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Editorial

Janet’s options

/ 09:16 PM November 07, 2013

Controversial businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles had an unparalleled opportunity yesterday (Thursday) to tell her side of the increasingly convoluted story of the pork barrel scam. In part because the major television networks carried portions of the Senate blue ribbon committee’s hearing live, it seemed the entire nation followed the proceedings. Napoles had the chance, if not exactly to tell the truth as many agitated citizens would define it, then at least to offer an alternative narrative, a story that would express her version of events.

Unfortunately, she declined to seize the opportunity. Indeed, she declined to say anything substantive. Throughout the six or seven hours of the packed hearing, she offered various excuses, all variations on the theme of, well, silence. At various points, she did not answer questions related to her business firm, including very basic ones like what products her “trading” company carried, because she had a pending case with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. At other times, especially in reference to accusations from her former employees turned whistle-blowers, she said she didn’t know (“Hindi ko po alam”). When confronted with the record of her published or broadcast statements, for instance about her allegation that the whistle-blowers were working for the real mastermind of the pork barrel scam, which she made during her memorable visit and freewheeling interview with the Inquirer last August, she asserted that she did not remember (“Hindi  ko  po  maalala”). And goaded by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, she invoked her fundamental right against self-incrimination with increasing frequency as the day wore on.

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As we said, unfortunate—but not just for a country waiting to hear the truth about the pork barrel syndicate; it was unfortunate for her especially. As more than a few senators pointed out during the hearing, her pattern of evasiveness made them and the viewing public think she was hiding something criminal. In short, she reinforced public perception that she was in fact behind the pork barrel scam.

Sen. Grace Poe made an interesting observation. When Santiago asked Napoles whether she had anything to do with the alleged bribery of journalists to divert public attention from the pork barrel scam to the controversy over the Disbursement Acceleration Program, she immediately and vigorously said no. That answer, Poe said during her turn, came across as convincing. But on various questions that would have allowed Napoles to either clear her name or at least tell her side of the story regarding the pork barrel scandal, she declined to say anything again and again. The contrast was striking.

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Santiago spent about an hour or so alternately interrogating and instructing Napoles; for much of that time, she used Napoles as a convenient excuse to attack her own (that is to say, Santiago’s) enemies in the Senate, including the absent senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Sergio Osmeña III. But she did manage to begin an important discussion. What legal options, she asked, does Napoles really have?

Essentially, just two. To continue to plead either innocence or ignorance, or to turn state’s witness and testify against the major politicians involved in the scam. As even nonlawyers know, a participant in a crime can turn state’s witness if, among other criteria, she is not the “most guilty.” Santiago pronounced Napoles not the most guilty—without any proof, but mainly on the basis of her theory, which she explained at length during the news conference that followed her dramatic turn at the hearing, that Napoles could not have been the mastermind. (Santiago ended that news conference by saying it was actually Enrile.)

Because major politicians were involved, Santiago said, it was in their interest that someone like Napoles be “assassinated”—again, without proof, but based on her reading of Philippine politics.

Setting Santiago’s controversial innuendo aside, it is apparent that Napoles really has just two options open to her: to tell all she knows in exchange for immunity in the legal cases, or to maintain her original story. It may be that she was unprepared to think strategically about her options; the government lawyers assigned to assist her had met her only yesterday. But in the light of her damaging appearance at the Senate yesterday, where she met specific accusations with general denials, the range of viable options has narrowed greatly.

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TAGS: Editorial, Janet Lim-Napoles, options, pork barrel scam, senate probe
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