MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Audit (COA) has started an investigation into the claims of Janet Lim-Napoles contained in her supposed tell-all account of the pork barrel and Malampaya scams.
COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan said her office has started scrutinizing the information in the two affidavits submitted recently by Napoles to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The COA had earlier conducted a special audit on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers from 2007 to 2009.
“We’re validating (Napoles’ claims) against our records,” Tan told reporters at the Supreme Court where she faced the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for her application to the vacancy in the SC following the retirement of Associate Justice Roberto Abad on May 22.
Tan said their ongoing audit of the PDAF – the official name of the pork barrel, which was abolished by the SC in a ruling last November – would cover 2009 up to 2013.
“If she cited transactions in 2010 and above, we will be able to check those because we also have audit reports on PDAF from 2010 to the present,” Tan said.
“The end goal of that is, since her affidavit is in connection with the cases filed against her with the ombudsman, all we need to do is to just give our take on it to the ombudsman,” she explained.
Tan, however, admitted that the COA does not have an audit of PDAF for periods earlier than 2007.
Asked why there was no COA audit of the pork barrel funds from 2000 to 2007 – the period covered by Napoles’ second and expanded affidavit – the COA chief replied: “I really don’t know.”
But she believes there could be documents like special allotment release orders during that timeframe “lurking somewhere.”
Tan is set to retire in February next year after completing the remaining period of the seven-year term of former COA chair Reynaldo Villar, whom she replaced.
In her 32-page affidavit submitted to the DOJ last May 26, Napoles tagged 18 senators in the pork barrel scam. Ten of them are incumbent: Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gringo Honasan, Lito Lapid, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Aquilino Pimentel III, Ramon Revilla Jr., Vicente Sotto III and Cynthia Villar.
The eight others in the list are former senators: the late Robert Barbers, Rodolfo Biazon, Loi Ejercito, Robert Jaworski, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Tessie Aquino-Oreta, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Manuel Villar.
Napoles also tagged former Batanes congressman and now Budget Secretary Florencio Abad as the one who taught her how to use non-government organizations (NGOs) in the scam.
All of them have denied the charges.
Napoles, who is seeking to become a state witness, insisted that she is not the most guilty among those involved in the scam.
In November 2013 the Supreme Court ordered the immediate investigation and prosecution of all government officials and other individuals for possible criminal liabilities in connection with the illegal disbursement of all funds under the pork barrel system.
It declared as unconstitutional the legislators’ pork barrel fund as well as the provisions that allow the President to use the Malampaya Fund for other purposes other than energy-related projects, as well as a related provision in the President’s Social Fund.
Also declared illegal were all provisions of past and present congressional pork barrel laws such as PDAF and Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) that gave legislators the authority to intervene and participate in identifying projects to be funded through PDAF.
The high court also voided provisions in PDAF and CDF which conferred lump-sum allocations to legislators to fund projects that they themselves identify.
It ordered that the PDAF funds be returned to the general coffers of the government, except funds from Malampaya and the President’s Social Fund, which should be utilized based on the mandate of these funds.
Napoles back in police camp
Policemen returned Napoles last Thursday night to her detention cell at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna from the Ospital ng Makati where she had been confined since her surgery on March 31.
Napoles wore a blue hoodie and a bulletproof vest when she left the hospital at 9:37 p.m. and was quickly whisked by her police escorts into a gray van with government plates, backed by other police vehicles from the Police Regional Office 4-A in a security convoy.
Bruce Rivera, lawyer of Napoles, told reporters that the businesswoman’s hospital bills had all been settled before she left hospital.
The Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 150 had earlier ordered the return of Napoles to Fort Sto. Domingo.
In a four-page order, Judge Elmo Alameda said Napoles has no more reason to challenge the earlier court order returning her to the police camp.
Florentina Villanueva, Osmak gynecologist, testified that Napoles has been responding well to medication, particularly tranexamic acid, and that her vaginal bleeding already stopped on May 22.
Napoles underwent a total hysterectomy on April 23 during which a uterine cyst was removed along with her uterus and ovaries.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said Napoles is guilty and what is left for her to do is to convince the public that her apology is sincere and that she wants to redeem herself.
“Whether she’s most guilty or least guilty, Janet Lim-Napoles is still guilty and should be held accountable for her actions,” Aquino said.
Napoles, who is looking to become a state witness, has offered her testimony in exchange for immunity for her and her family.
She has submitted her sworn affidavit to the DOJ, in which she narrated what she knows about the pork barrel scam and the Malampaya Fund scam.
In her affidavit, Napoles named the legislators that she dealt with in the pork barrel scam.
Aquino said that the details of her affidavit would be verified to determine if they are true, and this would be the basis of judging her on her sincerity to come clean on the scam.
“The veracity of her affidavit will determine whether her apology to the public is real and heartfelt or if she’s just destroying the reputation of innocent government officials,” Aquino said.
“That’s why the Department of Justice needs to scrutinize it thoroughly and compare it with the earlier testimonies of Benhur Luy, Ruby Tuason and other whistle-blowers,” he added.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said that Napoles should testify in public so that the people could judge for themselves if she is telling the truth.
Like Aquino, Trillanes said that Napoles’ testimony should be compared to the statements of Luy and the other whistle-blowers.
Trillanes cautioned the public against taking the claims of Napoles in her affidavit hook, line and sinker because a lot of these have not been verified.
He said that careful judgment must be made against those that Napoles has implicated because some of these officials may be victims of propaganda.
“Maybe some of them just trusted someone from their staff. There are various circumstances involved here. But when it comes to those who did it repeatedly and where the evidence against them is strong, that’s a different story,” Trillanes said in Filipino over radio Bandila.
Trillanes said that he is keeping an open mind on all of the testimonies coming out and he does not want to prejudge anyone.
“Let us not make judgments right away. Let us wait for everything to be sorted out first,” Trillanes said. With Marvin Sy