MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday said the government is putting up a P10-million reward for information leading to the arrest of Janet Lim Napoles, the businesswoman implicated in the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
Aquino said the priority right now is to arrest Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim, amid reports that the government is not ruling out the possibility of making the businesswoman a state witness.
"P10 million ang reward for information leading to the arrest of Miss Napoles," Aquino told reporters at the sidelines of the 8th East Asia Conference on Competition Law and Policy at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.
Asked if the government will consider turning Napoles into a state witness against those involved in the pork barrel scam, Aquino said that while it can be looked into, Napoles should first be arrested to face the charges against her.
"Yung pagiging state witness pag-aaralan 'yan pero importante muna ay may warrant of arrest kailangan ma-serve ng executive itong warrant of arrest," Aquino said.
The announcement of the bounty was also made following reports that Napoles fled the country using a yacht.
Aquino said he has to clarify if the P10 million also covers Reynald Lim.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, meanwhile, said there is still no indication that Napoles and her brother have left the country.
"Walang indikasyon. Walang info, walang verified lead ang NBI and even other law enforcement agencies like PNP and even sa intelligence na nakalabas na sila," she said.
The information that yachts reportedly belonging to Napoles are missing appears to be untrue and "rehashed," de Lima said. Nonetheless, authorities are not letting their guards down and are pursuing leads.
Authorities are assuming that Napoles is being protected by "armed and dangerous men," she added.
De Lima said Napoles is not yet being considered to become a state witness, adding that there are conditions to be one, including being the least guilty in a case.
"Sa ngayon hindi pa namin 'yan sineseryosong kino-consider but we cannot really rule out that possibility. There is always that possibility pero hindi pa ho namin talaga 'yan kino-consider. At alam n'yo naman po na mayroong mga elements or requirements or conditions bago ang isang akusado, or bago ang isang respondent na i-consider na isang state witness."
She said there is no discussion of Napoles being a state witness especially since she is still hiding.
"First things first. Kung nagtatago po siya, wala hong usapan tungkol d'yan, sa pagiging state witness niya," she said.
Investigators are targeting to file the first batch of cases in two weeks against Napoles, and possibly including lawmakers.
De Lima said the perpetrators of the pork barrel scam may face plunder charges but that it would still be subject to "further evaluation" by NBI's legal team review by the Office of the Ombudsman.