MANILA (Mabuhay) – If she reveals all, the testimony of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles could transform her from the “poster girl” of pork barrel corruption to someone who will have a unique place in history in the abolition of the priority development assistance funds (PDAF), her former lawyer said Monday.
Lawyer Lorna Kapunan said there is too much focus on Napoles and not enough on the lawmakers who pocketed their own funds, the whistle-blowers, and other non-government organizations (NGO) that have also been linked to the pork scam.
“The problem with her being the poster girl is that might be what she is. Naitatali siya sa poste. Why are the real names not coming out? People have said – Mrs. Napoles and the pork barrel scam is already old-fashioned. These senators and the congressmen and the mayors have already sophisticated it to such extent that they don’t need middlemen, financiers. That is why probably we are thinking and some columnist have already said that some senators have already formed their own NGOs so that there will be no whistle-blower unless you are stupid enough to put your name as officer in your own NGO and you put your own PDAF in your own NGO,” she said.
“My point is – the closer you focus on Mrs. Napoles, the farther you get from the real culprits. Mrs. Napoles, in the whole scheme of things, is a – she is a small fry compared to the big fries, the big fish,” she added.
Napoles is being accused of setting up fake NGOs that served as conduits of an estimated P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel funds over a 10-year period. Benhur Luy, Napoles’ former personal assistant, earlier told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that Napoles offered a 50% cut to lawmakers who allocated their pork barrel funds to her NGOs.
A Commission on Audit report earlier said nearly P2 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel funds went to Napoles-linked NGOs from 2007-2009.
The issue of pork barrel corruption has led to the filing of cases against 38 people including three senators who have been linked to the scam. Several street protests have also called for the abolition of all pork barrel funds in the budget.
Napoles is currently detained at Fort Santo Domingo in Santa Rosa, Laguna for a serious illegal detention case filed against her by Luy. She is set to face the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on November 7, 10 a.m.
During the interview, Kapunan reiterated there is nothing to be gained by Napoles’ appearance in the Senate since charges have already been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman.
She said the inquiry is not “in aid of legislation” but in “aid of entertainment”, noting that the lawmakers could abolish the PDAF even without Napoles.
She also warned that Thursday’s hearing would be a circus since both Napoles and the whistle-blowers were invited to appear in the hearing.
“Investigation in aid of legislation, I think, is an overused phrase. What the Senate has done and is doing especially with this scenario of the whistle-blowers being there face-to-face, even if it’s not confrontational or adversarial, it’s a circus. What legislation is served by having Mrs. Napoles and the whistleblowers there? What is obvious is that Mrs. Napoles did not invent the PDAF… It is the nature of the beast. PDAF is a public fund, there is a public official involved,” she said.
What is Napoles thinking?
The lawyer also gave a glimpse into Napoles’ mental state, noting that the businesswoman has been incarcerated in Fort Santo Domingo since September 1.
Kapunan said Napoles’ prolonged detention in Fort Santo Domingo had given her client a lot of time for self-reflection, which she hoped would bring “awakenings.”
“She is analyzing things to herself. She is now asking – why am I in detention when there are so many there who should be in jail and are not in jail? Why is it taking so long? Is there a conspiracy to keep me here?”
She also noted that Fort Santo Domingo “was home to several people before who were convicted and these are the same people who are now or have been named in connection with this plunder investigation.”
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who has been linked to the pork scam, was previously detained in Fort Santo Domingo for corruption allegations.
Kapunan decried the lack of privacy inside the fort, saying that CCTV cameras are always monitoring conversations between Napoles and her lawyers.
She also noted that Napoles’ family can only see her family from 2pm-4:30 pm every day.
Why she quit as Napoles’ counsel
In the interview, Kapunan again confirmed that she is no longer representing Napoles because of a difference of legal strategy with other defense lawyers in the Napoles camp.
She said Napoles chose to go with the strategy of Atty. Freddie Villamor, the in-house counsel of JLN Corporation, since she thought Villamor’s strategy would help her get out on bail in time for All Saints Day.
“Timing was of essence. This was – she had wanted to be freed to visit her mother because this is the first year that she will not be able to visit her mother in that famous mausoleum that is now a tourist spot sadly. And because of that we ourselves said, ‘Maybe Atty. Villamor should handle this.’ And she said yes,” Kapunan said.
Kapunan said the prosecution “went to town” with their case by calling for 8 prosecution witnesses for a simple bail hearing. She said the defense was only able to present 1 witness only after she requested for an extension.
“That is very dangerous and considering the likely outcome of a situation like that, it is something that I would not want to be involved in,” she said.
The lawyer rejected insinuations that she abandoned her client because of public pressure or because Napoles could no longer pay her fee. She said her strategy was not to “win the battle” but to “win this war.”
“We are really out for an acquittal,” she said.
However, she also admitted that she can no longer collaborate with Villamor’s group. “It is a choice between who the client thinks will serve her best,” she said.
Why Napoles should become a state witness
In the interview, Kapunan said everything she has learned so far about the pork scam since taking on the Napoles case suggests that the web of corruption is too big to be confined to a single person.
“Napakalawak, napakalalim at napakaraming actors involved. Nobody can perpetuate – not a Napoles, not a Benhur, not a Usec , not a chief of staff, not a senator, not a congressman – it is a whole culture of corruption. It is a web of corruption,” she said.
She said the public is also to blame for the corruption since “we elected them, knowing that they are crooks, knowing that spend billions in campaign funds.”
Kapunan warned the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman against relying too much on the testimonies of the whistle-blowers. She noted that relying on the whistle-blowers could also lead to corruption since they have not been forthcoming about the names of all lawmakers involved in the scam.
“By their own testimony, they are the ones who follow up with the congressman, chief of staff or senator . Have you heard the names of these congressmen, except 2 or 3 or 4? No. It is selective. It gives rise to the public saying – bakit ganun? My concern here is – if they give too much credence to these whistle-blowers and they disregard the importance of the testimony of Mrs. Napoles, they will not be able to prove their case,” she said.
She again urged the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman to seriously consider tapping Napoles as a state witness.
“Let us leave this to the Sandiganbayan and the Ombudsman in its investigation. I am not saying [Napoles] is guilty or innocent. I am saying that her testimony is very crucial and I believe (if) she is faithful to her promise of telling the truth in the proper forum and if her lawyers who are now handling her or continue to handle her will not dissuade her from telling the truth, she will transform and metamorph [from] the worst poster girl to somebody who would have a unique place in history towards the abolition of the PDAF,” she said.
She added: “This PDAF is not about who is popular or unpopular. This PDAF is sending the right people to jail. Whether they be public officials or private individuals, whether they are auditors, lawyers, accountants, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries or chief of staffs…These people should be made accountable.” (MNS)