MANILA, Philippines - The public was urged yesterday to carry out a "citizen's arrest" of Janet Lim-Napoles after the businesswoman apparently tipped off eluded lawmen Wednesday night.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said all regional and field offices of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have been alerted to help the 12 special teams of the bureau created specifically to arrest Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim on the strength of a warrant issued by Makati City regional trial court Branch 150 Wednesday afternoon.
Napoles is now considered a “high profile fugitive,” De Lima said as she ordered immigration personnel to be on the lookout for the wanted siblings.
The arrest warrants were for the illegal detention case filed against Napoles and her brother by former employee and whistleblower Benhur Luy.
Napoles is at the center of a controversy over the alleged misuse of some P10 billion in pork barrel funds by some lawmakers reportedly through ghost non-government organizations she set up.
“It’s an agency-wide search and national in coverage… My instruction to the NBI is actually no letup in their manhunt operations. It’s a massive search,” De Lima told reporters in an interview.
Malacañang also appealed to the public to help authorities arrest Napoles and Lim.
De Lima said the NBI, which is under the Department of Justice (DOJ), has also coordinated with the Philippine National Police on serving the arrest warrants.
De Lima explained that the arrest warrants issued by Judge Elmo Alameda have the same effect as a hold departure order – meaning it effectively bars the subjects from leaving the country.
She added that both fugitives have been included in the BI’s lookout bulletin, which means the airports have been on alert for their possible flight even before the issuance of the arrest warrants.
With the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines alerted of the court order, even private aircraft are barred from taking the two fugitives as passengers.
Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, however, said they would still seek the issuance of a hold departure order (HDO) against Napoles and Lim, since their lawyers are expected to seek bail as well as the lifting of the arrest warrants.
The DOJ chief admitted that tracking Napoles is a challenge to authorities, considering her “resources and connections.”
She said Napoles had apparently been tipped off on the issuance of the warrants.
“We received a report that her lawyer was already waiting there at the Makati RTC even before the arrest warrant was released,” she said. “That’s the reason why the NBI immediately proceeded to the known addresses of the Napoleses, including that in Pacific Plaza and Dasmariñas Village (in Makati City) and others, after getting hold of copies of the arrest warrants, but they were not found in any of their addresses,” she said.
“We also received information that their vehicles were spotted going in and out of NCR (national capital region),” she added.
She said those who have information on the whereabouts of Napoles and Lim may call the NBI operations center at 524-1141 or 0917-5838612.
The DOJ chief has released a list as well as photographs of 30 vehicles that the fugitives may be using.
The list and the photos would be posted at tollbooths and security outposts at the North and South Luzon expressways. “Given the magnitude of the case, citizen’s arrest is possible,” she stressed. She appealed to Napoles and her brother to just surrender “and face this case and the cases to follow.”
NBI director Nonnatus Rojas said Napoles’ having several properties in Luzon and the Visayas is compounding the hunt for her and her brother. “That’s the difficulty if the subject has many assets and resources,” he said.
Documents obtained by The STAR show that Napoles has 22 properties registered in her name.
Why the rush?
Napoles’ lawyer Lorna Kapunan said she was wondering why the DOJ was in such a rush to have Napoles arrested, considering that the court had set a hearing on her motion to determine probable cause against her client.
“Why the haste? This case would deprive a person of her constitutional right to liberty. The DOJ could have waited a day or two or after the court has heard our motion before asking for the arrest warrants,” Kapunan said.
In filing a motion for the determination of probable cause, Kapunan said they were questioning the DOJ’s basis for reversing an earlier decision to dismiss the case of illegal detention filed against Napoles and Lim.
The motion was supposed to be heard by Judge Alameda at 8:30 a.m. today. But according to Alameda’s staff, the motion will no longer be heard as it is already considered moot with the issuance of the arrest warrants.
“What is the evidence that compelled her (Secretary De Lima) to reverse herself?” asked Kapunan. She said the evidence, comprising 17 sworn statements and closed circuit television (CCTV) footage, were “strong enough” to have the case of illegal detention against Napoles and Lim dismissed.
Kapunan added that Napoles’ lawyers were not furnished by the DOJ with a copy of its resolution reversing the previous dismissal of the illegal detention case.
Illegal detention under the Revised Penal Code is a non-bailable offense.
More arrests pushed
Administration lawmakers, meanwhile, urged authorities to also include other cohorts of Napoles in their hunt and ensure that all possible means of her escape are blocked.
Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said the NBI should also run after her cohorts, particularly those in various government offices.
“For such a grand scheme like that, Napoles and her bogus NGOs could not have done it alone,” Tugna said.
He said the DOJ should also determine the accountability of its witnesses, whose intent to help may be questionable.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, for his part, appealed to Napoles to surrender to authorities and defend herself. “She should come out of hiding, she should face the music,” he said.
“Flight is an admission of guilt, to me you are guilty if you run away from a case, so we appeal to Napoles to be able to be in the justice system by answering the kidnapping charges against her instead of hiding,” he said.
“How can she defend herself if she is in hiding? She cannot also defend the pork barrel scam so she should emerge,” Rodriguez said.
He said he believes the alleged kidnapping is only one of the many charges that could be filed against Napoles.
Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. decried yesterday attempts by some quarters to establish aconnection between their children and those of Napoles.
In separate statements, the senators admitted knowing Napoles but only as an acquaintance.
Revilla made the revelation as he also tried to protect his son Bryan from being dragged into the pork barrel scam.
Revilla said he was introduced once or twice to Napoles, and had seen her occasionally in social gatherings.
According to Revilla, his son Bryan and one of Napoles’ children were schoolmates in high school. The two, along with other friends, had set up PB and J Corp. which is engaged in importing and selling rubber shoes.
“It is unfortunate that a legal undertaking between associates is being tainted with malice. Their business endeavor is legal and legitimate,” Revilla said. - Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Aie Balagtas-See, Michael Frialde, Christina Mendez, Ding Cervantes, Rhodina Villanueva