MANILA, Philippines - Investigators will continue examining the affidavits of Janet Lim-Napoles despite the rejection of her request for immunity from prosecution by the Office of the Ombudsman, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.
“Our vetting of her two affidavits will continue. This investigation on the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) controversy is not yet done,” De Lima told reporters.
She said the affidavits of Napoles remain “valuable and worthy” as they “provide leads for purposes of evidence gathering.”
Napoles, detained at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna for an unrelated offense of serious illegal detention, is widely perceived to have masterminded the PDAF scam.
The case was filed by former employee turned whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
The DOJ chief stressed that the decision of the ombudsman to deny the plea of Napoles for immunity and to affirm the filing of plunder and other graft charges against her and dozens of others involved in the scam has no effect on their vetting process aimed at determining the truth.
De Lima revealed that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) team handling the vetting process has come up with a matrix comparing the list of officials linked to the scam by Napoles with that of Luy’s.
“We deferred that matter to the ombudsman,” De Lima said of Napoles’ request for immunity from prosecution.
“Now I haven’t read the resolutions yet so I’m not sure what the basis was in denying her application… Now it will be up to the camp of Mrs. Napoles what their next step will be. She has her own lawyers,” she said.
She said the camp of Napoles may pursue “other options short of immunity,” apparently referring to a possible plea bargain deal in court.
The DOJ chief also shrugged off the reported threat of Napoles’ lawyer Bruce Rivera to hold off submitting documentary evidence supporting the allegations in her affidavits. Rivera made the threat after learning of the ombudsman’s ruling.
“I don’t think she will refuse to submit (the evidence). If Mrs. Napoles would not submit those supporting documents, how can she prove the veracity of her claims? If she claims that what she said in her two affidavits is true, then she should cooperate and provide proof other than her words,” she stressed.
But even if Napoles decides not to cooperate, De Lima said the probe would still proceed.
“It’s all really part of the truth seeking, fact-finding where we can build up the cases. We intend to file more cases if we find basis,” she explained.
As to the case of former Technology Resource Center director Dennis Cunanan, the DOJ chief said they would have to reevaluate his status as witness in the PDAF cases after the ombudsman also turned down his plea for immunity.
“His coverage under WPP (witness protection program) is only provisional. And therefore we will re-evaluate it in light of the ombudsman’s decision,” she said.
De Lima welcomed the decision of the anti-graft court to stand by its finding of probable cause in the plunder and other charges against the three senators initially tagged in the fund anomaly – Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.
“We are very pleased about this development. We are really expecting the ombudsman to sustain its finding of probable cause and deny the motions for reconsideration… We maintain that really we have sufficient and strong evidence that can hold up in court,” she pointed out.
Keep word, Napoles told
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite said Napoles should keep her promise to tell everything she knows about the scam despite the ombudsman’s rejection of her plea for immunity from prosecution.
“She promised to cooperate in the search for the truth in this scam with or without immunity from prosecution. She even consulted a bishop. She should keep her word,” Barzaga said.
“Now that the ombudsman has rejected her request for immunity, she should not turn her back on her commitment. She should give the evidence in her possession to the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.
He said Napoles may arrange to be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for testifying against lawmakers, agency officials and agents she dealt with and to whom she personally handed commissions, rebates and kickbacks.
He added that her testimony and whatever evidence she has would corroborate the testimonies and documentary evidence of whistle-blowers led by Luy.
The ombudsman has given immunity to Luy and four other whistle-blowers, who are former Napoles personnel who ran her bogus foundations.
Another congressman, Terry Ridon of party-list group Kabataan, urged Napoles to clearly identify all those she has linked to the pork barrel scam and the misuse of Malampaya funds in her two affidavits.
“Who is RR, who is MJ? Who is Butch and the other persons mentioned in her affidavit through first names, nicknames and code names?” he asked.
“If we want to know the real scope and breadth of this grand scam, we need to know the identities of everyone involved. No stone must be left unturned,” Ridon said.
He said all those linked to the scam – from lawmakers, agency officials to agents – should be investigated and prosecuted.
“The Department of Justice and the ombudsman should catch the big fish and prosecute them, including their agents and sidekicks,” he said.
He announced that his party-list group would join the nationwide mobilization against the pork barrel system slated on June 12.
“On Independence Day, the Filipino people will again march in the streets to call for the prosecution of everyone involved in this grand theft of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the government should speed up forfeiture proceedings on the other properties and assets of Napoles now that criminal cases against her have been filed with the Sandiganbayan.
In a statement, Cayetano said the ombudsman has the power to initiate civil forfeiture on Napoles’ assets upon filing of complaint by any citizen or entity as provided for under Republic Act 6770 and Republic Act 1379. Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez