MANILA, Philippines – Pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles’ tell-all affidavit benefits Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, giving these 3 more elbow room to get off the hook.
A lawyer for the whistleblowers, Lourdes Benipayo, said Napoles’ affidavit “only aimed to sow confusion and chaos, her statement replete with inconsistencies that will only allow those involved to inject doubt as to their culpability.”
The biggest inconsistency is her claim that she was not the mastermind in the scam. “If she is not the mastermind, then what happened to the testimonies of the whistleblowers? Who do we believe?” Benipayo asked.
She added, “This is a criminal prosecution. You must be convicted beyond reasonable doubt. The moment you inject doubt, that’s an opening for acquittal.”
Former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio said Napoles’ gambit “can be likened to smoking the mirror strategy” in an attempt to deceive the prosecution.
With more than a hundred names dragged in the scam, it will be her word against the word of lawmakers and private individuals she mentioned, her affirmation against the denials.
“She’s discrediting many people who are expected to deny her allegations. Anyone of those persons dragged can debunk her testimony. It is like a glass that when shattered, it is never the same again even if you are able to fix it,” Villa-Ignacio said.
Even Estrada’s lawyer, Alexis Abastillas, agreed that Napoles’ revelation only “clutters” rather than clarifies – what with more names she has dragged into the fray.
While insisting that Napoles’ affidavit has no bearing on her client’s case, Abastillas said it may provide ground for Estrada’s camp to ask for the Ombudsman to be more prudent in proceeding with the case.
“It will not be a defense for us, but fairness dictates that you also look into the others involved,” Abastillas said.
Cleared by Napoles
Napoles has named all the alleged lawmakers and government officials who allegedly benefited from her money-making scheme, while denying in two affidavits she is the mastermind. (READ: Napoles details ‘transactions’ with 20 senators)
In truth, she said, she was a victim of a flawed system that, she thought, was the norm and standard.
One of the affidavits, executed in Filipino, listed all the lawmakers she supposedly transacted with, including the agents, and the kickbacks they allegedly received. (FACT-CHECK: House of Representatives and the 'Napolists')
The second affidavit, executed in English, represents her own reply to the 17 pending complaints against her before the Ombudsman. Her co-respondents here are: Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Revilla, and Representatives Samuel Dangwa, Rodolfo Plaza, Rizalina Seachon-Lanete, Constantino Jaraula, and Edgar Valdez.
They are the first batch of lawmakers recommended charged by the Ombudsman in connection with the pork barrel scam.
In her two affidavits, Napoles sought to clear herself from the pork barrel mess, saying she did not have the “skill” to pull off the scheme given her “humble beginnings.” In reality, the practice of kickbacks was already in place even before she herself joined the system, she said.
It was not only herself that she tried to save. Among the first batch, Napoles practically cleared Lanete and Valdez of receiving kickbacks in exchange for their pork barrel allocations. “In lieu of cash advances,” these two, she said, merely “requested additional supplies to be distributed to (their) constituents.”
The commissions were instead received by her contacts in the implementing agencies – Alexis Sevidal of the National Livelihood and Development Corporation (NLDC); Antonio Ortiz and Dennis Cunanan of the Technology and Resource Center (TRC); and Alan Javellana and Rhodora Mendoza of the National Agri-Business Corporation (Nabcor). All these officials are also respondents in the pork barrel case. (FACT-CHECK: Agents, implementing agencies, and the 'Napolists')
In the case of Dangwa, Napoles tagged his son Erwin and staff, Carlos Lozada, as conduits for his share of the commissions. As for Plaza and Jaraula, they either personally picked up their kickbacks at the JLN office in Discovery Suites, Ortigas or had them delivered to their residences.
By her computation, Napoles said it was Enrile who got the biggest commission among the 3 senators charged with P148.815 million, followed by Estrada with P147.8 million, and Revilla with P110 million.
Her transactions with Enrile covered 9 Special Allotment Release Orders or SAROs, Estrada with 11 SAROs, and Revilla with 5 SAROs.
But that’s not the main story. A closer look at her affidavit reveals certain red flags that could pave the way to freedom for some of the major personalities involved. Consider the following:
*Despite several transactions and millions of pesos exchanging hands, Napoles could recall only a single incident when she personally delivered the money to Estrada and Revilla. In the case of Estrada, that would be around December 2009, when they discussed how to split the SARO with the amount of P24 million. Napoles said she went to Estrada’s home in San Juan to deliver P13.337 million; this was when she finally met him in person.
Her recollection however differed with the account earlier given by a source close to Napoles on how she met Estrada. Napoles had wanted to meet Estrada after his election as senator in 2004 and she asked a close friend to accompany her to Estrada’s residence. When they finally arrived there, Estrada mistook Napoles’ companion as the “financier” since she was the one dressed in smart office attire. Estrada initially thought Napoles was the errand girl, as she was dressed in simple jeans and a bulky T-shirt.
*In the case of Revilla, Napoles said the only time she personally delivered money to Revilla was when she was invited to have lunch with the senator in his residence in Ayala Alabang. In that lunch meeting, Napoles said she handed to Revilla a paper bag containing P8 million cash in exchange for a pork barrel allocation amounting to P20 million. The rest of the transactions with Revilla were channeled through his staff, lawyer Richard Cambe.
*Like the whistleblowers own accounts, Napoles’ testimony falls short of directly linking Enrile to the pork barrel scam. Enrile’s commissions were allegedly either picked up or received by socialite Ruby Tuason, who Napoles said, was the one principally fronting for Enrile.
*In the case of Enrile’s resigned chief of staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Napoles also failed to fill the gap with regard to her actual participation. Napoles said Reyes received commissions in two instances – one at the parking area in Discovery Suites in Ortigas, and the other delivered to her residence in La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City. In these two instances, it was her staff who supposedly handed the kickbacks to Reyes.
*By Napoles’ own computation, Tuason, who acted as conduit for Enrile and Estrada, got a total of P50.93 million as her share of commissions. Tuason however returned only P40 million to the government, saying this is what had been recorded in Benhur Luy’s logs. This was the amount she surrendered as compliance with one of the conditions set for her acceptance as state witness.
Weighed and found wanting
How would the senators benefit from Napoles’ less than “slam-dunk” testimony?
The Ombudsman has found probable cause to proceed with the filing of the plunder charge against the 3 senators and other personalities. The country’s chief anti-graft buster, Conchita Carpio Morales, has supposedly told an American audience that there is “enough evidence” to pin them down.
But what lesson does former President’s Joseph Estrada’s own plunder trial impart?
In that 6-year plunder trial, the Estrada patriarch was found guilty for plunder, while his son Jinggoy got acquitted after the Sandiganbayan ruled that the prosecution failed to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The principal whistleblower then, former Ilocos Governor Chavit Singson, tagged the younger Estrada as the jueteng collector in Bulacan. Singson said he (Singson) remitted the collections to the Estrada patriarch.
Singson also said the jueteng proceeds would either be picked up from Jinggoy’s residence or office, or would be delivered to him.
Singson was backed up by more witnesses – Emma Lim, Maria Carmencita Itchon and James Singson – who also testified that they collected jueteng money on different occasions from Jinggoy for their boss Singson. A fourth one, a police officer based in Vigan and a personal aide of Singson, also testified they all collected jueteng proceeds from the younger Estrada.
But the testimonies amounted to nothing.
Although Jinggoy simply denied the allegations raised by the witnesses, the Sandiganbayan resolved that their testimonies lacked one crucial element – “there was no testimony to the effect that they saw Jinggoy Estrada subtract his share from jueteng collections.”
The Court also went further: “There was no evidence at all that the money Jinggoy Estrada turned over to Gov. Singson or to the latter’s representatives was part of the jueteng collection collected from Bulacan.”
List not enough
How is the earlier ruling of the Sandiganbayan applicable to the pork barrel case against the 3 senators?
Benipayo, who serves as counsel for some of the whistleblowers in the pork barrel scam, pointed out that Napoles’ list “is not in itself proof there was plunder or malversation on the part of the lawmakers.”
Besides, in Napoles’ two affidavits, she insisted they were able to deliver supplies for the projects and that she was able to give rebates to the lawmakers because she was able get her supplies cheap, Benipayo said. “So where is plunder there if we take her word for it?”
Villa-Ignacio said the Court, in imposing a higher standard in requiring guilt beyond reasonable doubt, does not only look into inconsistencies but also into how the witness can back up his or her claim.
In the case of Revilla and Estrada, while Napoles claims that she personally delivered their share of kickbacks, there was no testimony to the effect that she saw the two lawmakers count the money in her presence.
“When I handed the box to him, he (Estrada) instructed one of his staff to put it in his office at the ground floor. I did not stay long in his office because I was tired that day,” Napoles said of her meeting with Estrada.
In the case of Revilla, Napoles said she “handed him a paper bag containing cash amounting to P8 million as full payment for the listing. After a little small talk, I left since I had another meeting to attend to.”
Estrada’s lawyer Abastillas said the crux of the defense strategy is to prove that none of the witnesses, including Tuason, could claim “personal knowledge “ that her client accepted kickbacks.
No value yet
A Sandiganbayan justice interviewed by Rappler said that so far, Napoles’ testimony “has no value yet” until the court “has taken judicial notice of it.”
This means that “it remains a scrap of paper, until it is formally offered in trial,” Villa-Ignacio explained.
Villa-Ignacio said the ball is now in the hands of the Ombudsman – whether to take action on Napoles’ affidavit or reject it. “Until then, it has no probative value.”
Given the issue of Napoles’ credibility, the anti-graft court magistrate said it would be interesting to find out how both parties – the respondents and the prosecution – would fight it out for the inclusion or exclusion of her testimony.
“If the respondents believe it could help their case, they may want to include it as part of their evidence. Ultimately, it will be the court that will decide,” the justice said. – Rappler.com