MANILA - Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) chair Rene Villa admitted Thursday that he received cash and a pickup truck from his client, businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, when he was still her lawyer.
Villa, a former Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary and member of President Aquino's Liberal Party, said the cash and vehicle served as payment for his services as lawyer for Napoles' JLN Corp.
He reiterated that he never made any illegal transaction with the businesswoman who is now facing plunder charges for allegedly masterminding the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
In an Inquirer report, records provided by former Napoles employees showed Villa received P500,000 taken from the vault of the Napoles office in Ortigas on February 24, 2010.
This amount, according to Villa, was given in cash.
"Sabi ko sa kanya, 'Hindi ba pwedeng cheke?' Mahirap pa daw yung papunta-punta akong bangko para i-encash," he said in a DZMM interview.
"Ang bayad niya hindi pare-pareho, kung minsan, kung ano yung agreed naming fee, kung kelan ako makarating dito, sinasabay-sabay niya ang bayad."
He also admitted receiving P300,000 from Napoles on May 6, 2010, but noted it was not a contribution for his unsuccessful campaign for Iloilo representative.
The same amount was also sourced from Masaganang Buhay Foundation's bank account, according to one document provided by the Napoles employees to Inquirer.
"Tumatanggap ako ng pera dahil bayad sa akin. Kung saan nila kinuha is not something I am in the position to know," he said.
"I don't think kung mag-contribute siya, na sa yaman niyang iyan eh ganon lang ang contribution niya. I suppose magbibigay siya ng mas malaki… Look at the figure. Eh kung nag-contribute siya, in fact if I recall correctly, wala siya sa Pilipinas. Ang P300,000 na iyan mukhang iniwan lang."
But when asked whether he has receipts showing that the amounts given to him by Napoles were payments for his services, Villa said, "Ang arrangement, si Napoles kasi is a Chinese, so kapag nag-usap kayo niyan, ibibigay na lang sayo ang bayad mo. Nire-reflect ko naman kahit papano sa aking income tax return."
Pulling some strings
Villa said the pickup truck, a Toyota Hilux, was given to him by Napoles also as payment.
He said Napoles pulled some strings to get him a unit of the vehicle as its supply was scarce at that time.
"Na-overhear niya. Sabi niya ano daw kailangan ko. In the course of our meeting tumatawag ang aking staff eh. Sabi ko naghahanap ako ng pickup na gagamitin para sa pag-akyat sa mga bundok," he said.
"Nakakuha na ako ng sasakyan na ipapa-ship ko sa Iloilo. I offered to pay her pero sabi niya ibawas na lang sa attorney's fee."
Forces out to link Napoles to LP
In the interview, Villa said some forces are trying to put malice to his connection with Napoles in order to tarnish the reputation of the Liberal Party.
He belied claims that he introduced Napoles to LP stalwarts or his Iloilo political ally, Senate President Franklin Drilon.
"Hindi po totoo yan. Nagtataka lang ako because one of the questions asked from me was kung ako ba raw ang nagpakilala kay Napoles sa LP. Maliit lang akong tao sa Liberal Party. I am in no position na dalin sila kay Napoles," he told dzMM.
"They are trying to link LP kay Napoles. I'm looking at it as a way para masisi ang Liberal Party or to bring it all the way to the doorsteps of Malacañang."
Echoing the statement of party-mate President Benigno Aquino III, Villa said, "Mukhang na a-out of focus tayo dito. Mukhang nami-misdirect tayo. Since when did lawyering become a crime? Ano ba talaga ang isyu dito? Di ba ang PDAF? Bakit tayo napunta sa DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program), and in my case, sa lawyering ko?"
Villa served as Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but quit in 2005 when the latter figured in the "Hello Garci" scandal.
He said he had nothing to do with Napoles' alleged pocketing of P200 million in DAR funds in 2007, noting he was already out of the government at that time.
Nonetheless, he admitted that he became friends with Napoles, joining the latter for meals in several occasions even after he rejoined the government under the current administration.