MANILA – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Wednesday that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales would have the final say on whether or not alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles may turn state witness.
This amid Morales' tiff with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II over the plan to make Napoles a prosecution witness after she vowed to name top officials from the past administration in the P10-billion fund diversion controversy.
“Under the law, it’s the Ombudsman who will prosecute plunder cases. If that is the opinion of the Ombudsman, it should prevail,” Panelo told reporters in Malacañang.
“There may be some evidence [which, when] presented to the Ombudsman, may persuade her to change her mind. Right now, that is the opinion of the Ombudsman and, as a lawyer, knowing the Ombudsman, her competence, integrity, and excellence, I will have to defer to her," he said.
Morales and Aguirre have been at odds over the latter’s insistence that Napoles could still be made a state witness despite her pending plunder and graft cases in connection with the pork barrel scam.
The feisty graft-buster on Tuesday said her office would block any attempts to make Napoles a state witness, saying the businesswoman was one of the principal benefactors in the scam.
The racket, first bared in 2013, saw billions of pesos in Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) of lawmakers funneled into the ghost projects of non-government organizations Napoles had allegedly set up.
"Certainly the Office of Special Prosecutor will block any attempt to make her state witness. It is the OSP which will consider whether or not she will be a state witness and it's going to be the court who will finally approve whether or not she is going to be state witness," Morales told reporters on Tuesday.
"We don't find her (Napoles) to be a candidate for being state witness," Morales added.
Morales said that though the justice department was free to reinvestigate the scam, the Sandiganbayan would have the last say on getting Napoles as a state witness.
She said a reinvestigation was not necessary if only to surface other personalities who may be involved in the scam, because a separate probe by the Ombudsman was still ongoing.
While Morales insisted that her office and the anti-graft court would have the ultimate say on whether Napoles would be made a state witness, Aguirre noted that his department had sole jurisdiction over the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
Aguirre also argued that Napoles could still be made a state witness to the new set of cases related to the scam. The justice secretary said it was necessary to conduct a reinvestigation because of the supposed “selective justice” committed by the past administration in handling pork barrel cases.
Opposition politicians, led by detained Sen. Leila de Lima, has raised suspicion over the government’s plan to make Napoles a state witness.
“All of the actions of the government in causing the acquittal of Napoles and making her a state witness bear the hallmarks of an upcoming government witch hunt,” De Lima said on Monday.
Napoles' possible admission into the WPP after she was acquitted from a serious illegal detention case she faced over the detention of her relative, pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy.
She, however, remains detained as she faces trial for several plunder cases at the Sandiganbayan.
– with Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News