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Justice ‘going to the dogs,’ solon laments Napoles’ acquittal

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Why is justice going to the dogs? Lawmakers on Monday, May 8, lamented the Court of Appeals’ acquittal of accused pork barrel scam mastermind in the serious illegal detention case of whistleblower Benhur Luy.

In a statement, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said the bar of justice has “gone to the dogs” following Janet Lim-Napoles’ acquittal by the CA.

Before her misfortune was reversed by the Court of Appeals, Napoles was convicted by the Makati Regional Trial Court of serious illegal detention and sentenced to life imprisonment for detaining Luy and preventing him from spilling the beans about the alleged scam of using lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Funds into ghost projects for kickbacks.

Luy was Napoles’ finance officer who recorded in his ledger the lawmakers’ alleged commissions in the scam.

“The standard of justice under the Duterte administration has gone to the dogs. We are witnessing how big-time plunderers are being acquitted by the courts,” Villarin said of Napoles.

Although the appellate court ordered her immediate release, Napoles would still be detained as she faces a string of plunder, graft and malversation charges before the Sandiganbayan for allegedly masterminding the billion peso pork barrel scam racket. Plunder is a non-bailable offense.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said he was “gravely dismayed” by the acquittal, which he called “appalling” coming on the heels of the Office of the Solicitor General’s manifestation recommending Napoles’ acquittal in the serious illegal detention case.

Zarate said the public should be wary of the latest development in the Napoles scam cases, where billions of congressional pork barrel funds intended for poverty alleviation projects allegedly ended up in lawmakers’ pockets.

“We must be very wary of this development because as things stand now, many of those who have been charged of plundering the people’s coffers  are getting off the hook. Dapat na magbantay at sabayan ng protesta ng taong bayan ang mga pangyayaring ito (We should keep watch and meet with people’s protest this latest development),” Zarate said.

Taking a different cue from his colleagues, Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque hinted that Napoles’ acquittal may be part of the move to make Napoles a state witness to pin down Senator Leila De Lima, who is detained on drug trade and sale charges for allegedly raising campaign funds from the Bilibid drug trade when she was justice secretary,

Napoles has accused De Lima of extorting from her to stifle any investigation into the pork barrel scam. De Lima has called Napoles a “pathological liar.” Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David said Napoles is willing to become state witness.

Roque said the latest development in Napoles’ case only means the Duterte administration would use Napoles in its war on drugs as far as De Lima’s role in the Bilibid drug trade is concerned.

 “I am convinced that the government will use Janet Napoles in its on-going war on drugs… I do hope though that the government will still hold her liable for plunder if only to serve as an example to others, members of Congress specially, that plunder does not pay,” Roque said.

“I also hope the information that Napoles has against Senator de Lima will lead to the conviction of the latter for drug trafficking as otherwise, the acquittal of Napoles may be for naught,” he added.

 

Napoles vs De Lima

In an earlier ambush interview with reporters at the Sandiganbayan, Napoles accused De Lima of being among those who extorted money from her while her serious illegal detention case was pending at the DOJ when De Lima was the secretary.

“Wala naman po talagang illegal detention na nangyari,” Napoles said. “Ito po ay extortion lamang. Dinismiss na po ang kaso na ito sa DOJ noon pa.”

(“No illegal detention happened. This is extortion. The DOJ had dismissed the case before.“)

Asked who extorted money from her, Napoles said: “Isa si Secretary Leila de Lima (One of them is Secretary Leila De Lima).”

It was under De Lima’s stint as justice secretary when the DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed the plunder and graft complaints against three senators and two representatives of plunder for allegedly earning millions of kickbacks from their PDAF, which was spent on ghost projects for kickbacks.

The senators are Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr.

It was also under De Lima’s tenure that the NBI rescued Luy from being illegally detained by Napoles.

 

Court’s decision

In a 35-page decision, the appellate court’s 12th division said the state prosecutors failed to present evidence to show that Napoles was behind Luy’s detention at Bahay ni San Jose, a retreat house in Magallanes Village in Makati.

Luy appeared not to show any signs of being coerced while in the retreat house, the court said, adding that Luy even resisted the NBI operation that rescued him.

“Despite the fact that Benhur called and updated his family from time to time, he never mentioned anything about being detained forcefully. In several instances, he even met with his family and yet never showed any sign that he was being kept in Bahay ni San Jose against his will,” the appeals court said.

“The prosecution failed to satisfactorily explain the resistance of Benhur Luy to the rescue operation, which, to our mind negates the claim of serious illegal detention,” the CA added.

The CA ruled in favor of Napoles after Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a manifestation in lieu of rejoinder to the appellate court recommending Napoles’ acquittal.

Calida said the element of deprivation of liberty is absent and wanting in the case

“After examining anew the evidence presented by both the prosecution and defense, the OSG (Office of Solicitor General) finds that the evidence presented does not support beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant committed the crime of serious illegal detention,” the manifestation read. 

Napoles’ misfortune seemed to have a reversal during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose supporters include known Napoles lawyers Bruce Rivera and Stephen David.

David’s wife Lanee is appointed by Duterte as deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue.  – Inquirer.net

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