MANILA - Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday said alleged pork barrel scam key player Janet Lim Napoles is not the most guilty in the pork barrel scam, as he defended the government’s decision to provisionally accept the controversial figure as a state witness.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, Aguirre admitted that he met with Napoles about two months ago where the latter offered to “tell all” about the pork barrel scam.
“Kaya natin nilagay [si Napoles sa WPP] kasi sabi niya sasabihin ko na lahat. We expect that,” Aguirre said in a news conference in Malacañang.
Administration critics, some of whom were with the previous administration, have criticized the government’s move to “provisionally” accept Napoles as state witness in potentially new pork-barrel-scam-related cases.
They said Napoles will be too willing to implicate them in the scam just to get on the good side of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Aguirre dismissed criticism that the government was forging a deal with Napoles in exchange for working on her release. Napoles remains behind bars for her plunder and graft cases before the Sandiganbayan in relation to the pork barrel scam.
“Sila ang lumapit and I believe justice will be done if Janet Napoles will be allowed to speak and tell the whole truth about this,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre believes Napoles qualifies as a state witness in the plunder cases since she is supposedly not the prime mover of the scam.
“Kapag plunder, sino ba ang dapat idemanda dyan? Hindi ba government officials? Kung government officials, si Janet would be just a co-conspirator. Being a co-conspirator, she is not the most guilty,” Aguirre said.
“As between two almost equally guilty [individuals], who is more guilty, the public officer or a private person who just finished high school? If I put it, parang may depekto na ang charges sa Sandigan,” he said, referring to Napoles.
Napoles has repeatedly argued that she should not be charged with plunder, an offense where bail is not a matter of right, because she is not a public official.
The Supreme Court, in Napoles’ bail petitions, had already dismissed this argument, saying a private individual can still be charged with plunder if the act was made in conspiracy with public officials.
AGUIRRE ADMITS PALACE MEETING
Aguirre has also come under fire after Napoles’ lawyer, Stephen David, revealed that he met with the Justice secretary and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea in Malacañang to discuss the businesswoman’s case.
The justice chief admitted the meeting took place, but he refused to describe it as a “meeting," adding that he and Medialdea only chanced upon David, who was apparently in the Palace at that time.
Aguirre said David went to Malacañang in an attempt to have Medialdea reverse his [Medialdea's] position that Napoles, now under the WPP, can only be transferred from Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig to the DOJ’s custody if the Sandiganbayan approves it.
Aguirre said even Medialdea agreed that Napoles’ camp should ask the anti-graft court to grant their motion to have Napoles transferred to DOJ custody.
“Meron siya [David] kasing opinion that once you are covered under the WPP, the prisoner or applicant, in this case Napoles, can be taken out already out of Taguig detention cell because of the threat to her life. Hindi ako pumayag,” Aguirre said.
“Sabi ko, iba ang aking opinyon eh. Kinakailangan natin ng favorable [decision] from the three divisions of Sandiganbayan where the cases of Janet are pending.”
Medialdea denied giving advice to Napoles’ lawyer. Aguirre, for his part, said Medialdea merely expressed his “opinion” on the matter, the same way he aired his to David.
“He [Medialdea] was asked by Atty. David if he could overrule me. He said he could not because he is of the same opinion,” Aguirre said.
“That’s not giving legal advice. That was just giving his opinion.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, meanwhile, said in the same briefing that Duterte is taking a hands off stance on the pork barrel scam cases.
“The President does not micromanage. He will allow the line agencies to perform their duties according to the law,” Roque said.
Critics have blasted Napoles’ designation as state witness, saying the pork barrel scam would not have fully worked without her participation.
Former President Benigno Aquino III’s critics have alleged there was "selective justice" in the handling of the pork barrel scam cases during his term, as lawmakers deemed unfriendly to his administration were supposedly the only ones indicted.
Levito Baligod, a former lawyer of pork barrel scam key witness Benhur Luy, said there is no need to make Napoles a witness because there are already pork-barrel-scam-related cases against members of the Liberal Party, Aquino’s political party.