The surrender of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles—to President Aquino himself, in Malacañang—pushes the consuming issue of pork barrel abuse to the next phase. Whatever happens now, we must not allow two scenarios to come to pass: That Napoles will turn state witness. And that all the attention will all be on Napoles, allowing other pork barrel scam operators to slink back into the shadows.
When the controversial businesswoman was still in hiding, and the needful thing was to find her, administration officials said they were open to the idea that she turn state witness. This made sense. Signaling openness to the idea would help encourage Napoles to surface.
It is still too early to know, for certain, whether her surrender feelers were prompted, in whole or in part, by the officials’ assertions of openness. But being genuinely open to the idea does not necessarily mean eventually subscribing to it.
Now that Napoles has surrendered, the time has come to reconsider whether the idea to use the businesswoman at the center of the pork barrel scam as the principal witness in the government case is in fact a good one. Will it advance the nation’s highest interests? More specifically, will it lead to long-term solutions to pork barrel abuse? Above all: Will it land the worst abusers of the pork barrel system in prison?
To ask that last question is already to find our answer. If the accusations against Napoles are true, then we must count her among the worst abusers of the system. If she is in fact liable for all the pork-related charges that will be filed against her, justice requires that she be treated as defendant, not state witness.
Yesterday, several hours after Napoles had already surrendered, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas told a radio interviewer that the government was still open to the same bold idea. “Isang avenue ito na bukas sa pamahalaan, kung may kontribusyon sa impormasyon at ebidensya si Napoles” (This is one avenue open to the government, if Napoles has a contribution to make to information and evidence), he said.
This seems like a rather low standard. We realize Roxas was probably using generic language to defuse potential issues; for instance, there is nothing in his statement to suggest that the government is in fact actively considering Napoles as a state witness. Even then, the vague notion of a mere contribution to information and evidence still rankles: Given the accusations against Napoles, shouldn’t the standard the government will bind itself to be much higher? “Invaluable contribution to evidence,” perhaps, or “indispensable evidence implicating high officials.”
As a lesson in civics, Roxas’ expression of openness falls flat because it fails to recognize that Napoles is facing accusations of masterminding the scam itself. The public should not countenance the possibility that the alleged mastermind will turn state witness—and only for a mere “contribution.”
When Napoles visited the Inquirer offices to plead her case, she asserted, or aggressively hinted, that the pork-related accusations against her were manufactured, that whistle-blowers like former employee Benhur Luy were actually in someone else’s employ now and that that someone else—whom she refused to name at the Inquirer but whom she identified in a TV interview—was in fact the true mastermind of any pork barrel scam.
She said she had evidence to prove her claims, and was ready to present them at the right forum.
We recognize that some of these may be merely self-serving posturing, but given that the Commission on Audit’s special audit report on pork barrel anomalies identifies 82 dubious nongovernment organizations, only 10 of which are associated with Napoles, it stands to reason that there must be other scam operators working the barrel.
Only about a third of the P6.2 billion in questionable pork barrel transactions between 2007 and 2009 that the COA tracked can be traced to Napoles-associated NGOs. That leaves a whole lot of loose change. The surrender of Napoles should not blind government investigators and outraged citizens alike to the certainty that there are others like her, and they are still out there.