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Napoles wants Senate testimony moved

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles begged the Senate to postpone her November 7 testimony but the chamber is not budging.

Just two days before the scheduled hearing, Napoles sent a letter to Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III requesting to move the hearing, saying she has no lawyer who will “guard my rights.” 

In the letter she signed and wrote in Filipino, Napoles cited the resignation of her lawyer Lorna Kapunan last week. Kapunan stepped down citing a conflict in the strategy of the defense lawyers. Napoles did not mention when she wanted the hearing to be conducted.  

“Wala po akong intensyon na suwayin ang pinag-uutos ng Senado na humarap, kahit na mismo sa aking personal na paniniwala ay walang mabuting maidudulot ang aking presensya ukol sa nasasabing pagdinig,” Napoles wrote.

(I have no intention of disobeying the orders of the Senate to testify, even if I personally believe my presence will not yield anything positive in the hearing.)

“Gayunpaman, buong-galang po na ako ay nagsusumamo sa inyong pang-unawa na kung maari lamang ay ipagpaliban muna natin pangsamantala ang pandinig … dahil lamang sa nabanggit kong dahilan ng kawalan na abugadong magsesegurong mabantayan ang aking mga karapatan,” she said.

(Even so, I respectfully beg for your understanding that if we could possibly postpone the hearing because of the reason cited that I lack a lawyer who can ensure that my rights are protected.)

Yet in response to her letter, Blue Ribbon Oversight Office Management Director General Rodolfo Noel Quimbo turned down Napoles’ request. Quimbo signed the letter on behalf of Guingona and upon his instructions.

Quimbo told Napoles she had ample time to prepare for the hearing because she received the subpoena on October 21.

“We regret to inform you that your request is denied. Please be informed that the hearing will proceed as scheduled." 

Quimbo added, “Rest assured that the Committee has made the necessary arrangments with the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) to provide you with lawyers during the hearing.”

After Kapunan resigned last week, she admitted having differences with lawyer Alfredo Villamor in how to go about defending Napoles in her separate illegal detention case.

Napoles is accused of pocketing millions of pesos in pork barrel funds in connivance with lawmakers and officials from the executive branch. In the scheme, lawmakers supposedly endorsed her fake non-governmental organizations and accepted kickbacks amounting to 50% of ghost projects.


'Delaying tactic'

Senate Majority Leader criticized Napoles’ request as a form of deceit (lokohan) and a delaying tactic.

“She has all the resources. She knows the truth. She has a legal team who had been preparing and studying her defense. Time to answer questions and tell the whole truth. I call on Miss Napoles to stop employing delaying tactics and to cease from making a fool out of the Filipino people,” Cayetano said in a statement.

Cayetano added that Napoles’ right to choose a counsel is limited. “I am certain that the government can provide her a competent lawyer to assist her and ensure that her rights are protected.”

In Malacañang, Presidential Communication Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma was asked if the Palace was ready for the possibility that Napoles will implicate administration allies in her testimony.

“Our concept of lady justice is she is blindfolded. She does not fear anyone. Wherever the evidence leads, we will bring to justice all those involved," Coloma said in a press briefing. 

Questions have been raised about the ties between Napoles and the ruling Liberal Party (LP) after reports surfaced that Drilon knew her since 2005, and she contributed campaign funds to the LP. The Senate President’s political ally and LP member Rene Villa has also admitted to lawyering for Napoles when he was out of government.

Drilon has denied and downplayed the reports

Not first request for postponement

Napoles is not the first to request for a postponement of the hearing. Over the weekend, Sen Sergio Osmeña III also requested to move the hearing to November 18, the resumption of the Senate session. Osmeña argued that many senators are still out of town and it will be better if they will be given a chance to ask questions.

Osmeña also said that more time is needed for the Senate to negotiate with Napoles on possibly giving her immunity from criminal prosecution to encourage her to tell all.

Yet Guingona maintained that the hearing will push through as scheduled. He has also said that only the court has the power to grant Napoles immunity. 

It took weeks before the Senate finally summoned Napoles. Drilon initially opposed signing a subpoena for her, saying the testimony might compromise the investigation of the Ombudsman, which is also looking into the multi-billion peso scam.

Yet after much criticism, Drilon eventually reversed his decision, pre-empting a Senate caucus to decide on the issue.

The three senators implicated in the scam – Sen Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, and Sen Bong Revilla – have inhibited themselves from the blue ribbon investigation. They and 35 others are facing a plunder and malversation complaint before the Ombudsman over the scam.

Senators are split on the value of Napoles' testimony, with some saying she will just clam up and repeatedly invoke her right against self-incrimination. Guingona and Escudero though said the Senate must try to extract information out of her because she is the "center stone" of the probe into the scam.  – Rappler.com