MANILA, Philippines – Janet Lim Napoles dismissed the accusation of pork barrel scam whistleblowers that she was closely associated with a dismissed anti-graft justice, saying that Justice Gregory Ong became her acquiantance after he had already decided her first case.
In a chance interview Friday, September 26, Napoles said she was acquitted from a 2001 malversation case before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan two years before she had a meeting with Ong, the justice who heard her case.
"2010 na-dismiss 'yung kaso. 2012 siya humingi ng tulong kay Monsignor Ramirez para sa damit ng Nazareno," Napoles told reporters after her bail hearing before the Sandiganbayan Third Division.
(My case was dismissed in 2010. [Justice Gregory Ong] asked [my] help in 2012 to meet Monsignor [Josefino] Ramirez for the robe of the Black Nazarene.)
Clarifying his client's statement, Napoles' lawyer Stephen David explained that Justice Ong was sick at the time and requested Napoles to introduce him to the parish priest of a known Manila church.
Ong chaired the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, which tried from 2001 to 2010 Napoles' case involving an irregular P3.8-million supply contract of 500 Kevlar helmets to the Philippine Marines.
Napoles was among those acquitted. Her brother Reynaldo Luy-Lim and sister-in-law Anna Marie Dulguime were convicted for falsification of public documents.
"By his act of going to [Napoles] at her office on two occasions, [Ong] exposed himself to the suspicion that he was partial to Napoles," the SC said in a briefer.
Why ask Napoles' help?
The Parish of Saint John the Baptist – colloquially called Quiapo Church – houses the Black Nazarene, a tourist-attracting, life-sized image of Jesus Christ believed to heal the sick.
Monsignor Josefino Ramirez was the Quiapo parish priest.
Ramirez, now a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Manila at 67 years old, was Napoles' close friend and personal adviser. (READ: Priest rents Napoles Forbes Park house)
This, David said, was why Ong had to go through Napoles to reach out to Monsignor Ramirez.
A "messenger or driver" who he did not name was the one who relayed Ong's request to Napoles, who was initially shocked about it.
"Aba! Ang sungit-sungit niyan sa court.... cinonvict nga 'yung marami diyan. Tapos ngayon hihingi-hingi siya ng tulong. Sino siya? Eh kung gusto niya talagang magpatulong, siya naman ang magpunta rito," David quoted Napoles as saying.
(Whoa! He was such a snob in court.... He convicted many of us. And now, he'll ask help. Who is he? If he wants to ask for help, he should be the one to come here [to my office].)
Ong eventually came to the Ortigas office of Napoles-owned JLN Corporation "to show his humility," David added.
Ong's visit to Napoles which she now downplays to be for religious reasons would later on haunt the justice's career.
The SC found Ong’s "voluntarily meeting with Napoles at her office on two occasions" as "grossly improper."
It was Napoles' former employees Benhur Luy and Marina Sula who alleged that Napoles' contact in the Sandiganbayan was Ong.
But even the High Court confirms that there is "insufficient" evidence "to sustain the bribery and corruption charges as both Luy and Sula did not witness Ong actually receiving money from Napoles."
It, however, "found credible evidence of Ong’s association with Napoles after the promulgation of the Kevlar case."
Luy and Sula have turned against Napoles in 2013 to reveal a massive scheme diverting public funds to ghost projects of her non-governmental organizations.
Tagged as the pork barrel queen, Napoles allegedly gave kickbacks to lawmakers in exchange for the endorsement of her non-profit foundations as regular recipients of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
Whistleblowers have testified that JLN Corporation is the mother company of the dummy NGOs that Napoles utilized for the PDAF scam.
The Sandiganbayan Third Division was hearing her bail plea on Friday. Her request to be excused from attending the proceeding was earlier denied. – Rappler.com