Appalling acquittal in pork scam case

Appalling acquittal in pork scam case

/ 05:15 AM October 06, 2023


In an appalling twist to the unending saga of Janet Lim Napoles and the pork barrel scam, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division on Monday acquitted the wily businesswoman of plunder, saying there was lack of evidence in the case.

“[T]he Court finds accused … not guilty of plunder due to insufficient evidence proving that [she] had, through conspiracy, amassed, accumulated and or acquired at least P50 million of PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) funds through kickbacks and or commissions,” read a portion of the decision.

Napoles was, however, convicted of nine counts of corruption of a public official in a ruling that also found former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (Apec) party list Rep. Edgar Valdez guilty of nine counts of direct bribery. Their cases stemmed from a scheme exposed in 2013 that had Napoles splitting with several lawmakers the proceeds of their discretionary funds that were funneled into nonexistent organizations that she herself created.


In May this year, the Sandiganbayan First Division cleared Napoles of 16 counts of graft over the use of Sen. Ramon Revilla’s pork barrel, although a separate division of the anti-graft court found her guilty of two counts of graft and two counts of malversation for the misuse of the fund allocation of now deceased Davao del Sur congressman Douglas Cagas. Napoles is currently serving time in prison for a 2018 conviction in two similar scams, including a life term or reclusion perpetua for plunder. With the nonbailable plunder charge now dismissed, the alleged brains of the pork barrel scam may be released on bail.

While the recent Sandigan ruling still has to be made public with the expected explanation on the insufficiency of evidence in the plunder case, questions have been raised anew about the prosecution’s competence and due diligence in establishing Napoles’ guilt. Recall that in acquitting the businesswoman in its May 2023 decision, the anti-graft court argued that the graft charges were the same predicate acts (or components of the bigger crime) of plunder which Napoles and Revilla’s chief of staff, Richard Cambe, had been convicted of in 2018.

Basically, the court explained, the accused were charged twice for the same acts that were part of the more serious charge of plunder. Not only were the two sets of cases the same, the prosecution also presented the same testimonial and documentary evidence in the trial of both cases, read the ruling written by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith A. Econg.

That the prosecution botched the case despite having in its arsenal 10 years’ worth of voluminous evidence and testimonies from Napoles’ own staff and associates raised doubts on its competence, knowledge of the law, and commitment to seek accountability for the P10 billion in skimmed pork barrel funds. Could the dismissal of Napoles’ plunder charge be attributed to such lackluster handling by government lawyers as well?


Republic Act No. 7080 defines plunder as the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt criminal acts in the aggregate amount of P50 million by a public official.

Should there be similar doubts that Napoles’ gain from the pork barrel scam breached the P50-million threshold for plunder, one only has to recall that in 2015, the United States justice department moved to seize $12.5 million in assets from the businesswoman. The civil forfeiture complaint sought to gain control of Napoles’ assets in the US, including a swank Los Angeles condominium, a motel near Disneyland, and a Porsche Boxster that Napoles bought for a daughter allegedly with money intended for development and disaster relief. Even at 2015 peso-dollar exchange rate, the worth of those assets should easily qualify as plunder.


Also worth mentioning is the zeal with which the Anti-Money Laundering Council discloses and freezes accounts held by personalities and organizations allegedly linked to communist groups (i.e., Rural Missionaries of the Philippines). Was it as helpful in pinpointing Napoles’ ill-gotten assets to beef up the plunder charge?

With a prison term of between two and six years for each of the nine counts of graft in the Sandigan’s latest ruling, Napoles and Valdez face at least 50 years behind bars. This, on top of the 36 to 54 years’ prison term for Napoles’ conviction in two graft cases and two malversation cases in the antigraft court decision in May 2023. For the nine counts of graft, Napoles and Valdez were also ordered to pay a fine of P26,996,700. Napoles was previously fined P30.72 million for her graft and malversation convictions. Given the stiff fines and extended prison terms that any felon could seek to evade, the justice department must seriously consider denying the expected bail petition from Napoles’ camp.

Despite the plunder acquittal, the Napoles saga is a morality tale on how the stench of corruption will always leak out, a timely fable in this age of billions in confidential and unexplained funds and misuse of taxpayer money.

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TAGS: opinion, pork barrel, scam

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