Drilon on Napoles trial: How about a Laguna venue?

MANILA, Philippines – If you can’t bring her to the Makati court, how about bringing the Makati court to her instead?

Senate President Franklin Drilon raised this possibility as top police and security officials discussed security arrangements for Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged brains behind the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.

Drilon addressed his suggestion to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima during a Senate hearing on the budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government on Monday, September 2.

Napoles is currently detained at the Fort Santo Domingo in Santa Rosa, Laguna upon orders of the Makati court. She was transferred there on Sunday, September 1, from the Makati City Jail. Laguna is about 65 kilometers away from Metro Manila.

“Maybe we can ask the Supreme Court to ask the court and bring the hearing there rather than bring Napoles to Makati. The jurisdiction is still Makati but the hearing is done in the camp, in the same manner that there are hearings for the prisoners facing other charges in Muntinlupa. You don’t have to bring out other prisoners in the court,” said Drilon.

Roxas said the PNP may give the court information on the cost and preparations entailed in transferring Napoles from Laguna to Makati for her court hearings.

He clarified though that it is up to the court to decide on the venue of the hearings, saying the PNP is just the “security guard.”

“For now, it’s hard to estimate. There will be an arraignment on September 9. We will know then how hard it is, how much it costs, the preparations needed and based on that, we can make our recommendations on the expenses and the disruptions in SLEX of this kind of movement,” Roxas said in an interview after the hearing.

Roxas said there are pros and cons in transferring Napoles to Makati versus holding the hearings in the police Special Forces training camp.

“If someone is plotting something, he will know where the convoy will pass. There is only one road: SLEX. Going to SLEX, there is just the Santa Rosa Road. There are really considerations in securing her in Santa Rosa.”

He added, “On the other hand, you won’t fear that the other inmates or their visitors will hurt her. We will give all this to the court and the court will decide.”

Napoles is the alleged mastermind behind a multi-million scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel. In exchange for commissions, lawmakers allegedly allowed their development fund to be used to finance ghost projects of bogus non-government organizations.

A 2007-2011 Commission on Audit report released in August found that at least P6.2 billion was released to 82 dubious NGOs. Of the number, 10 were linked to Napoles.

She surrendered to President Benigno Aquino III last week, citing threats to her life. Napoles turned herself in after going into hiding for 2 weeks. An arrest warrant was ordered in connection with the illegal detention case filed by her cousin and former employee Benhur Luy.

Roxas said the hunt continues for Napoles' fugitive brother, Reynald Lim. 

President’s directive

Roxas said the PNP made it a point to transfer Napoles from Makati to Laguna early Sunday morning to ensure that she will not be a “sitting target.” He said the camp is well-secured, with Special Action Forces (SAF) and their families surrounding the bungalow-type detention house.

The Secretary said that despite criticism of special treatment, authorities are exhausting all means to ensure Napoles’ safety upon the orders of Aquino.

“The last order or reminder of the President before we parted this weekend was, ‘Mar, just think of what will happen if something happens to her. It’s better we ensure nothing happens to her so she can face the force of the law,’” Roxas said.  

During the hearing, Roxas and Purisima said about 20 personnel are securing Napoles in Laguna. The figure includes the policemen involved in transferring her to Makati.

Sen Nancy Binay asked about the cost of securing high-profile detainees like Napoles and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is facing graft cases. Roxas and Purisima promised to submit the computations to the committee.

Roxas told reporters though that the cost is beyond money.

“I think it is more of the operational [aspect]. Just think how many generals are involved in planning. That has an impact on their job so I hope the transfer will not be frequent.”

Asked about statements from Napoles’ lawyer Lorna Kapunan that her client is suffering from claustrophobia in prison, Roxas cracked a joke.

“Wala ngang kurtina so makikita niya ang langit. Kung may kurtina masama, kung walang kurtina masama.” (There is no curtain so she will see the sky. If we put a curtain, it’s bad. If we don’t it’s also bad.)

Miriam: Napoles should make deposition

For Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, Napoles should make a deposition to ensure that the evidence will be preserved even if something happens to her.

In a statement, Santiago said Napoles should avail herself of a procedure called “perpetuation of testimony” under the Rules of Court’s deposition and discovery process.

Santiago explained that the deposition is a written testimony meant to be submitted before the trial. 

She said in her deposition, Napoles must name the lawmakers who gave pork barrel funds to her NGOs.  

“Any adverse event could prevent Napoles from fully identifying the senators and congressmen with whom she had PDAF transactions.  For example, any of the suspects could hire operatives to silence her, or she might inflict physical damage on herself.  She might contract a life-threatening ailment.  For any of these reasons, the Rules of Court allows her to give her testimony well before trial.”

Santiago said the rules require Napoles to serve notice of her deposition at least 20 days before the date of the hearing. – Rappler.com