DOJ backtracks on Napoles bid to become state witness

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 17 2018 05:44 PM

Security escorts Janet Napoles after her court hearing at the Sandigan Bayan. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, unlike his predecessor Vitaliano Aguirre, is not keen on granting businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles privileges accorded to state witnesses, at least for now.

In a manifestation submitted to the Sandiganbayan 3rd Division, Guevarra said Napoles was only given “provisional coverage” under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act.

The provisional status given to Napoles was during the time of former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, who said that Napoles might be utilized as a state witness in future cases in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam. 

“In lieu of comment, the department hereby manifests that accused Napoles was previously granted a provisional coverage under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program. The same, however, does not confer upon her an actionable right to demand detention or custody under the aforesaid program,” Guevarra said.

The manifestation of the DOJ came after the anti-graft court asked for their comment on the request of lawyer Stephen David for the transfer of Napoles from Camp Bagong Diwa to a safehouse of the DOJ.

Guevarra also noted the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Witness Protection Program (WPP) law which was earlier raised by Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice and 3rd Division Chairperson Amparo Cabotaje-Tang.

The IRR of the WPP law states that the program “shall not take into its custody a witness who is under detention for any lawful cause.”

Napoles is currently detained because of 3 plunder cases pending at the 3rd, 5th and 1st Divisions of the Sandiganbayan.

“It appears herein that accused Napoles is under detention pursuant to a process issued by this Honorable Court. This factual circumstance shall be taken into account by the department in the final resolution of accused Napoles’ application for coverage under the subject Program,” Guevarra said. 

With the submission of the DOJ of its manifestation, the matter is now submitted for resolution by the court.

Meantime, the Sandiganbayan 5th Division denied the same request of Napoles, also noting the provision on witnesses who have pending cases.

The court also addressed the security concerns raised by Napoles after a surprise raid was done by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

“The best that can be done, assuming that the threats and intimidation against her are true, is for the DOJ to direct the BJMP Taguig Jail Female Dormitory to take necessary measures to ensure her safety,” 5th Division Chairperson Rafael Lagos said.

The 1st Division earlier denied the request of Napoles, also because of the provisions of the WPP law.