Manila, Philippines — Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales yesterday denied the request of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles to turn state witness and be immune from suit over the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
“Napoles appears to be among the most guilty of all respondents,” Morales said in denying the request of her lawyers to utilize her as state witness.
Earlier in the day, President Aquino categorically denied being close to Napoles, the suspected mastermind of the fund scandal involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers. He likewise said that he had never forged a pork barrel-related transaction with Napoles when he was still a lawmaker.
He, however, admitted having met Napoles a couple of times in the past and receiving a letter from her once.
The President explained that Napoles had no reason to deal with him since he had no PDAF allocation when he served in Congress as he belonged then to the opposition. Aquino served three terms as congressman of Tarlac before being elected as senator in 2007.
NAPOLES TO KEEP ‘PORK’ DOCUMENTS
With Morales’ decision, Napoles’ lawyer and spokesman Bruce Rivera said it is pointless now for his client to turn over her document which she claimed could prove the participation of 18 incumbent and former senators in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
“Siyempre bakit namin ibibigay [yung documents] and what’s the need [for the documents] kung hindi naman kami tinatanggap as a state witness, hindi ba?” Rivera told reporters.
“They said they have so much already in their hands that they do not need our testimony. We will not force ourselves, hindi ba, kung di naman nila kailangan,” he said.
Still, Rivera remains hopeful that Morales will reconsider its decision to junk their request for her client’s immunity from the plunder case that the Department of Justice filed against her, Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Juan Ponce Enrile and several other lawmakers and government officials.
He said they would file a motion for reconsideration before the Office of the Ombudsman as soon as they get the resolution from Morales.
Asked whether Napoles would still consider helping the government in the case even if the Ombudsman affirms the denial of her request for immunity, Rivera said: “Hindi kasi naman in the first place kung hindi naman nila kailangan testimony namin bakit pa namin ipipilit.”
“If they decided not to listen to us, kasi nga they have their own investigation and based on their investigation itong tatlo na yung dapat kasuhan, then wala kaming magagawa, hindi ba,” the lawyer said.
Aside from Napoles’ bid, the Ombudsman also junked the bid of former Technology Resource Center head Dennis Cunanan and former National Agri-Business Corporation vice president Rhodora Mendoza, and former finance officer Victor Roman Cacal.
IMMUNITY FOR WHISTLEBLOWERS
Morales, however, granted immunity from prosecution for pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy and former Napoles’ employees Merlina Sunas, Mary Arlene Baltazar, Marina Sula, and Simonette Briones.
Morales also rejected separately the motions for reconsideration filed by Enrile, Revilla, Estrada, Napoles and other co-respondents in the scam.
“Evidently, the motions for reconsideration are rehashes of the arguments previously raised by them and already resolved by this Office,” the Morales said in three separate joint orders.
The joint orders also found no violation of the right to procedural process considering that the respondents were given an opportunity to be heard which they availed of by filing their motions for reconsideration, and requesting respondents were provided with copies of the requested counter-affidavits.
In an interview with reporters, President Aquino said that even if he had PDAF before, people dealing with anomalous transactions would still not approach him due to his reputation.
He also bared that the government is determined to recover public funds illegally obtained by Napoles.
President Aquino also recalled that Napoles wrote him a letter asserting her innocence in the serious illegal detention case filed against her by Luy. The letter, dated April 17, 2013, also sought assistance amid alleged intimidation from some agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as well as extortion attempt by some personalities.
Aquino said he gave the letter to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is handling the investigation on the pork barrel scam.
In the letter, the President recalled that Napoles sought assistance concerning the alleged extortion by certain persons, including a former military officer linked to former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. He was referring to retired general Rodolfo Diaz, who reportedly served as head of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) during the Estrada administration.
“Sa fourth paragraph, baka dapat tanungin natin si Senator Jinggoy (Estrada) kasi ang nakalagay dito ‘yung fourth paragraph and I’ll just quote from the letter: ‘Thereafter, Atty. Levito Baligod, lawyer of the Luy family, together with the retired General Rodolfo Diaz demanded the amount of P38 million from us through our lawyer, Atty. Freddie Villamor, in exchange for the dropping of said false charges and bad media publicity,’” Aquino said.
“Ewan ko lang kung ito ‘yung General Diaz na dating namumuno ng PSG noong panahon ni President Erap so baka mas may alam sa atin si Senator Jinggoy,” he added. (I don’t know if this is the same General Diaz who headed the PSG during the time of President Erap. So maybe Senator Jinggoy knows more than I do.)
The President also downplayed photos showing him and Napoles at a social event in Cebu in 2012. Aquino, who had previously denied knowing Napoles prior to the pork barrel controversy, said both of them were invited to that event.
For politicians like him, Aquino explained that it was normal for strangers to have their pictures taken with him. “So part of the risks of the job, ano. Siya ang nagpakuha ng litrato. Pero ‘yung may litrato kaming magkasama,” he added.