“She is not just saving herself but also her patrons, including those yet to be named, exposed or charged. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee must now exert efforts to get to the bottom of this scam beyond the blanket denial of Napoles.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Janet Lim Napoles, suspected as one of the masterminds in the P10 billion pork barrel scam, was evasive during the inquiry conducted by the Senate’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday, Nov. 11.
Napoles allegedly incorporated fake non-government organizations to serve as conduit of legislators in siphoning public funds. According to reports, implicated legislators funded projects of these fake non-government organizations to get “kickbacks.”
Whistleblower Benhur Luy, during the senate hearing, said that the “kickbacks” were divided as follows, lawmakers got 50 percent, five percent for the chief of staff, 10 percent for the head of implementing agencies and 35 percent went to Napoles.
Consistent with her responses to the rest of the allegations raised against her during the hearing, Napoles denied several times that she had dealings with the government and had benefited from the Priority Assistance Development Fund, a discretionary lump sum fund given to legislators.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said Napoles’ denial of the allegations raised against her, though disappointing, was expected.
“She is not just saving herself but also her patrons, including those yet to be named, exposed or charged. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee must now exert efforts to get to the bottom of this scam beyond the blanket denial of Napoles,” Zarate said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares urged senators to cite Napoles for contempt.
“The Senate must not belittle its power to cite Janet Lim Napoles in contempt and detain her in the Senate. If that happens, then the senators and the media not just the senate guards may have access to her and any information she may later want to divulge,” Colmenares said.
Urged to speak out
Napoles, who arrived at the senate hearing without a lawyer, first asked that the inquiry be held in an executive session, away from public scrutiny, due to the sensitivity of the issue. Senators, after conferring, denied her request.
She invoked her right to self-incrimination several times and claimed that she either does not recall what was being raised or was not aware of it. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Napoles was not just being evasive but also distant.
For one, Napoles denied that she came up with the name of fake beneficiaries for the projects.
Napoles said that she is not rich. “Tama lang ho sa buhay,” she added.
She confirmed, however, that she owns three houses, seven vehicles, a place at the Ritz Carlton in Los Angeles and a P10-million mausoleum she built for her late mother.
She also denied they used a voucher system allegedly to keep track of the dealings with the PDAF of legislators and that she told her staff — now the whistleblowers in the case — to have it shredded in case there would be a raid by the National Bureau of Investigation.
Whistleblower Benhur Luy named Senators Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile as among the legislators who received “kickbacks” from their projects. Napoles, for her part, expressed her “pity” on senators whose names are being dragged in the issue.
When asked to clarify why she felt pity for the three senators, Napoles told Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano that “it was just her opinion.”
“How did you know that the three senators should be pitied when you claim that you know nothing about the PDAF scam?” Cayetano said.
Sen. TG Guingona criticized her for apparently having selective memory while Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares said Napoles is not doing what a normal innocent person would do — embrace the opportunity to defend oneself.
Sen. Miriam Santiago also urged Napoles to speak out for her safety. She discussed that one of the pre-requisites of being a state witness and be acquitted from allegations is to prove that she is not the most guilty. If not and if proven guilty, she told Napoles should be sent to jail and serve 40 years there.
Santiago also differentiated a person’s right to remain silent and the right against self-incrimination. Invoking right against self-incrimination, she said, would mean that she knows information but do not want to divulge it.
“This is a friendly tip from a lawyer,” Santiago said, “Tell the truth before the senators affected will have you assassinated.”
Abolish the pork barrel
The senate hearing, according to Kakay Tolentino of Katribu Partylist, goes to show that Napoles is trying to protect certain people in the government.
“The indigenous peoples are asking Napoles: Who are you protecting?” Tolentino said, “We do not believe that this scam only benefited certain senators and congressmen. We are asking senators to make their investigation more thorough so we could get to the bottom of who is stealing public funds.”
Earlier this morning, activists held a protest action in front of the Senate building in Pasay City. They tried to block the two convoys, one of which reportedly brought Napoles from Fort Sto. Domingo where she is currently detained.
“Hold plunderers accountable,” protesters chanted.
Beng Rivera of Health Alliance for Democracy said they are holding the protest action not just to express their outrage but also to encourage Napoles to reveal the people behind the scam.
“We know for a long time that the government is stealing our money. And we would not allow it happen again,” Rivera said, adding that public funds should be directly allocated to education and health services.
Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan, said the scam that Napoles reportedly engineered would not be possible without the implicated government officials themselves.
Leaders of progressive groups called for the abolition of the pork barrel system.
“No matter what name they use to refer to the pork barrel, it all boils down to one thing: it is stealing public funds,” Ferdinand Gaite, national president of Courage, a government employee union, said.
Mae Paner, dressed as Napulis, joined activists in the protest action this morning. She told reporters that it is not true that her family owns many houses. “I only have two houses — the lower house and the upper house,” she said, referring to congressmen and senators.