Sandigan may order Napoles transfer to regular jail

MANILA, Philippines – Is Janet Lim Napoles getting special treatment from the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan?

It may appear so, given that the court has not issued a separate commitment order for Napoles despite acquiring jurisdiction over her – after her arraignment.

Unlike the case of Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, former chief of staff of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, no commitment order has been issued for Napoles to be detained in a regular detention cell.

Napoles is respondent in the 3 plunder and graft charges raffled off to 3 Sandiganbayan divisions, each of the cases headlined by 3 senators. The first division is trying the case involving Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr, the third division involving Enrile, and the fifth division, involving Senator Jinggoy Estrada.

The alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, presently at the center of the biggest corruption scandal involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers, is being detained in Fort Sto Domingo in Sta Rosa, Laguna. Napoles is being held in connection with the serious illegal detention case filed by pork barrel scam principal whistleblower Benhur Luy.

She was initially detained at the Makati City jail but alleged threats to her life prompted police authorities to ask the Makati court to transfer her to Fort Sto Domingo. (READ: Court: Transfer Napoles to Laguna

But like other controversial detainees before her, Napoles has been allowed occasional trips to a hospital, even staying there longer than necessary. This, coupled with the huge expense of keeping her at Fort Sto Domingo – said to cost P150,000 a month – has prompted several sectors to call for her transfer to a regular jail. (READ: Napoles condition 'nothing alarming' – PNP doctors)

Issue on jurisdiction

An anti-graft court justice, who requested not to be identified, said that Napoles should be issued a separate commitment order by the 3 Sandiganbayan divisions, to be fair to the other accused in the plunder charges, more specifically to Reyes.

“There’s a separate commitment order for Reyes to be detained at Camp Bagong Diwa. I don’t see why there should be an exception for Napoles,” the magistrate pointed out.

“One question that needs to be answered is: who has jurisdiction over her? Is it the lower court or the Sandiganbayan?” the justice added.

Lawyer Levito Baligod, who initially represented Luy in the illegal detention case and who helped build up the plunder case against the lawmakers dragged in the pork barrel scam, said the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction “since it is the superior court.”

He added that “in the court system of hierarchy, the lower court yields to the superior court.”

Lawyer Lourdes Benipayo, who serves as counsel for some of the whistleblowers, agreed that the 3 divisions of the anti-graft court could issue commitment orders for Napoles to be detained in a regular jail.

While the normal procedure after the release of a warrant of arrest is the issuance of a commitment order, the court is not preoccupied with where to detain the accused. What matters is that the respondent’s movement is already restrained. “As long as the authorities can satisfy the minimum requirement that they will be able to bring the accused to court anytime, the court is already okay with that.”  

The 3 divisions might have decided not to bother issuing commitment orders since Napoles was already being detained. If Napoles is getting special treatment, Benipayo said, the fault lies with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and not with the courts.

Napoles’ Fort Sto Domingo days numbered?

But Napoles’ stay in her spacious detention cell in the police camp, as well as the lower court’s perceived permissive ways, may be numbered.

The anti-graft court justice said the 3rd division’s commitment order handed down to her co-accused Reyes does not augur well for Napoles.

In the case of the 90-year-old Enrile, the 3rd division has allowed him to temporarily stay at the Philippine National Police General Hospital as justices held in abeyance the senator’s motion for hospital detention pending the recommendations and findings of medical experts. (READ: Enrile gets to stay at police hospital for now)

Reyes, however, was not as lucky. Her motion to be detained at the PNP custodial center, where Estrada and Revilla, including Revilla’s staff and lawyer Richard Cambe are already detained, was denied by the court. (READ: Gigi Reyes to be detained at Taguig jail)

But barely hours after she was taken to the BJMP facility in Taguig Thursday, Reyes was rushed to the Taguig Pateros District Hospital after she supposedly suffered from a panic attack. On Friday night, July 11, she was transferred to the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City after she complained of chest pains.

The anti-graft court justice said the court will require from the BJMP “a written explanation” on why Reyes was transferred to the hospital  without the court’s permission. “It is incumbent upon them to justify why she was brought to the hospital,” the justice said.

Only when the accused faces a life-threatening situation can he or she be taken out of detention in a regular cell, the justice explained. “Is panic attack life threatening? Is there danger to her life?” the justice asked.

The same standard will be applied to Enrile in the commitment order that will be issued by the court, the justice said, pointing out that old age is not a catch-all word that can be used to be spared from detention. “Is hypertension life-threatening?” the justice asked.

Enrile has cited failing health due to age in his motion for bail and motion for stay at the PNP General Hospital. He also reportedly has age-related macular degeneration in both eyes, which if left untreated, will lead to blindness. (READ: Enrile gets another eye check-up at Makati hospital)

What about Napoles?

The justice said the court should also make a separate commitment order for her, to be fair to Enrile and Reyes, who both had to fend off being detained in a regular jail. “If the courts won’t issue a commitment order for her, that could be interpreted as special treatment.”

A court insider said third division chair and Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and members Samuel Martires and Alex Quiroz had a heated debate on whether to issue a commitment order for Napoles. – Rappler.com