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Editorial

Compromised justice system

/ 05:09 AM March 20, 2018

That the justice system in this country has been seriously compromised was once more illustrated by the recent one-two punch from the Department of Justice: the dismissal of cases against confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa Jr. and his supposed suppliers Peter Co and Peter Lim, and the grant of provisional state protection to suspected pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles.

Even Senate President Koko Pimentel, a staunch ally of the Duterte administration, was hard put to wrap his head around this “unbelievable, crazy development” of Napoles — the supposed brains behind the scheme diverting some P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund, to bogus projects in exchange for kickbacks — enjoying the privileges of the government’s Witness Protection Program.

“Do some people in the [DOJ] really believe that … Napoles is qualified to be a state witness in the PDAF scam which she herself invented, organized and perpetuated?” Pimentel said.

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Napoles’ SOP, as described by her relative and former aide Benhur Luy, was breathtakingly simple and effective: She approached lawmakers and offered to “buy” their pork barrel with the agreement that they would share the proceeds. She implicated 20 senators and 100 congresspersons and their agents in affidavits she submitted in 2014.

A year earlier, government agents rescued Luy who claimed that Napoles had detained him for supposedly skimming off the profits from her scam. He blew the whistle on his ex-boss and revealed how she — with lawmakers’ signatures, lists of projects, and suggested NGO-beneficiaries, as well as contacts in the Department of Budget and Management — easily secured billions of pesos intended for government projects.

To make it appear that the funds had in fact been received by the intended parties, Luy said, Napoles had her children and employees use fictitious names and affix their signatures to the receipts.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman questioned Napoles’ “utterly premature and illegal” inclusion in the WPP, given that, he said, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque had claimed that her affidavit for coverage application was still being studied.

So why had she been enjoying protective custody since Feb 27? Lagman asked. And why was it the DOJ that signed Napoles’ “provisional protection” order when the Special Prosecutor of the Office of the Ombudsman, as well as the Sandiganbayan, had jurisdiction to grant her discharge as a state witness? Lagman added.

The WPP order has “no effect” on the five cases of plunder and multiple counts of graft pending against Napoles in the Sandigandbayan, according to the Ombudsman. But it greatly rankles that she stands to benefit from the program’s provision of a safe house, security, immunity from prosecution, allowances, and medical services—all funded by taxpayers.

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who described the protection order as a “travesty of justice,” said she would not be surprised if Napoles would also be used as a “political weapon,” as “those who will not toe the line and have strong opinions against the government’s policies and the President himself could easily be included in Napoles’ pork barrel list.”

Indeed, Sen. Leila de Lima — detained on the basis of testimonies from convicted drug felons — wryly noted that Napoles would say or do anything she was told. De Lima, who was President Benigno Aquino III’s justice secretary when Napoles was taken into custody, recalled that the first question the accused had asked officials was who they would want her to include in her list of pork barrel beneficiaries.

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That the justice system in this country has been seriously compromised was clearly illustrated in February 2017, a day after De Lima’s arrest and detention. Addressing a rally at Rizal Park, Justice Secretary Aguirre threw a startling question at the buoyant crowd of President Duterte’s supporters: Sino ang gusto niyong isunod? He wanted to know who the crowd wanted next, after De Lima.

Dismayed by Aguirre’s behavior, Sen. Grace Poe was moved to remind him that he was a justice secretary, and not someone “moonlight[ing] as a perya barker who agitates the crowds.” Aguirre responded that his remark was only meant for “entertainment.”

How long before Malacañang concedes that this man is an utter embarrassment?

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TAGS: Aquilino Pimentel III, Inquirer editorial, Janet Napoles, Kerwin Espinosa, Koko Pimentel, Peter Co, Peter Lim, Philippine justice system, Rolando Espinosa Jr., war on drugs
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