MANILA, Philippines – A budget executive called to the witness stand for the bail hearing of Janet Lim Napoles fell short of establishing the alleged mastermind's participation in the massive siphoning off of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
On Friday, August 1, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Director IV Carmencita Delantar told the 3rd division of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that she had never encountered Napoles personally or even her name in the papers she processed for the PDAF of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
"Until now, you never knew or seen our client?" lawyer Dennis Buenaventura, legal counsel for Napoles, asked the witness during cross-examination.
"Only in the news," Delantar answered. She explained lengthily how she only read about Napoles in newspaper reports following the revelation on the PDAF scam.
To clarify, Justice Alex Quiroz asked: "In your official capacity as director, have you encountered one way or another the name Janet Lim Napoles?"
"No, your honor," Delantar answered. Delantar heads the unit within the DBM that processes Special Allotment Release Orders (SAROs), a document that authorizes a government agency to incur expenditures.
In the case of the scam, the release of a SARO signaled that an agency would be receiving PDAF proceeds. The agency, in turn, allegedly had arrangements with Napoles to release the money to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) controlled by Napoles. A copy of the SARO would allegedly be given to Napoles' camp by a lawmaker through a deputized agent in exchange of the first portion of lawmakers' kickback from the scam.
The Sandiganbayan 3rd division is hearing Napoles' plea to be allowed to post bail for her temporary liberty.
Napoles appeared Friday morning but skipped the latter half of the hearing due to fever. Her temperature was at 37.7 degrees celsius, while her blood pressure was at 140/80.
For allegedly controlling the NGOs she made to appear legitimate and used as recipients of Enrile's and 2 other senators' PDAF, she is charged with plunder and 42 counts of graft.
While plunder is a non-bailable offense for being punishable by reclusion perpetua, bail can be granted if there is no strong evidence of guilt against the accused.
In an interview after the hearing, Buenaventura said the witness also let Enrile off the hook when she said there was nothing irregular about the processing of the senator's fund release orders.
During the hearing, prosecutor Annielyn Cabelis questioned Delantar over one of the 8 SAROs issued in connection with Enrile's PDAF cases, pointing out that it was processed by Delantar's bureau within a day.
"That's very normal for us," Delantar answered the prosecutor. She explained that the processing usually takes one day to a maximum of 15 days within her bureau. It will take almost a month if the count includes the days the request stays at the office of the budget secretary.
"What we do as a processing unit is to try to finish as fast as we can," she told the court.
Delantar said her bureau processes almost 7,000 to 8,000 SAROs for a period of 8 to 12 months.
In his affidavit, whistleblower Benhur Luy implicated Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos and a number of his staff members as among Napoles' contacts in the DBM who helped fast-track the fund release orders.
Relampagos' office is different, however, from Delantar's bureau.
Buenaventura explained that the politicking in the processing of budget release orders – where requests are delayed – occurs outside Delantar's office.
Delantar supervises the technical processing of SAROs, which includes making sure requirements submitted by Congress are compliant with the General Appropriations Act. Requests for budget releases, however, are made to the Office of the Secretary.
Buenaventura pointed out that one of the SAROs presented by the prosecution involves Enrile's projects delayed for almost a year. The said SARO approved on February 13, 2009, was meant for "2008 projects which have not been released as of February 4, 2009."
Justice Samuel Martires noticed that Buenaventura appeared to be defending Senator Enrile when he pointed out that nothing was irregular with the processing.
"Counsel, I want to know if you are lawyering for accused Enrile?" Martires asked in jest. Buenaventura said no.
Napoles' counsel explained after the hearing that Delantar's testimony had no weight in proving his client's guilt.
In a separate hearing before another division, where Delantar was also called to the witness stand, prosecutor Joefferson Toribio explained that all the witnesses to be presented during the bail hearings were needed to prove a strong evidence of guilt.
The conspiracy to execute the modus operandi diverting lawmakers' PDAF to ghost projects sponsored on paper by Napoles-controlled NGOs would involve testimonies of different witnesses from different government agencies and not just of the key state witnesses, he said. – Rappler.com