MANILA - A lawyer of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles on Tuesday said his client was demonized during the investigation into the P10-billion pork barrel scam ahead of her conviction for the serious illegal detention case filed by Benhur Luy.
Atty. Bruce Rivera, who is representing Napoles in the serious illegal detention case, said the case is separate from the plunder case filed against Napoles in connection with the pork barrel scam.
"Perhaps she was demonized already because, remember, when she was charged, she was charged with stealing P10 billion from the pork barrel fund and being the mastermind—which I vehemently deny to begin with," he said in an interview with ANC's Headstart.
He pointed out that Napoles could not have been the mastermind of the pork barrel scam because "someone else made more money."
"Napoles maybe perhaps did something wrong but she was not the most guilty. Somebody else made more money. Somebody else took advantage and these are public officials. We never elected Napoles but we elected these public officials," he said.
"I never said that Napoles is innocent… Everybody knows that. I’m not saying that she's not guilty. I’m simply saying that she's not the most guilty. Clearly, that is the case. Perhaps, if she has suffered in jail, that’s the bed she made. But at the end of the day, somebody, a public official we elected took advantage and became rich in the process," he added.
Napoles is accused of masterminding the P10 billion pork barrel scam, which saw billions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) being funneled to ghost projects of organizations founded by the businesswoman.
A Commission on Audit report earlier showed that 10 Napoles NGOs received P2.157 billion in PDAF from 2007 to 2009.
The discovery of the supposed collusion between Napoles and her bogus NGOs and many lawmakers to defraud the government of taxpayers’ money even led the Supreme Court in November 2013 to declare as unconstitutional the allocation of pork-barrel monies to legislators.
On Monday, the Court of Appeals acquitted Napoles in the serious illegal detention case filed by Luy due to "reasonable doubt."
However, Napoles will remain behind bars despite the decision as the Sandiganbayan continues to hear the non-bailable offenses of plunder and malversation of public funds against her.
Rivera said the Court of Appeals "found a compelling reason" to make the Solicitor General file a comment in the serious illegal detention case. The Solicitor General later recommended the acquittal of Napoles for the crime of serious illegal detention.
"Usually when there is an appeal in a criminal case, the one who appeals like Napoles or our camp, the private prosecutor or Benhuy Luy is made to comment. Usually the state is not made to comment when there is no reason to do so. In this case, the Court of Appeals found maybe perhaps a reason, a compelling reason to make the Solicitor General find or file its comment. For me, that was the inkling already that indeed they are actually thinking of acquitting her," Rivera said.
The lawyer also backed Malacañang's denial that there is a "sweetheart deal" between Napoles and the administration in exchange for her acquittal.
Rivera said he hopes his client would indeed be tapped as a state witness "for the betterment of the nation."
NAPOLES LAWYERS, DUTERTE SUPPORTERS
During the interview, Rivera admitted that he and two other lawyers representing Napoles in the serious illegal detention and plunder cases are supporters of President Duterte.
However, he said this is merely a coincidence. "First of all, I was a Duterte supporter after the conviction. So, Napoles does not even know I supported Duterte," he said.
Rivera confirmed that President Duterte had appointed Lanee Cui-David as a deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
A PCIJ report earlier said Cui-David and her husband, Stephen David,
are the chief legal counsels of Napoles and her children Jo Christine and James Christopher, who are also respondents in the Sandiganbayan cases.
He also admitted there is a "perception" that he has connections with Duterte through the President's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
"I am not about to take advantage of that because I know the father-daughter dynamics. I would be out of my mind, knowing what I know, to work for the person who is very strict and you know has no tolerance for stupidity," he said.
"So for me, I would stay away from that course and the idea of you know, reaching to the President..."
He denied his personal ties with the president's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, affected the CA's decision and Solicitor General Jose Calida's statement in February that the Makati Regional Trial Court "erred" in convicting Napoles.
"When we were classmates and when we became lawyers, there are things that we should not be talking about, especially clients…There are boundaries that we have to respect. That’s the reason why we are friends—because we have to respect those things," he said.
Rivera also denied that his support for the impeachment of Vice President Leni Robredo is linked to his client's acquittal. He said the impeachment complaint against Robredo is an exercise of democracy, noting that the vice-president is an elected official while Napoles is not.
"I’m doing this because I'm a citizen of the Philippines. I feel the damage that she (Robredo) has done and we do what we have to do. Napoles is not part of it," he said.
Rivera is also a spokesperson of the Impeach Leni Movement.