Lawmakers oppose immunity for Napoles

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at May 17 2014 09:29 AM | Updated as of May 17 2014 05:29 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers are against the request for immunity from prosecution by suspected pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite said only the “least guilty” among the accused in a criminal case can qualify for immunity from prosecution.

Napoles relayed her request to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

“I don’t think she’s the least guilty. In fact, she’s probably one of the most guilty. As far as I am concerned, she’s the architect of this scam,” Barzaga said.

He said prosecutors may still find use for whatever affidavit Napoles would submit to the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman without her being granted immunity.

“At most, she should be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for testifying against others involved in the scam,” he added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Napoles should testify and tell all without precondition or immunity.

“This should not be the case and in fact, she should ask for forgiveness from the Filipino people for the serious damage brought about by the pork barrel scam,” he said.

“We are in this situation now and have a proliferation of lists because of Malacañang’s and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s refusal to release the signed Napoles list when, in fact, President Aquino is in possession of at least two lists,” he said. “We need to press on with the investigation and prosecute those who stole from public funds, not just Napoles.”

He added that the nation should not be waylaid by attempts of the Napoles camp and those involved in the scam to muddle the issue and cover up corruption.

Colmenares warned Aquino that he and his administration would be suspected of entering into a deal with Napoles if she were granted immunity from prosecution.

He pointed out that people would think “there was a quid pro quo between them.”

“It seems that for Napoles to go unscathed, she would have to exonerate President Aquino’s allies, which is also unacceptable. As it is, she is one of the main players in the conspiracy to misuse billions and she should not qualify as a state witness,” he said.

Lawyers for pork barrel scam witnesses led by Benhur Luy said the alleged mastermind failed to provide new and substantial information about the irregularity.

They said their clients’ testimonies are enough to convict lawmakers involved in the scam.

While she has yet to decide on Napoles’ request, De Lima said the alleged scam mastermind and her lawyers “are working long hours” at the Ospital ng Makati preparing her “much more comprehensive affidavit.”

De Lima said that what she has at the moment is Napoles’ initial affidavit notarized and submitted last May 13 and containing the same information as those in the criminal complaint filed with the Office of the Ombudsman last year in connection with the embezzling of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Malampaya Fund.

“We are still awaiting her extended and much more comprehensive affidavit, which is expected to contain her narration of facts pertaining to all those named in the list,” De Lima said in her letter to the Blue Ribbon committee, requesting that the DOJ be given another week to submit Napoles’ final affidavit.

The DOJ chief met with committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III and vice chairman Sen. Sergio Osmeña III last Thursday to also personally relay her appeal for more time to submit the documents. The original deadline was May 15.

“We presume that this is due to the breadth and scope of her narration,” the justice secretary said, explaining the delay in the submission of the affidavit.

She also advised the Senate against prematurely releasing the list until the DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation have completed the “vetting process or fact finding investigation.”

List meaningless if…

In a statement yesterday, De Lima also emphasized that the list she submitted to Guingona would be meaningless without evidence and supporting testimonies from Napoles.

“The list does not represent the truth per se. It would take further investigation and painstaking collection of evidence – as what was done before complaints were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman – before we arrive at the truth,” she said.

“But, as I have said before, the truth can be revealed in unexpected ways, and even from unexpected sources. It is our job in the DOJ to ferret it out, even if we have to wade through rivers of lies and scale seemingly impenetrable walls of silence,” she said.

“At this point and absent further statements from Mrs. Napoles clarifying exactly what facts she is alleging in relation to the list, I just hope that those who view said list take it for what it is: a list of names,” she said.

The “sworn statement would be better than a mere list that stands by itself, without even a narrative that would inform those names therein (and the public) of what acts are actually being imputed against them,” De Lima added.

Meanwhile, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said Napoles’ bid to become state witness would be in jeopardy if any of her allegations against any lawmakers turn out to be false.

The names of several senators – including Pimentel’s – are on the lists of lawmakers and officials who had allegedly transacted with Napoles. A copy of the list, signed and affixed with thumb marks by Napoles, is in the possession of De Lima. Another list, purportedly also from Napoles, was turned over to the Senate Blue Ribbon committee by presidential adviser on rehabilitation and reconstruction Panfilo Lacson.

Jueteng whistle-blower Sandra Cam reportedly has her own list.

Those on the list are gearing for a face-to-face confrontation with Napoles in a public hearing by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

Pimentel denied having dealt with Napoles and claimed documents she had cited linking his office to the pork barrel scam were forged.

“I am ready to prove she’s lying,” he said. “So she should be ready with her story and details, to be cross-examined on her signed list because if she is found to be lying, her story would crumble and her application to become a state witness would be in jeopardy,” Pimentel added.

He said lists or documents released by Napoles – even if they have her signature – should not be treated outright as evidence.

“Especially with a person with the reputation of Napoles. What’s the value of her signature?” he said.

He said he is in favor of reopening the Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the pork barrel scam, including making Napoles speak for the second time on what she knows about the issue.

“But she should be ready with her documents because we can’t just take the word of Napoles because it has no value. She is a respondent in plunder cases so how could we trust her?” Pimentel said.

With so many senators included in her list, a public hearing with Napoles in attendance is likely to be “free-for-all.”

“I will listen to what she has to say. I will ask her about our alleged transactions and I am ready to demolish her story, especially if she is just inventing details,” he added.

Pimentel said that he believes Napoles is trying to muddle the issue.

“Delaying, muddling, confusing, everything. It’s out of desperation,” he said.

Pimentel admitted that he first saw Napoles sometime in 2012 in a meeting arranged by a certain Robert Castañeda.

He said Napoles offered to do business with him after the meeting but he declined the offer.– With Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan, Christina Mendez