Looking away from Napoles
The decision of the 12th Division of the Court of Appeals to acquit businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles of the crime of serious illegal detention makes for an intriguing social document, not merely a legal one. Essentially, the decision, written by Associate Justice Normandie Pizarro and concurred in by Associate Justices Samuel Gaerlan and Jhosep Lopez, asserts that the crime was not sufficiently established beyond the standard of reasonable doubt, and that Napoles’ role in the detention or extended spiritual retreat of her relative and close associate Benhur Luy was also not sufficiently determined.
But what makes the decision a snapshot of our perilous times is that it removes the pervasive sense of threat and intimidation that Luy must have experienced, and which is the true context of the case. The ruling proves that it is possible to explain away even the forceful cursing of persons in authority, the threats to life and liberty they make, if one will only, determinedly, look away. In that sense, the acquittal of Napoles in this one case is truly a sign of our times.
In explaining its ruling, the three CA justices focus on key statements made under oath by witnesses for Napoles, including a Roman Catholic monsignor. They also quote Luy’s version of events, but only to drain it of its context of risk and fear. For instance:
“What the prosecution only established is that of the Accused-Appellant (that is, Napoles) having a disagreement with Benhur on Dec. 19, 2012, which ended with the former telling the latter ‘hayop ka hindi ka na makakalabas’ and shouting ‘kulong na yan, p*tangina nyan, ikulong na yan.’”
Then they rule: “To Our mind, these utterances alone, absent any other evidence pertaining to the Accused-Appellant’s actions … are insufficient to manifest actual intent to forcefully deprive Benhur of his liberty. Unlike the lower court, We do not find the phrases ‘hindi ka na makakalabas’ and ‘ikulong na yan’ clear and unambiguous.”
But if the court accepted the veracity of this account of the prosecution’s, complete with shouting and cursing, why did it not accept, or even advert to, the rest of the account? Let’s zero in only on the day Napoles found out that Luy may have been dealing on the side: Dec. 19.
In the prosecution’s narration of events, we find that on that day 1) Napoles had Luy’s cellphone confiscated; 2) when Luy attempted to leave, he was prevented from doing so; 3) Luy was transferred to another room, with instructions not to let him out; 4) Napoles came into the room and hit Luy on the head; 5) after she left, another person hit Luy again on the head; 6) a lawyer of Napoles’ actually told her staff that detaining Luy was “not proper”; 7) later in the day Luy was brought to another room, with a security officer posted outside; and 8) instructions were given to the hotel receptionist not to allow outgoing calls. This was the day—as accepted by the court—that Napoles screamed at and cursed Luy. In what world do the phrases “hindi ka na makakalabas” and “ikulong na yan” become unclear and ambiguous, when shouted in the context of the eight facts listed?
The court also makes too much of Luy apparently taking wholeheartedly to the enforced spiritual retreat in the so-called Bahay ni San Jose, owned by Napoles. Have none of the justices ever heard of any detainee or prisoner ever writing Biblical verses in one’s notebook while in detention or in prison? That Luy took to prayer and reflection is not inconsistent with the threats he thought he and his family faced.
At the same time, the court conveniently overlooks facts such as this one: On Jan. 9, 2013, Monsignor Josefino Ramirez told Luy: “You know Ben, Jenny (Napoles) is afraid because you knew so much.” He also said: “Ben, baka ipapaligpit ka.”
“Ligpit” in Filipino, like “hipos” in Bisaya, means to tidy up, but it is also used in a dirtier sense, to mean eliminating a problem. Surely the three justices know that this is a recognition of the grave threat Luy was facing. But reading their conclusion, one may be forgiven for thinking that what happened between Napoles and Luy, which eventually led to the disclosure of the biggest corruption scandal in modern times, was a mere “tampuhan.”
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