SolGen wants Napoles ac­quit­ted


BE­CAUSE its ide­ol­ogy sits on the op­po­site side of the lib­eral and the pro­gres­sive, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Rodrigo Duterte is busy un­do­ing lib­eral and pro­gres­sive poli­cies and moves its pre­de­ces­sors have put in place through the years. The lat­est is So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Jose Cal­ida fil­ing with the Court of Ap­peals (CA) a “man­i­fes­ta­tion in lieu of re­join­der” rec­om­mend­ing the ac­quit­tal of Janet Lim-Napoles for the crime of se­ri­ous il­le­gal de­ten­tion.

Napoles, a ma­jor player in the cel­e­brated P10-bil­lion pork bar­rel scam, was con­victed in 2015 by a court in Makati City and sen­tenced to reclu­sion per­petua for il­le­gally de­tain­ing Ben­hur Luy from De­cem­ber 2012 to March 2013. Luy later ex­posed Napoles’s op­er­a­tion of set­ting up bo­gus or­ga­ni­za­tions that im­ple­mented fake projects and where funds from law­mak­ers’ pork bar­rel were chan­neled and looted.

Be­fore this, the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion, with help from the Supreme Court, al­lowed the fam­ily of for­mer dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos to bury the body of the for­mer strong­man at the Libin­gan ng mga Bayani. At the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, moves to reim­pose the death penalty have been mounted. The Pres­i­dent has also been push­ing for fed­er­al­ism, or the break­ing up of the coun­try into smaller states.

But the lat­est at­tempt to undo what was touted as the big­gest achieve­ment of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­mer pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III in the fight against cor­rup­tion is sur­pris­ing. Why would the So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral, ap­par­ently with the ap­proval of the Pres­i­dent, help to have Napoles ac­quit­ted?

What makes the SolGen’s po­si­tion awk­ward for me, a non-lawyer, is that the se­ri­ous il­le­gal de­ten­tion case against Napoles was filed with the lower court by the Na­tional Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (NBI), an­other gov­ern­ment en­tity. And while a De­part­ment of Jus­tice (DOJ) panel did ini­tially dis­miss the case as the SolGen claimed, the DOJ even­tu­ally went on with the fil­ing of the case when the NBI filed a mo­tion for re­con­sid­er­a­tion. Mean­ing the case still had the DOJ’s im­pri­matur.

A spe­cial re­port by the Philip­pine Cen­ter for In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism (PCIJ) posted in the gmanet­ web­site, has an in­ter­est­ing take on the is­sue. For the re­port, jour­nal­ists Malou Man­ga­has and Nancy Car­va­jal sought the re­ac­tion of un­named se­nior of­fi­cials of the Of­fice of the Om­buds­man, Of­fice of the Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary and the Supreme Court. Their de­scrip­tion of the move var­ied from “dan­ger­ous,” to “alarm­ing” to “shock­ing.”

PCIJ also sought the opin­ion of five un­named lawyers. They were one in say­ing that the move sig­ni­fies a pol­icy shift “in how the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to deal with Napoles, Luy, other state wit­nesses and the law­mak­ers who have been in­dicted in the plun­der cases in­volv­ing the mis­use of pork bar­rel funds now pend­ing trial be­fore the Sandi­gan­bayan.”

One lawyer was more di­rect: “Ben­hur gave a lot of doc­u­ments kasi. Cer­tainly, the in­di­rect im­pact of this is to ques­tion his cred­i­bil­ity, and that of the other wit­nesses. That might be the point of this man­i­fes­ta­tion.” In­ci­den­tally, among those in­dicted were sen­a­tors Juan Ponce En­rile, Jose “Jing­goy” Estrada and Ra­mon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

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