Injustice was done to Janet Lim Napoles,” the chief government lawyer told reporters on Wednesday. Solicitor General Jose Calida was referring to the charge of serious illegal detention for which Napoles, the mastermind of the billion-peso pork barrel scam, was convicted. In the language of the manifestation he filed with the 13th Division of the Court of Appeals: “After examining and reviewing anew the evidence presented by both the prosecution and defense, the [Office of the Solicitor General] finds the evidence presented does not support the conviction beyond reasonable doubt that [Napoles] committed the crime of serious illegal detention.”
This manifestation came as a shock—we expect the so-called tribune of the people to side with the people, not with those who plundered the people’s money—but it was not a surprise. Last year, President Duterte suggested that reviewing the landmark pork barrel cases involving Napoles was possible. Those cases are still being heard, but Napoles has already been convicted of the crime of abducting Benhur Luy, who blew the whistle on the scam. Seeking to persuade the CA to overturn the lower court’s decision on the serious illegal detention case would be a preparatory step to that dangerous review.
But it is a shock to see the Solicitor General embrace Napoles, the center of the largest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history, as the victim of injustice.
It is a shock to hear the Solicitor General argue, with straight face and even voice, that he was merely driven by a simple desire to inform: “We just wanted the CA to know what is our opinion and it is up to the justices to assess the weight of our pleading.” In fact, his manifestation was out of the ordinary.
Not least, it is a shock to listen to the Solicitor General pretend as though the Supreme Court had not already passed judgment on the legal issues he has belatedly raised. Calida said Luy’s conduct during the three or so months in question “belied the fact that he was detained or deprived of his liberty.”
But in Napoles vs De Lima, the Second Division of the Supreme Court concluded, among other findings, that Napoles had a compelling motive to detain Luy against his will: “An examination of the facts and circumstances of the instant case leads us to conclude that respondents had motive to deprive complainant Benhur Luy of his liberty. Respondent Janet Lim Napoles averred that she discovered that complainant Benhur Luy illegally obtained two (2) loans in her behalf. This, in turn, angered respondent Janet Lim Napoles, and the latter even threatened to file a criminal case against him.”
The Court also found that serious illegal detention was in fact committed: “It is undisputed that complainant Benhur Luy was deprived of his liberty for more than three (3) days. In fact, it lasted for months starting December 2012 up to March 2013, when complainant Benhur Luy was rescued by the NBI.”
To be sure, Calida has denied any connection between the serious illegal detention case and the multiple plunder and graft cases filed against Napoles. “These are two separate matters. As far as we are concerned, Benhur Luy was not detained and
therefore the case should be dismissed against him.” (He meant the serious illegal detention case against Napoles, for which the Regional Trial Court of Makati sentenced her to life imprisonment, should be dismissed.)
But Luy’s former and present counsel warn that the connection might be subtle but all too insidious. They said it might serve to delegitimize Luy’s testimony, or undermine his credibility as a key witness, in the plunder and graft cases. And who are on the other side of those cases? Aside from Napoles, politicians like former senator Bong Revilla—not coincidentally, the subject of a famous campaign promise of Mr. Duterte’s.
Now that’s injustice.