Napoles party-list group figures in ‘Hello Garci’ tape

Aries C. Rufo
Wiretapped conversations in 2004 involving disgraced poll Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano indicate that the A-SMILE party list of the Napoleses sought his intervention

MANILA, Philippines – Before they hit it big with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the family of Janet Lim-Napoles attempted to become lawmakers themselves and have a legitimate claim on pork barrel.

Janet’s husband Jaime and her brother Ronald Francisco Lim at one time aspired to be members of the House of the Representatives via the party list system.

Data from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) showed that a year before the 2004 elections, Jaime or Jimmy and Ronald established an NGO, Ang Samahan ng mga Mangangalakal Para sa Ikakaunlad ng Lokal na Ekonomiya Inc (A-SMILE).

This NGO sought and was granted accreditation by the Commission on Elections to participate in the party-list race that year. Its nominee for that election was former basketball player Ramon Fernandez, who was also among the incorporators.

In an earlier interview, Levi Baligod, lawyer for pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy, informed us that the Napoleses were also behind a party-list group. A check with the SEC of all the businesses, NGOS, and foundations related to Napoles and family members showed A-SMILE as among their foundations. It was set up on March 4, 2003.

Past record

Like the Napoleses’ alleged NGOs now embroiled in the pork barrel scandal, A-SMILE has had its share of controversy.

A-SMILE first participated in the 2004 national polls, aware that a disgraced poll commissioner, aided by a cabal of poll operators, sought to manipulate the results of the elections.

We found out that A-SMILE figured twice in the “Hello Garci” wiretap scandal where disgraced poll commissioner Virgilio Garcillano was caught taking orders from a woman who sounded like then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the height of the canvassing of the 2004 election results.

The “Hello Garci” tape prompted calls for Arroyo’s resignation following suspicion she rigged the 2004 presidential elections.

In the wiretapped conversation, Garcillano mentioned people behind A-SMILE as among those who sought his help in manipulating election results.

Garci’s help

Based on the transcripts of the wiretapped conversation dated June 3, 2004, Garcillano called up his secretary Ellen Peralta telling her to remind a certain Romy about a covert operation.

“Ipaalala mo kay Romy meron silang reward niyan pero ‘wag maingay…. Meron pa kasing isa pa sana kung pupuwede pero hindi ko alam meron silang ikakuwan, ‘yung SMILE din ke kuwan pa naman ‘yan, sa kaibigan diyan sa tabi. Pero ‘yung isa sigurado na ‘yun…. Pagkatapos ng kuwan, tatanungin ko pa ‘yung isa,” Garcillano told the person on the other line.

(Remind Romy, they have a reward but they should keep silent…. There’s another one, if still possible, but I am not sure if they have [something]…. SMILE also, that belongs to a friend. But the other one, that’s for sure…. I’ll ask the other group.)

Four days later, on June 7, 2003, a certain Ruben spoke with Garcillano about padding the votes of certain groups contesting the party-list race.

Garcillano however cautioned against padding the votes of the party-list groups at that time since the Comelec had already made proclamations of the party-list winners.

If they had to manipulate certain votes at that late stage of the game, Garcillano said it would have to be for the benefit of those close to winning. “Mahirap nang kumuha, kung magkuha tayo, yung malapit na…yung hindi na mahahalata kasi.” (It would be difficult to pad. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it for those close [to winning]. Those that won’t raise any suspicion.)”

Ruben cut Garcillano, reminding him that the groups he mentioned weremas malapit yun ha, kaysa sa SMILE.” (They are closer to winning than SMILE).

To which Garcillano replied:Kaya nga, bahala na pero ang kaso, pag sabay-sabay mo niyan, sinong pagagawin mo niyan eh itong mga bata hindi na pupwedeng gumalaw eh. Titingnan ko bukas kung anuman. (That’s why. Let’s see, but the thing is, if you do it all at the same time, who’s going to do it? The boys, they can no longer move. Let’s see what I can do tomorrow, if ever.)

A-SMILE failed to garner the required percentage of votes to earn a seat in Congress in the 2004 elections. It got 133,425 votes or 1.048 % of the votes cast for the party list. It was second to last among the party list groups, beating Abanse Pinay which was at the bottom of the pile.

House member wannabes

Despite the exposure of A-SMILE in the Garcillano wiretap scandal, it was still able to get accreditation and participate in the party-list race in the 2007 mid-term polls.

This time, Ronald Lim and Jimmy Napoles were named as 2nd and 4th nominees respectively, of the NGO. Former Cotabato Rep Anthony Dequina, who was incorporator in two companies controlled by the Napoleses, was the 3rd nominee.

In the party list, nominees assume the seats won by a party-list group. Depending on the percentage of votes a group gets, it can win a maximum of 3 seats. 

Each party-list representative is also entitled to P70 million of PDAF. Consequently, a party-list group with 3 representatives gets triple the amount of yearly PDAF (or double for those with 2 winning seats), compared to the amount received by a regular congressional representative.

By 2007, based on the testimonies of whistleblowers in the pork barrel scam and the special report of the Commission on Audit, 20 NGOs supposedly put up by Janet Lim Napoles were already in full operation. But tapping into the PDAF via the regular route was denied the Napoleses the second time around.

With more than 90 party-list groups in the race, A-SMILE managed to get only 58,772 votes or .32% of the total votes cast for the party list. 

With its failure to win a single seat in two consecutive elections, A-SMILE was delisted by Comelec, in accordance with the party-list law. It was denied participation in the 2010 national race. But by this time – if the whistleblowers are to be believed – it hardly mattered to the Napoleses. –


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