THE Department of Justice has provisionally admitted suspected pork barrel scam architect Janet Lim-Napoles into the government’s Witness Protection Program after she executed an affidavit providing more details on the misuse of the multi-billion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers.
“We confirm that Janet L. Napoles has been placed under provisional admission of WPP subject to affidavit she submitted which is now undergoing assessment,” said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in a text message.
“As of the moment, physically she is not under WPP due to provisional status of admission. If requested by subject we can provide additional security and as warranted, address medical needs,” Aguirre added.
Last year, Aguirre formed a new task force to reinvestigate the multi-billion peso anomaly after meeting one of Napoles’ lawyers.
He said Napoles implicated at least three more senators and two former executive officials in the PDAF scam.
The reinvestigation on PDAF scam came after the Court of Appeals acquitted Napoles earlier this month in the illegal detention case filed by pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy before the Makati regional trial court.
Napoles remains in detention since she is still facing plunder, graft and malversation charges before the Sandiganbayan, along with former senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile.
Earlier, Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes also confirmed that Napoles, who is the principal accused in the pork barrel scam, has been placed under the provisional coverage of the WPP.
However, he declined to divulge details of the affidavit executed by Napoles pending review by the DoJ.
Earlier, Napoles campfiled a motion before the Sandiganbayan seeking her transfer to the custody of the DoJ’s WPP.
Napoles’ lawyers said she should be transferred from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Camp Bagong Diwa to the DoJ following her provisional admission to the WPP.
Her camp attached a certification from the DoJ which states that Napoles “has been provisionally covered by the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Program effective Feb. 27, 2018.”
The Napoles camp cited harassment and death threats that she was receiving.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III expressed shock at Napoles’ inclusion in the WPP.
“Wow, what an unbelievable, crazy development!” he said.
“Do some people in the DoJ really believe that Janet Lim Napoles is qualified to be a state witness in the PDAF scam which she herself invented organized and perpetuated?” he said.
Pimentel is the president of the ruling PDP-Laban where President Rodrigo Duterte sits as chairman.
Another ally of the President, Senator Joel Villanueva expressed hope that the DoJ has a good strategy in going after those who are guilty of crime and corruption, something he said it has not been able to do so far.
Senator JV Ejercito, a member of the majority bloc, said the DoJ seemed to be “on a clearing spree,” after it dismissed drug charges against Cebu businessman Peter Lim and self-confessed drug trafficker Kerwin Espinosa.
“I am disturbed and dismayed by the news that the so-called pork barrel queen has been granted provisional government protection by the DoJ under its Witness Protection Program. This is a setback in our fight against corruption and the pork barrel system,” he said.
Ejercito said he is not prepared to accept the idea that Napoles is the least guilty in the PDAF scam as the latter rigged the system to enrich herself and others at the expense of the public.
“I urge the President, who has adopted a no-nonsense attitude towards corruption and inefficiency in government, to review the performance of the DoJ,” said Ejercito.
“This is the latest in a string of questionable decisions and actions by the Justice Department, which in my opinion, undermine the success of this administration in its relentless war against drugs and corruption,” Ejercito added.
Senator Gregorio Honasan, however, said it was a judgment call for the Justice secretary to make.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said the Duterte administration’s decision to turn Napoles into a state witness is a travesty of justice. She said it reverses the gains won by the people in their anti-corruption struggle that culminated in the historic Million People March.
However, she said this was expected.
“After all, this is the same government that used the testimonies of convicted and self-confessed drug lords [who have everything to gain and nothing to lose) to intimidate and unjustly incarcerate one of the leading figures of the political opposition,” she said, referring to Senator Leila de Lima.
“That being the case, I would not be surprised if Napoles would also be used as a political weapon to further harass the other members of the political opposition and create a chilling effect,” she added.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara pointed out that Napoles’ includion was still provisional, and that her qualifications must be studied carefully.
“First is the testimony absolutely necessary? Two, if there is no other direct evidence available. Three, the witness’ testimony can be corroborated. Four if the witness is not the most guilty, and five, if the witness has no previous convictions,” he said.
All of these conditions must be met, Angara said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said it is the Ombudsman, nto the DoJ, which is prosecuting the Napoles PDAF cases before the Sandiganbayan. That means the DoJ has no control over her possible discharge as a state witness.
Second, Lacson noted that even if the DoJ is prosecuting, it is still the court that will decide whether or not a respondent may be dropped from the case and discharged as a witness.
He said it would be interesting to see who Napoles would implicate that has not yet been investigated or charged.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales says the DoJ action would not affect the multiple counts of plunder and graft Napoles is facing before the Sandiganbayan.
“It has no effect on the cases under trial in court,” Morales said.
The WPP grants Napoles extra security and can get her moved to another jail. If she is accepted, her medical needs, too, will be shouldered by the state.
None of this will affect the five counts of plunder and multiple counts of graft she faces before the Sandiganbayan, however.