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As I See It

Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang

/ 12:10 AM April 25, 2014

Should Janet Lim-Napoles be made a state’s witness in the P10-billion pork barrel scam? The original whistle-blowers (Benhur Luy et al.) are opposed to it, the lawyers are divided, and the general public does not know what to think.

In effect, Janet has “confessed,” first to former senator Panfilo Lacson and then to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. In her confession, Janet supposedly detailed how the scam was perpetrated, starting in the year 2000, and named 12 more past and present senators and more than 100 House members and officials of the executive branch, including at least two in the Cabinet and allies of President Aquino.

Lacson said he was first approached by a former subordinate, a friend of Janet’s husband Jimmy, who told him that Janet was prepared to “tell all.”

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Jimmy and two of the couple’s children met with Lacson in the latter’s office late in March. Lacson said the family left a folder containing Janet’s unsigned draft affidavit. And, like Santa Claus, Janet has a list of those who were naughty or nice.

The affidavit, Lacson said, was half a ream thick. The list of names alone took up two pages, in two columns, single-spaced.

Lacson, who headed the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force during the Estrada administration, said Janet narrated how she started the scam and made it “grow.” But he said that the draft affidavit had “gaps” and that he could tell because he had “other sources.” It should have been documented, he said, adding that right now, it was only Janet’s say-so.

The draft affidavit detailed how the transactions were made, the special allotment orders, the dates of the transactions, who were paid commissions and how much, and who were the agents involved. According to the affidavit, kickbacks of 40-50 percent were given to politicians and other government officials.

Lacson said he had not brought the matter to the attention of President Aquino or the Ombudsman because he wanted the affidavit evaluated at his level. He said he wanted to have something “solid” first.

It turned out that the Napoles family had also contacted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

At 10 p.m. of April 21, De Lima met with Janet in her room in the Ospital ng Makati. She said the Napoles emissary contacted her two weeks earlier. Janet was apparently afraid, not only because of death threats directed at her but also because of her impending surgery for possible cancer. Perhaps she wanted a clean conscience in the event of her death. The meeting went on for five hours, or until 3 a.m. of the next day.

That same morning, De Lima briefed the President on what transpired during the meeting. She said she had clearance from the President to meet with Janet.

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In the meetings with Lacson and De Lima, Janet did not voice a desire to be a state’s witness. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice is evaluating her affidavit to determine if it is necessary for the conviction of the accused. If it is not necessary, if the testimonies of the whistle-blowers and the findings of the Commission on Audit and the National Bureau of Investigation would be enough to convict, then there is no need to make Janet a state’s witness.

But what if her testimony is necessary to convict those accused? Would the DOJ and the Ombudsman have to make her a state’s witness?

Here is where the populace is divided. As a state’s witness, Janet would be immune from prosecution. But the law says only the least guilty in a conspiracy can be eligible to be a state’s witness. Janet is not only the most guilty, she is also allegedly the mastermind.

According to the whistle-blowers, Janet organized the bogus nongovernment organizations that were to be the beneficiaries of the pork barrel allocations of lawmakers. She approached the lawmakers with the deals. Her staff falsified documents and, probably, some of the signatures. She sent these documents to the executive agencies for the signatures of their officials. She gave advance kickbacks to the lawmakers. She chose the emissaries to deliver the kickbacks and gave them all commissions. And she collected the loot from her NGOs.

Making Janet a state’s witness would be like making Al Capone a prosecution witness against his own gang members and the public officials whom they corrupted. Why let the mastermind go and punish the victims?

But what if the testimonies of the whistle-blowers and the investigations of the Ombudsman, COA and NBI won’t be enough to clinch the cases against the lawmakers and other public officials? What if the testimony of Janet, who knows everything about the scam and the people involved in it, would be necessary to convict? Should we let the corrupt public officials go free in order that Janet would go to prison?

What should be the priority of the government—punish everyone who is guilty, most of all Janet, or make a lesson to public officials?  To show them that there is no escape if one is corrupt, that even a coconspirator can testify against one, or that one can escape prosecution if one rats on coconspirators? Will that discourage future officials from succumbing to temptation and enriching themselves with public funds? Or will that encourage them to steal because they can always escape prison by turning state’s witness?

That is a balancing act for the DOJ and the Ombudsman.

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TAGS: column, Janet Lim-Napoles, neal h. cruz, pork barrel scam, State’s witness
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