MANILA - It was supposed to be a simple illegal detention case.
Months later, the detention of Benhur Luy, former personal aide of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles has opened up revelations of a massive conspiracy involving millions of pesos in lawmakers' pork barrel funds being funneled to fake non-governmental organizations.
Luy, a cousin of Napoles, has accused the businesswoman of setting up at least 20 fake NGOs to siphon off billions of pesos in lawmakers’ pork barrel funds in exchange for a cut of the money. A Commission on Audit report earlier said at least 8 NGOs linked to Napoles received P1.9 billion in pork barrel funds from 2007-2009 alone.
At least 38 people including senators and former congressmen are now facing plunder and malversation charges for their alleged links to the scam.
Speaking to ANC, lawyer Levito Baligod said he first got wind of the case after Gertrudes Luy, mother of Benhur, contacted a mutual friend about his son's disappearance.
Baligod said the friend, a military officer who is still in active duty, asked him to look into the case.
"He prefers not to be named but he had a long stint in Mindanao as a member of the Scout Rangers. He is an exemplary military officer and I knew him way back in UP days when he was first year college and COCC in the UP Vanguard Corps of Cadet Officers and I was a first classman then," he said.
Baligod said he urged the Luy family to continue contacting Mrs. Napoles since Benhur's detention seemed to be a simple dispute among relatives.
"My first impression was it was a simple case of illegal detention. That is why I encouraged the family to continue sending text messages to Mrs. Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim, para maayos sana nila. Kaming mga lawyers, we are encouraged under the ethical rules of the legal profession na mag-ayos lalo na magkakamag-anak sila," he said.
"That was my advice. Continue sending the text messages to plead your case with Mrs. Napoles na pakawalan na nila si Benhur. But after two weeks, bumalik ulit sila sa akin at sinabi nila they cannot contact Benhur and they are not allowed to see Benhur. Doon na ako nag-umpisa po na magtanong na sa kanila, to gather information," he added.
According to Baligod, Benhur Luy was incarcerated by Mrs. Napoles on December 19, 2012.
Napoles' lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, earlier said it was on the same date that Napoles confronted Benhur about his alleged theft of P300,00 in Christmas bonuses of JLN employees and his own bank loans using Napoles’ account.
“Sometime in December, Janet Napoles discovered that [Luy] had stolen the Christmas bonus of the employees. Apart from that, providentially during the same Christmas party, a bank official called and said: ‘Mrs. Napoles, nakakalimutan niyo ata yung inyong amortization sa 2 loans niyo.’ There was a P2.5 million loan and P2.7 million loan of Benhur. She was so startled. Nagulat siya kasi hindi naman siya nag lo-loan. And the bank official said: ‘Si Benhur po, ginamit ang account ninyo at binack to back pa yung loan na ito.’ We have that in sworn affidavit,” she said in an ANC Headstart interview.
Kapunan said Luy admitted to his wrongdoing and then promised to atone by placing himself on “self-solitude” at a retreat house.
She said State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera had already rejected the serious illegal detention case against Napoles after evaluating 17 affidavits, including five from priests and one monsignor who handled the retreat house where Luy was allegedly detained.
Napoles asked for Benhur's laptop
Baligod, however, said Benhur's incarceration could not be called a retreat since the Luy family was only able to contact Benhur twice between December 2012 and March 2013.
He said the Luy family was allowed to contact Benhur to allay or placate the fears of the family so that they would not report anything to the authorities.
He said the Luy family was first allowed to talk to Benhur on December 21, 2012, just two days after the latter was detained.
"The first time was when Reynald Lim demanded the return of Benhur's laptop. Alam kasi nila na there are sensitivve information in Benhur's laptop. Nakuha nila yung laptop.
Nakipag-communicate sila sa sister ni Benhur to give up the laptop. Naibigay naman in exchange for them to see Benhur," he said.
He said the second time the family saw Benhur was on March 22, 2013, at the Pacific Plaza Towers. He said that even before the visit, Napoles' brother, Reynald Lim, instructed the Luy family not to bring a lawyer.
It was during this "visit" that National Bureau of Investigation agents rescued Luy.
Not out for revenge
In the interview, Baligod said he does not believe that the Luy family is concocting the story of the pork barrel scam just to get even with Mrs. Napoles.
He noted Gertrudes Luy was still working for Mrs. Napoles until December 19, the day that Benhur was supposedly detained.
"Wala silang rason para gumanti kasi by December 19, 2012 nandun pa si Gng. Gertrudes Luy sa bahay ni Gng. Napoles. So wala silang kaalam-alam na itinago na si Benhur...Hindi na nila ma-contact si Benhur kaya umalis na si Mrs. Luy," he said.
Asked if he ever doubted the stories of the Luys, he said: "Hindi po kasi as a lawyer, you know how to read body language at makikita mo naman sa pagkatao nila na nagsasabi sila ng totoo."
Baligod rejected Kapunan's earlier allegation that Benhur and the other whistle-blowers masterminded the pork barrel scam.
"Yung lifestyle nila simpleng-simple. At kung gawa gawa lamang nila ito, dapat sila yung mayaman at hindi si Gng. Napoles," he said.
The lawyer said he became indignant when he learned that Napoles was using her fake NGOs to steal pork barrel funds intended for farmers.
"When I came to know the business of Mrs. Napoles, medyo kwan ako e I was indignant because I learned that they were stealing from farmers. Ang mga magsasasaka natin nangangailangan ng ayuda so gobyerno. I know how difficult life is for ordinary farmers. I am from Cagayan, an agricultural province," he said.
He also noted Napoles ordered her employees to manufacture names of supposed farmer-beneficiaries of the P900 million Malampaya fund.
"Si Arthur Luy when they were implementing the Malampaya fund, he was ordered to make a list of names of people. So kung saan-saan nila kinuha yung mga pangalan and when they ran out of sources, they started manufacturing names," he said.
He said some of the names were taken from phonebooks or reversing the names of people already on the list.
Earlier reports said the Napoles-linked NGOs also used included the names of successful examinees of the Nursing Board, Bar, and CPA exams in the list of beneficiaries.