MANILA, Philippines – A priest who advocates helping the poor is the listed tenant of Janet Lim-Napoles’ sprawling property in one of the country’s most high-end subdivisions.
According to documents obtained by Rappler, Monsignor Josefino S. Ramirez, now a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Manila, is renting 9 Narra Avenue, South Forbes, Makati City for P280,000 a month.
The two-year contract of lease was signed by Ramirez on March 7, 2013, although it says the lease began Jan 15, 2013 and will end on Jan 15, 2015.
The document also states that Ramirez “agrees to pay the sum of P1,120,000” upon the signing of the contract — P560,000 for two months advance rental, and another P560,000 for two months security deposit.
But it appears Ramirez had been staying at the Forbes property even before he signed the contract.
The property was acquired by Napoles in 2008, at the supposed height of the pork barrel scam.
Gertrudes Luy, a former employee of Napoles and mother of whistleblower Benhur Luy, told Rappler it was never used by the Napoleses as a house and had only been used by them as a place to hear Mass. Ramirez was its first tenant.
Luy was surprised when she heard about the contract since Ramirez, she told Rappler, is supported financially by Napoles. He is said to be undergoing dialysis.
In the same way Napoles does not herself sign documents and instead uses names of family members or employees in business transactions, the Forbes property does not bear her name too. But whistleblowers and documents acquired by Rappler confirm the property is owned by Napoles.
The contract signed by Ramirez says the property was being rented out to him by its owner, a certain La Roca Enterprises Inc. The company is not on the list of Napoles-registered companies under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Napoles herself has denied she owns the property in an affidavit submitted to the court.
But on one occasion, a letter to Forbes was signed by Anthony Dequiña, corporate secretary of La Roca Enterprises. Napoles has confirmed knowing Dequiña, a former Cotabato Representative who, she said, is a relative of her husband.
His name has appeared several times as an incorporator of companies set up by Napoles.
The Napoles way
This shows that the method Napoles uses to acquire property appears to be similar to how she sets up dubious companies allegedly used to pocket lawmakers’ pork barrel money.
Another document — a November 2008 Delegation of Authority signed by a certain Teresa R. Castro-Alba, the president of La Roca — asks Forbes Park to give Gertrudes Luy full power over the property. The document also bears Gertrudes Luy’s signature.
Part of Luy’s authority included her right to “approve and sign all requests for permission to allow visitors and other parties entry and exit through the village gates,” and to “represent” the property with all village-related concerns.
Aside from having been Napoles’ daughter’s nanny, Luy is a relative of Napoles. Her name has also been used several times by Napoles as an incorporator of her companies.
Yet another document allegedly signed by Luy in 2009 asks the Forbes Home Owners Association to allow Monsignor Ramirez to stay “temporarily at our residence at 9 Narra St” for “6 months to recuperate from his recent sickness.” The document referred to Ramirez as a “relative.”
The letter also asked the village to issue 6 IDs to various people who “visit [Ramirez] regularly” and “some who stay with him,” including a personal secretary, driver, messenger, therapist and attendant.
One name, Frederico A. Egera, or Ramirez’s “dietician,” is again a listed incorporator of one of Napoles’ corporations.
But Luy told Rappler she never signed any such documents or contracts for the Forbes property, and was only jokingly told by Janet she is the listed property owner. She said all she has ever signed related to the Forbes property are applications for car stickers and similar minor applications.
She said she was allowed to stay there only once, in 2009, after an eye operation.
Ramirez and the poor
Monsignor Ramirez has admitted knowing Napoles, the alleged mastermind of a massive multi-billion pork barrel scam. Whistleblowers have identified Ramirez as one of the priests who have benefitted from the wealth of Napoles through allowances and housing.
The 66-year-old priest, also the Continental Coordinator of Divine Mercy in Asia, has actively campaigned for the poor.
In past interviews, Napoles — who fondly calls Ramirez by the nickname “Monsi” — had admitted to supporting Ramirez and other poor priests from China, upon the request of her late mother Magdalena, a devotee of the Divine Mercy headed by Ramirez.
In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Napoles said she houses priests for her “Mommy,” Magdalena Luy Lim, who died in 2008. She said before her mother’s death, she was asked to “continue the activities of monsignor to help the poorest of the poor for Divine Mercy.”
Ramirez was the Chaplain of the Divine Mercy chaplaincy in Pasay in 1992, when he first met Napoles’ mother.
According to a letter from Ramirez to the Archidocese of Manila explaining his involvement with Napoles, Magdalena Luy Lim “supported our apostolate for the poor” since 1992, when they first met.
“In August 2007 she learned about the appeal of Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic Charities in Asia to help in the formation program of poor priests, seminarians and religious in China due to a sudden increase of vocations,” he said, explaining why Napoles houses Chinese priests.
From Forbes to Magallanes
The 4,000-square-meter Forbes residence is not the only Napoles-linked property Ramirez uses.
According to the contract, Ramirez’s office is located at 52 Lapu-Lapu St, Magallanes Village, Makati City. The Magallanes home, acquired later than the Forbes property, also belongs to Napoles, according to whistleblowers.
Luy told Rappler that when it was acquired, Ramirez moved to Magallanes from the Forbes property. She said it is the Chinese priests who now reside in Forbes.
Rappler tried to get in touch with Ramirez to get his side but has not been successful. During a visit to his Magallanes address on Wednesday, August 21, a house help told this writer Ramirez was not home. Calls to his last known number were unsuccessful as the person who answered said it was the wrong number.
It is in Forbes and Magallanes, among other Napoles properties, where Luy’s son Benhur was allegedly detained by the Napoleses for 3 months — from December 2012 to March 2013.
Ironically, the Napoleses said Benhur was not kidnapped, but was attending a voluntary retreat to atone for his sins.
The serious illegal detention complaint filed by Gertrudes and her husband against Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim accused the Napoleses of detaining Benhur after he agreed to testify in the cases on the fertilizer scam and the Malampaya fund scam, which have also been linked to Napoles.
Benhur was rescued on March 22 by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in one of Napoles’ Pacific Plaza units.
Benhur has admitted only talking to Monsignor Ramirez 3 times in 3 months and said he was never able to tell Ramirez he was kidnapped. During his detention, according to Benhur, he was moved to different properties owned by Napoles during the day, but every night was brought back to Bahay ni San Jose — the Magallanes address of Ramirez. Aside from Ramirez, Benhur said the 5 Chinese priests were there as well.
In April, Ramirez and the 5 priests from China issued an affidavit defending the Napoleses, saying Benhur never asked for their help or told them he was being illegally detained.
Also on April 12, Gertrudes Luy’s authority over the Forbes property had been withdrawn by La Roca.
In a letter signed by Dequiña, he informed the Forbes Park Village association that Ramirez is the newest lessor, and asked that Gertrudes and her immediate family members no longer be allowed to enter the premises. Other restrictions included the “issuance of a gate pass, verification of visitors, [and] authorization and validation of anything in relation to the property.”
It also asked the village’s security to get Ramirez’s pre-approval for “all visitors…before entering the village,” and to take proper identification, list names of all passengers in the vehicle, and record plate numbers of any visitor who wanted to come to the Narra property.
These revelations come on the heels of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s denouncement of the scam. He said only the corrupt can stomach it because “the poor are absent in their minds and their hearts.” Tagle challenged not only politicians, but also others involved in this “intricate web” of corruption, to visit the homes of the poor.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has said that while whistleblowers have counted 30 Napoles cars and 28 properties, not all of them are registered under their name.
Based on official filings of her registered businesses, Napoles doesn’t have the means to acquire and maintain any of her expensive properties or vehicles.
On August 14, the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) issued warrants of arrest against the Napoles siblings for serious illegal detention. They have yet to be located by the NBI.
Election laywer Romulo Macalintal, who knows Ramirez personally and was present during his 66th birthday last June, described Ramirez as extremely “generous.”
“He doesn’t keep anything for himself. He will give and give until he gives everything. I think he only has two shirts,” he told Rappler. – Rappler.com