 counts of graft for allegedly pocketing up to P95 million ($2.06 million) in public funds through the illegal diversion of his PDAF to fake non-governmental organizations run by Napoles.

"Taking all the evidence and the pertinent law and doctrinal rules together, it would appear that for purposes of bail, there appears to be doubt as to the total amount of alleged ill-gotten wealth amassed, accumulated, and/or acquired by accused Valdez, directly or indirectly with Napoles and De Asis, covered by the instant Information," the court said.

The court set ail at P1.5 million each for Valdez and Napoles.

Valdez, who has been detained since earlier 2015, will gain temporary freedom upon completion of all the necessary procedures.

Napoles is facing other graft and plunder cases in connection with the biggest corruption scandal in Philippine history.

Plunder is typically a non-bailable offense punishable with reclusion perpetua, but bail may be granted if there is no strong evidence of guilt.

The Supreme Court, however, granted Enrile's petition for bail last year. In his petition, the 92-year-old senator had argued that the life sentence for plunder will not apply to him even if he is convicted, because two mitigating circumstances could lower his punishment: his advanced age and his voluntary surrender.

'Be diligent'

Following the development, the chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, which investigated the PDAF scam, said, "At this juncture, we strongly urge the prosecution to be diligent in presenting sufficient evidence and the court to exercise due caution in its proceedings."

"After all, this is people’s money, more so public trust, that we are talking about," Senator Teofisto Guingona III added.

He said that public concern about the bail grant is "understandable" as it involves people accused of plunder.

Guingona stressed, however, that the grant of bail to Napoles and Lanete "is not indicative of acquittal as their cases are still at the preliminary stage and appeals can still be made."

"Furthermore, the illegal detention suit filed against her by PDAF scam whistleblower Benhur Luy still firmly guarantees her stay in jail despite the plunder bail," added. – Rappler.com

US$1 = P46