Although there appears to be a momentary reprieve for Janet Lim Napoles following the Office of Solicitor General’s (OSG) manifestation on her serious illegal detention case, she is not off the hook as the alleged pork barrel mastermind won’t be allowed to go scot-free.
At a press conference, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella yesterday said Solicitor General Jose Calida’s view in asking the Court of Appeals to acquit Napoles due to an alleged wrongful conviction does not mean that it is also the government’s stand on the plunder cases she is facing involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam.
He stressed the serious illegal detention and the plunder cases are different from each other.
“From the Solicitor General’s point of view, the two cases are not connected — they are not inseparable,” the Palace official added.
“Apparently, the Solicitor General isconcerned that the case will not be hampered by any mistrial simply because of the issue that there really was no cause for illegal serious detention,” Abella explained further.
Napoles was accused of illegally detaining whistle-blower Benhur Luy for three-months in early 2014. Luy had said he was detained by Napoles due to fears that Luy will expose Napoles’ alleged role in the PDAF scam.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, for his part, said while he shares Calida’s sentiment on the illegal detention case, there’s enough basis to keep Napoles behind bars.
“The evidence for plunder is very strong, that’s why we’re not apprehensive,” Panelo told reporters in a chance interview.
“Innocent not on the plunder cases but of the charges that she was detaining Mr. Luy illegally on — illegally seriously — for serious detention. So, basically, those are two separate items and that is his call, the Solicitor General’s call, yes,” he added.
Some lawmakers, meanwhile, sought for explanation on Calida’s decision to move for the acquittal of Napoles.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said he asked for an explanation but raised the possibility that it is part of the Duterte administration’s “strategy” which had yet to be revealed.
He added the government never acted without a strategy and speculated that the administration is also working toward punishing those involved in the scam but are being “protected.”
He also assured that the Durterte administration is serious in eliminating corruption in the government.
“I also want the SolGen to answer, but I guarantee you that the President will not allow any corruption to happen during the administration. And he will not absolve those who were corrupt in past administrations,” Cayetano told reporters in an interview.
“If there’s no strategy, this is unfortunate that it happened but if there’s a strategy, we should know what that is,” he added, noting that he is willing to wait for the SolGen to explain before making assumptions.
He also questioned the cases filed in the past administration under former President Benigno Aquino III, which he described as “weak.”
“How come the cases filed in the Aquino administration are weak? In Napoles’ case, there were some involved in the controversy who were not included in cases filed during the last administration,” he pointed out.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, for her part, described the decision as “disturbing news” and failed to understand why the SolGen came up with the decision.
She added this development is a challenge to the administration’s fight against corruption.
“I call on the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to shed light on the issue. I also call on the public to closely monitor this issue, especially on the plunder cases against Napoles and others involved in the pork barrel scam,” Hontiveros said.
House Deputy Minority Leader Harry Roque said he was not surprised that there are several lawmakers who questioned the decision especially since Napoles has had a reputation of “bribing” government officials.
He, however, urged the SolGen to have “full transparency” and show evidence that prove why Napoles should not be jailed for illegal detention charges.
The congressman also asked the public not to worry as Napoles is still facing plunder charges which meant she could still be sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Office of the Solicitor General is convinced of Napoles’ innocence due to the fact that Luy was not restrained and was even able to see his family three times during his supposed captivity.
Luy, who was employed in Napoles’ JLN Group of Companies, claimed he was detained by Napoles and her brother, Reynaldo “Jojo” Lim at the Bahay ni San Jose, a Catholic retreat house in Magallanes Village, Makati City, occupied by priests, and then at the Pacific Plaza Towers in Taguig City, where the Napoles family resides.
Calida said there is no witness who testified about Luy’s detention.
He added Luy was able to see his family and even resisted when National Bureau of Investigation agents were supposed to rescue him at Napoles’ residence in Taguig on March 2013.
Ted Tuvera and PNA