MANILA, Philippines – The cracks are starting to show. After principal pork barrel scam witness Benhur Luy relieved lawyer Levito Baligod as his counsel, there are indications more witnesses will do the same. (READ: Luy relieves Baligod as PDAF scam counsel)
Luy’s mother Getrudes and another unnamed whistleblower are also reportedly contemplating cutting the services of Baligod, who is also a private complainant in the pork barrel case that has implicated 3 senators and a number of lawmakers in the House of Representatives. For now, Baligod is still representing Merlina Suñas, another whistleblower.
Luy had been “seeking attention” and sending signals to Baligod a number of times that he felt ignored, but the lawyer apparently paid no attention.
A source privy to developments in the witnesses' camp said Luy and Baligod tried to patch things up, at least once, but it did not work. “They already had a one-on-one meeting to discuss each other’s issues but apparently they were not able to arrive at a compromise,” the source said.
Newly widowed when he took on Luy's case in early 2013, Baligod got engaged last January to a wealthy Leyte politician, Marilou Galenzoga. Baligod was frequently seen in Baybay, his fiancée's home city, almost every week since Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the place last November. He has also become part of Galenzoga's legal team in her pending election cases.
Last straw: Justice Gregory Ong probe
Luy reportedly first observed that Baligod “had his mind on other things” whenever they would have hearings at the Makati Regional Court, which is trying the illegal detention case.
Luy repeats this explanation at a Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing.
Baligod only attended at least twice in the many times Luy and other witnesses were summoned by the court. In one instance, Baligod reportedly left the court after being there for only 15 minutes.
A reporter covering the proceedings confirmed she saw Baligod only “once or twice” in court. Baligod would also miss several appearances in the Senate blue ribbon committee hearings on the pork barrel scam.
But what apparently broke the camel’s back was when Baligod failed to accompany Luy when he appeared before a Supreme Court investigation into the allegations raised against Sandiganbayan Senior Justice Gregory Ong. (READ: Exclusive: Napoles parties with anti-graft court justice)
The SC has tapped retired Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez to look into the allegations raised by Luy during one Senate hearing – that Ong was a regular fixture in parties where Napoles was also present. Ong is a member of the 4th Division that tried the P3.8 million Kevlar helmet case where Napoles was among the accused.
Napoles was acquitted of the charges but her brother Reynald and his wife Anna Marie Dulguime were convicted for conspiracy to falsify public documents. (READ: How Janet-Lim Napoles got away )
In that SC hearing, Luy was instead accompanied by two lawyers sent by Baligod. They also reportedly argued over the phone over an issue involving disclosures. The source would not reveal details of what led to the argument, citing lawyer-client confidentiality.
Rappler tried to call Baligod several times but he has not returned calls.
Luy also complained that he was being kept in the dark by Baligod about legal strategies in building up the pork barrel case.
One particular instance involved Technology Resource Center chief Dennis Cunanan (officially on leave), who was initially tagged by Luy as among those who benefitted from the pork barrel scam. Cunanan however denied that he pocketed rebates from Napoles.
Baligod has tapped Cunanan to help pin Senator Ramon “Bong" Revilla Jr in the pork barrel scam. Cunanan is now a “provisional state witness.”
A source from the whistleblower’s camp said Luy is concerned that his and Cunanan’s testimony will not jibe as far as his culpability in the scam is concerned. “We’re saying he accepted bribes. He is saying he did not. How do we reconcile this conflicting claim?” the source said.
Luy is also reportedly uncomfortable about Baligod being Cunanan’s counsel. In an earlier phone interview, Baligod confirmed that he is counsel for Cunanan, stressing that he had known Cunanan even before the pork barrel scandal broke out.
“In fact, only after I got confirmation from Cunanan that the pork barrel of the lawmakers was misused that I found the resolve to pursue the case,” Baligod said in that interview.
On Monday afternoon, March 3, Luy proceeded to the National Bureau of Investigation to formally inform authorities that he was severing ties with Baligod, his counsel in the pork barrel case and in the illegal detention case he filed against former employer and cousin Janet Lim Napoles.
On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed that Luy had severed his ties with Baligod, on the ground that Baligod lacked the time to attend to Luy's legal needs.
“It has been a rough and rugged road for us, and for all you have done, I am eternally thankful. However, I have noticed that you are very busy with your other advocacies and that is why I have decided to pursue this journey even without [you] guiding me,” a portion of Luy’s letter to Baligod said.
The witnesses who want to drop Baligod are also citing "lack of time" on his part to attend to their legal needs.
In several instances, Luy complained that Baligod “lacked time for us,” and these would reach Baligod.
When Super Typhoon Haiyan struck, Baligod could not be reached by the whistleblowers, who found out later that the lawyer went to Baybay, Leyte, to help out in his fiancée's relief operations. – Rappler.com