Will DOJ accept a plea bargain from Janet?By Neal H. Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
What trick has Janet Lim-Napoles left up her sleeve now that she has surrendered and is in police custody? She is under arrest for the serious illegal detention of Benhur Luy—principal whistle-blower in the P10-billion pork barrel scam—but not for the scam itself. Charges for the scam have not been filed yet.
Because the government and the people want the corrupt members of Congress who stole pork barrel funds in jail, there are talks of making Janet a state witness to rat on her partners in crime. I do not think that is possible. To be a state witness, one must be the least guilty among the conspirators in a crime; Janet is perceived to be the mastermind in the pork scam.
What she can do is to enter into a plea bargain. In exchange for her testimony against her coaccused and a plea of guilty, she may be given a lighter sentence. Prosecutors usually accept plea bargains when they do not have airtight evidence to convict the accused. The evidence that the Department of Justice has so far are the testimonies of 10 whistle-blowers, documents gathered and audited by the Commission on Audit, and whatever additional evidence the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been able to gather. The testimony of Janet against the lawmakers who assigned their pork barrel allocations to her bogus nongovernment organizations, and her alleged “red book” containing the names of lawmakers and the amounts of money she gave them, may clinch the case against the corrupt senators and congressmen.
A third alternative is for her lawyers to use legal tricks to delay the trial of the case against her. The same trick may be used by the lawmakers who may be implicated in the scam. Time works to the advantage of the accused, considering the very slow wheels of justice in the Philippines. During the delay, witnesses against them may be bought or may die of old age, bullets, or bombs, or they may forget what happened. Also, the public may forget their anger at the crimes committed and the people who committed them.
Look at what has happened to the cases against Imelda Marcos. Decades after People Power chased the Marcos family out of the Philippines, her trial for some cases are still not finished. Worse, some of the cases have been dismissed. Decades ago, Ferdinand and Imelda were the most hated people in the Philippines. Now she is a representative of Ilocos Norte in Congress and most likely has collected her share of the pork barrel. In addition, her son Bongbong is a senator who may run for president in 2016, and daughter Imee is governor of Ilocos Norte.
And look at what is happening to the cases against the Ampatuans and their coaccused in the Maguindanao massacre. Almost four long years have passed since the mass killing, but the court is still hearing their petition for bail. The cases have not yet reached the trial stage of the crime proper itself. Meanwhile, witnesses are either getting killed or recanting their testimonies.
Similarly, Janet can delay her own trial, considering that she has the resources to hire the smartest lawyers. Who knows, she may even run for congresswoman herself, (and collect her pork barrel) as Joc-joc Bolante of the fertilizer scam tried unsuccessfully in the last elections.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno held a press conference two days ago during which she trumpeted her Court’s achievements in the first year with her at the helm, but complained against the lack of funds of the Supreme Court. I think her best achievement would be to speed up the justice system. When that happens, the people would be glad to ask Congress to give the high court more money.
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Here is the latest achievement of Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon: He promoted two Customs executives implicated in the disappearance, in broad daylight, of 1,626 container vans while in transit from the Port of Manila to the Batangas City port two years ago. Biazon promoted Fernandino Tuason as director of the bureau’s intelligence group. The other promoted executive is lawyer Floro Calixihan who was appointed deputy collector of the Manila International Container Port (MICP).
Who is Tuason? He was formerly the head of the BOC Internal Prosecution Division when Angelito Alvarez was the Customs commissioner. When the container vans of rice and sugar worth P3.6 billion disappeared, Alvarez named Tuason to head a probe panel.
After only a few days, the Tuason panel came out with its findings and recommended the dismissal from service of 16 Customs officials and personnel, all small fries, and the filing of criminal charges against 14 private individuals, all alleged dummies of the brains behind the theft.
The NBI also made a separate investigation. Its finding was shocking: Tuason and then CIIS (Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service) director Jun Vicencio and Calixihan, then Attorney II of the CIIS, were among 21 Customs officials and employees that the NBI wanted investigated by the Ombudsman. The Tuason probe was called a “farce.”
Alvarez was fired by President Aquino because of the disappearance of the container vans. Tuason was promoted as CIIS director to replace Vicencio when the latter retired last September. Calixihan was promoted last February as deputy collector at the MICP.
Tuason, according to sources, still has a pending case in the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged smuggling in 2004 of 19 refrigerated container vans of chicken worth P50 million at the Batangas port. He was then the chief of the BOC’s Southern Luzon intelligence group. Even then, Tuason was promoted, courtesy of his Malacañang backer, while his cases languish in the archives of the Ombudsman.
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