Makati RTC ruling reversed
(2nd UPDATE) - The Court of Appeals (CA) has found “reasonable doubt” to acquit alleged “pork barrel” scam architect Janet Lim Napoles for the crime of serious illegal detention in connection with the alleged abduction and detention of her former aide and relative, Benhur Luy, and reversed a lower court ruling that found Napoles guilty.
In a 35-page decision by its Twelfth Division, dated May 5, 2017, penned by Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro, the appellate court said “the quantum of proor required in this case has not been met.”
“We hold that the evidence against [Napoles] is not sufficient to establish her participation or culpability in the alleged criminal conspiracy. The prosecution has not discharged its burden of proof in establishing the commission of the crime charged and in identifying [Napoles] as the malefactor responsible for it,” the decision read.
In his complaint, Luy alleged that Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim, ordered his detention for a period of three months, beginning December 20, 2012 up to March 22, 2013, to prevent him from divulging information about the siphoning of billions of pesos in lawmaker’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) and ghost projects.
Napoles was convicted by the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 on April 14, 2015, and was sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay the Luy P50,000 as civil indemnity and P50,0000 as moral damages.
In finding merit in Napoles’ appeal, the CA said “there is no
indubitable proof that Benhur was forced or involuntarily brought and confined in Bahay ni San Jose,” instead, there was enough evidence to establish the he “sought spiritual retreat therein,” as claimed by Napoles in her defense.
“Benhur attended mass every night with the priests residing in Bahay ni San Jose. He also maintained a journal covering the period of his stay in Bahay ni San Jose which contained biblical verses and
references,” the decision read, as it pointed out that “[t]hese daily
reflections are consistent with his religious activity.”
“Taken together, Benhur’s actuations are contrary to that of a person forced to stay with a religious order but are more consistent with the conclusion that he was seeking, and enjoying, too, religious retreat,” the CA added.
CA “BAFFLED” WHY BENHUR “NEVER ATTEMPTED TO ESCAPE"
The appellate court also pointed out that Benhur “never attempted to escape” nor did he divulge his predicament to anyone, which the magistrates found “baffling” considering that he was in contact with several persons, including priests, on a daily basis.
Benhur also “never mentioned anything about beind detained forcefully” everytime he updated his family and when he personally met with his family in several instances, and neither did he call for help “in the different occasions when he went out of Bahay ni San Jose,” the CA said.
“To our mind, it is completely baffling and unexplainable how a man who alleges illegal detention had no sense of urgency to escape or seek help, at least during the later part of his alleged detention, despite the grave offense committed against him,” the decision read.
BENHUR RESISTED RESCUE
The appellate court also stressed that Benhur “violently resisted rescue and even insisted that [Reynald Lim] did not do anything illegal or criminal against him.”
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) conducted the rescue operation at Pacific Plaza Condominium, where Napoles had a unit, on March 23, 2013, but Benhur’s actuations during the rescue “negates his allegation that he was detained against his will,” considering that the NBI operatives were accompanied by his brother, Arthur.
"The prosecution failed to satisfactorily explain the resistance of Benhur Luy to the rescue operation, which, to our mind negates the claim of serious illegal detention… this court find the response of Benhur to the occurrence contrary to human experience.
“His actuation shows a cloud in his claim that he was a victim of serious illegal detention. A person who had been deprived of his liberty for three months would not hesitate or resist getting rescued
by the proper government authorities such as the NBI or even utter the words to the effect that he was not illegally detained,” the decision read.
The appellate court also ruled that the prosecution failed to prove conspiracy beyond reasonable doubt between Napoles and her brother.
Taking all these into sum, the appellate court stressed that the constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence must prevail, since Napoles’ conviction rests not on her defense but on the strength of the prosecution’s case against her.
The CA ordered Napoles’ release from detention, but she may not walk free anytime soon because she is facing trial before the Sandiganbayan for the non-bailable offense of plunder, malversation, and other offenses in connection with the “pork barrel” scam.
The CA decision merely noted the manifestation submitted by the Office of the Solicitor General in favor of Napoles' acquittal, since such manifestation is not required under the Rules of Court.