MANILA - Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday said his department has sole jurisdiction over the Witness Protection Program after the Office of the Ombudsman slammed a plan to turn Janet Lim Napoles, alleged brains of the pork barrel scam, into a state witness.
"We are in a democracy. We are entitled to our own opinion kaya natural lang na magkaroon ng clash ang 2 public official katulad halimbawa ng Department of Justice at Ombudsman," Aguirre said in a phone interview with radio DZMM.
"Pero very clear po doon na pagdating sa pagtanggap ng isang witness under the Witness Protection Program ay Department of Justice lamang po ang may discretion niya -- wala na pong ibang tanggapan."
(We are in a democracy, we are entitled to our own opinion so clashes are only natural between 2 public officials like the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman. But it is very clear that only the Department of Justice and no other office should have discretion when it comes to accepting witnesses under the Witness Protection Program.)
Aguirre previously said the administration is considering Napoles as a state witness in the re-investigation of the scam that funneled billions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) of lawmakers into the ghost projects of non-government organizations (NGOs).
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, however, said Napoles is not a fit state witness candidate because her NGOs were principal benefactors in the PDAF anomaly.
Morales added that a re-investigation of the scam is unnecessary because a separate probe by the Ombudsman is still ongoing.
Aguirre clarified that the justice department will use Napoles as state witness only if new PDAF-related cases are filed.
He also noted that the previous administration only pursued pork barrel complaints against former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla even though some 100 lawmakers may have been involved in the scam.
Aguirre at the same time guaranteed that Napoles will not be released from detention or acquitted from her pending graft cases if and when she becomes state witness.