DOJ TURNS COLD ON NAPOLES BID
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has hit the brakes on its support for alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles’ motion to be transferred to a safe house, saying she has no right to demand government protection—for now.
This was the position of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and his resigned predecessor Vitaliano Aguirre II, who apparently withheld direct backing for Napoles a day before President Duterte let him go.
Napoles is currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.
In March, about a month after the DOJ provisionally accepted Napoles into the witness protection program (WPP), the Sandiganbayan’s Third and Fifth Divisions instructed the agency to justify its support for the businesswoman.
The Fifth Division received a reply from the DOJ dated April 4 signed by Aguirre, whose resignation was accepted the next day. Guevarra sent his reply to the Third Division on April 13.
Both stated that because Napoles was only “provisionally admitted” to the WPP on Feb. 27, she still could not enjoy all its privileges as her application for full coverage was “still under evaluation.”
The provisional coverage “does not confer upon her an actionable right to demand detention or custody under the aforesaid program,” Aguirre and Guevarra said in their respective manifestations.
Both Aguirre and Guevarra admitted that Section 1, Article IX of the 2012 implementing rules and regulations of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act barred witnesses “under detention for any lawful cause” from being taken into WPP custody.
The rule has been cited by the Sandiganbayan First and Fifth Divisions in their April 5 and April 16 resolutions, respectively, denying Napoles’ motion for transfer.
Guevarra indicated the possibility that Napoles’ detention during her ongoing plunder cases “shall be taken into account by the Department in the final resolution” of her WPP application.
Aguirre’s manifestation merely said: “It appears herein that accused Napoles is under detention pursuant to a process issued by this Honorable Court.”
Still, the DOJ’s cold reception of Napoles’ March 15 motion for the transfer of custody marked a departure from the Duterte administration’s previously enthusiastic support for her.
Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Napoles was accused of running a network of bogus non- government organizations that siphoned off the Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations from several legislators, who allegedly received kickbacks in return.
She is charged as a coaccused in the plunder cases against former Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada in the First, Third and Fifth Divisions of the graft court.
Aguirre had disclosed plans to use her to build up new cases, sparking fears that Napoles would be used as a tool to harass critics of the Duterte administration.
The Office of the Ombudsman has said that Napoles’ admission to the WPP will not affect pending cases.