Editorial & Opinion

Talking to Janet

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There is no question that controversial businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles should “tell all”—that is, testify to everything she knows about the pork barrel scam she is alleged to have masterminded.

But should Justice Secretary Leila de Lima broadcast details of her ongoing negotiation with Napoles to the entire world? The prudent thing to do, for legal purposes and for political reasons, would have been to issue a simple statement, that they were in talks, and then to leave it at that.

That Napoles wanted to make what we can call a hospital-bed confession is certainly a startling development. When she visited the Inquirer offices last August, she was both candid with some details and reticent, even secretive, about others. When she appeared before the Senate blue ribbon committee last November, she had become less open and more tight-lipped.

Napoles, we wrote in this space, “had the chance, if not exactly to tell the truth as many agitated citizens would define it, then at least to offer an alternative narrative, a story that would express her version of events. Unfortunately, she declined to seize the opportunity. Indeed, she declined to say anything substantive.”

But according to her counsel and to De Lima, fear of death has now prompted Napoles to disclose what we can at this point only guess are self-incriminating revelations: She has received death threats, and at the same time (when she first spoke with De Lima, it was shortly before undergoing surgery), she told De Lima she was afraid something would go wrong with the medical procedure. Telling all was a form of insurance.

“She realized that the more she remains silent and does not say anything, the more she is at risk,” De Lima told reporters. But the justice secretary did not draw the other possible conclusion: that unburdening her conscience before surgery was a kind of insurance for Napoles, too.


The reality, however, is that the meeting between Napoles and De Lima earlier this week, between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., at the Ospital ng Makati, as witnessed by Napoles’ counsel and documented by De Lima’s staff from the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation, was only the first of many. Others will necessarily follow. As De Lima herself explained it: “There will be further sessions with her for follow up, additional and clarificatory questions because there are simply too many details.” In other words, it is too soon for the DOJ to reach any conclusions about the real value of Napoles’ latest statements.

“As to whether or not it’s really a tell-all, or more importantly, whether or not what she would be telling is the whole truth, that remains to be seen. That is exactly part of our evaluation or assessment,” De Lima said. So why disclose details from the ongoing talks with Napoles? De Lima should have waited for the necessary evaluation or assessment to be completed, before providing specifics.

We realize that De Lima must have been deeply aware of the political and public-opinion consequences of keeping quiet altogether; the number of people who knew of her nocturnal visit to Napoles’ hospital room was almost a guarantee that word about the meeting would spread. But there is a real difference between issuing a simple factual statement acknowledging the meeting, and hosting a news conference to telegraph the next moves in what is a complicated legal maneuver involving at least three sitting and still very influential senators.

That there may be more senators, both incumbent or retired, involved in the pork barrel scam should not come as a surprise; but what did the DOJ gain from allowing the new Napoles affidavit, now circulating among a select few, to fuel rumors about this or that lawmaker? Aside from playing into the public-relations strategy of the three senators implicated in the scam and charged with plunder, the rumors have made the justice department’s job even harder.

We believe that, should Napoles truly tell all about the pork barrel scam (mindful that implicating herself is the true measure of her testimony), clarity will be the primary gift. Her testimony will allow all of us to understand why, and how, the scam came to be. But De Lima’s premature disclosure threatens to add more confusion to the mix. Inquirer.net



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