MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida denied the government is striking a deal with alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, after recommending to the court her acquittal over the serious illegal detention case filed by Benhur Luy.
"What deal are you talking about? We are talking about the rule of law here. There's no deal as far as I'm concerned because my interest is to see to it that justice is done," Calida said in a press conference on Wednesday, February 15.
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed a manifestation before the Court of Appeals (CA) last January 11, recommending Napoles' acquittal. The OSG cited evidence that Luy was not kept inside a retreat house and the Napoles' condominium unit against his will. (READ: SolGen parrots Napoles arguments in Luy case)
Court documents obtained by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) showed that the OSG said the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 errred when it sentenced Napoles to at least 30 years in jail. (READ: SolGen moves to acquit Napoles in Luy detention case)
Legal sources interviewed by the PCIJ said the OSG's manifestation was "surprising" and "alarming." They also suggested that it could indicate a possible deal being forged by the Duterte administration with Napoles.
Malacañang expressed support for the OSG's move, with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo saying that it's possible to turn Napoles into a state witness if she's found to be the least guilty. (READ: Soft on Napoles? Duterte gov't just upholding 'rule of law')
"If she appears to be the least guilty, puwede siya maging state witness pero kung part of findings is, kung mastermind siya, paano mo gagawin 'yun?" Panelo said.
(If she appears to be the least guilty she could be a state witness but if it's found that she's the mastermind, how would you do that?)
Napoles is accused to have masterminded a scheme where she and lawmakers got kickbacks from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel by funneling it through bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Why did the OSG comment?
Calida explained that all cases filed with the CA and the Supreme Court (SC) where the government is involved have to go through the OSG for comments. "If we do not comment and we are required to comment then we are not doing our jobs," he said.
Napoles submitted an appeal to the CA on September 20, 2016, or one year after her conviction, and the OSG commented on the case nearly 4 months after, on January 11, 2017.
Asked whether the Napoles case was prioritized in the OSG's review of cases given that it only took them nearly 4 months to respond, Calida answered indirectly and cited all the past cases where the OSG did not take the side of the government.
"If we see that there is injustice, we will not close our eyes to it. At least I can speak for myself," he said.
Calida did not comment on the possible effects of his manifestation on the pending plunder and graft charges against Napoles and several lawmakers.
"The manifestation anyway is only my legal opinion. It's just an opinion. It will be the justices who will decide," referring to the CA justices who will handle Napoles' appeal.
Policy shift under Duterte?
Calida distanced the OSG's manifestation from pronouncements made by President Rodrigo Duterte in August 2016 that the Napoles case must be revisited.
"I have some revealing things to tell you about it. You just wait, but I will... if that is the only thing that I have to do until the end of my term, I will do it, for I shall have done a singular task, giving you the truth about the government... The Napoles case should deserve a second look for it also involves corruption and (Senator Leila) de Lima," Duterte had told reporters in his residence in Davao City.
"I don't know in which context the President said that," Calida said on Wednesday.
The Solicitor General added that he is not reviewing the PDAF cases since that is the task of prosecutors from the Office of the Ombudsman.
Calida also said he does not know couple Stephen and Lanee David, who are the lead lawyers for Napoles. Lanee David had been appointed by Duterte as deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
Addressing speculations about the Duterte administration's motives for siding with Napoles, Calida responded by saying that the serious illegal detention case might have been manipulated during the Aquino administration to conceal the truth in the pork barrel scam.
"Who has the motive to make her suffer in jail, para mawala 'yung liberty niya? Who had the motive at that time para hindi kumanta si Napoles?" he said.
(Who has the motive to make her suffer in jail and take away her liberty? Who had the motive at that time to prevent Napoles from speaking up?) – Rappler.com