Only about four months ago, Janet Lim Napoles’ fortunes seemed about to take a turn for the better.
While already acquitted of the illegal detention charge brought against her by her second cousin, whistleblower Benhur Luy, she was still in prison and on trial for separate cases of plunder arising from the P10-billion pork barrel racket she was alleged to have run for years in conspiracy with a vast network of legislators, government officials and sundry bureaucrats.
All told, Napoles was facing multiple sentences and a lifetime in prison — a most humiliating downfall for the once high-flying woman who was said to have masterminded “the mother of all scams.”
But, for certain quarters, the knowledge she had accumulated about the horde of powerful people she had transacted with across the political divide represented a windfall of incriminating information for potential political hardball.
In 2014, she had submitted a “Napolist,” a master list of over 100 legislators who she said were her “clients” in the scheme.
Among those in the list were then Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, all subsequently jailed for the nonbailable charge of plunder.
But the change in administration in 2016 augured a change of tune in Napoles; she was suddenly eager to implicate more names, mainly those considered opposition figures by the new Duterte dispensation, such as Senators Leila de Lima and Franklin Drilon.
The quid pro quo? A chance to bail herself out of jail.
And so, to the shock of the public that, for all its chronic forgetfulness, had not forgotten the extent of Napoles’ wrongdoing, then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre announced in March that the main suspect in the pork barrel scam would become a state witness.
Or, more precisely, Napoles applied to be placed under the Witness Protection Program, and Aguirre agreed, saying Napoles was now ready to “tell all” about the scam.
To the chorus of objections citing the law that only the accused who “appears not to be the most guilty” could be made a state witness, and Napoles was obviously not that, Aguirre retorted with a non sequitur: “Why are they so afraid of what Napoles has to say?”
The public scorn that greeted the Duterte administration’s willingness to coddle Napoles for its own ends had its effect.
By April, Aguirre was out of the justice department, done in by the outrageous missteps that became the hallmark of his tenure, among them the Napoles accommodation and the exoneration of suspected drug lords Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim et al.
His successor, Menardo Guevarra, promptly rescinded Napoles’ witness protection coverage. Her trial at the Sandiganbayan for multiple charges of plunder and graft grinds on.
Whatever Napoles’ hopes of bettering her circumstances under a more friendly administration, she — and whichever shadowy forces remain bent on using her — would realize by now that her situation just got more complicated with the recent announcement that a federal grand jury in the United States has indicted her, two of her children, a brother and a sister-in-law for conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charge brought by the US justice department stems from its investigation that Napoles funneled some $20 million in pork barrel kickbacks to her US bank accounts in Southern California, the money then used to purchase a raft of real-estate properties and luxury vehicles.
The Sandiganbayan has declared that all existing Napoles cases must first be finished before she could be extradited to the United States — if the US justice department so requests.
Malacañang has made the same case. However it happens eventually, American investigators must be allowed the opportunity to question Napoles and her coaccused, to help bring out more of the truth about this watershed case that remains frustratingly unresolved.
Away from the reach, influence and political machinations of local vested interests, and given the rigorous reputation of American investigating authorities (it was the US justice department that brought suit against former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak for corruption), who knows what other new revelations may be ferreted out from Napoles’ testimony, for a fuller, more unsparing picture of the rotten system she and so many other powerful figures benefited from?
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