If the public thinks justice has been partly served with Janet Lim Napoles’ conviction last April of having illegally detained her relative and former employee Benhur Luy over a dispute arising from their pork barrel scheme, the recent news coming out of the Correctional Institution for Women should be a reminder that it’s not time yet for people to let their guard down. It is not inconceivable that Napoles—with the hundreds of millions of pesos she was allegedly able to amass from the years-long operation she ran in cahoots with various government officials to launder the pork barrel allotments of lawmakers—would use her largesse to wangle privileges and concessions to ease her condition in jail. The latest reports suggest she may have begun doing that, just four months after the court decreed that she should serve her sentence in a supposedly regular jail, instead of the special detention facility in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, where she was housed following her arrest.
Napoles’ conviction meant she would share space with other detained women in the general ward of the Correctional Institution, but a television report, citing an unnamed source within the facility, said she is being allowed to sleep and spend time at the “mother and child” ward, away from the other prisoners. The special area is only for prisoners who are pregnant and who have just given birth, or are nursing their infants. Napoles is none of those three, obviously. She is also allegedly kept company by two inmates who have apparently become her maids.
You have to hand it to the woman: That was fast. She does have a knack for making things happen, nudging and wheedling and greasing even in the short time she’s been in jail to try to improve her lot. And why not start early? She’s looking at a rather long time behind bars after all, since the justice system isn’t through with her yet. She has other pending cases, including for plunder and graft, in connection with the pork barrel fraud she was said to have engineered specifically with three now-detained senators, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, along with sundry other individuals in their employ who helped facilitate the bogus transactions.
The illegal detention charge was seen as the more “lightweight” case when ranged against the political tsunami attached to the big-time plunder cases and their alleged principals, but it still took two long years for the court to convict Napoles—a decision that was, rather sadly, even met with public indifference. Napoles may be counting on that same inclination of the public to tire easily of the issues—to unthinkingly move on to the next juicy bit of scandal now that one of the country’s most hated women has been found guilty, and leave the job of having to deal with the likes of her to unctuous, easily persuadable prison officials—to get her through her jail term with minimum inconvenience.
She still has money to do the talking for her, and in this, she is by no means unique. She’s merely following the template of many other moneyed, influential convicts who, even as they were clapped in maximum-security prison for heinous crimes such as drug trafficking or murder, could eventually turn their detention areas into something resembling their posh living rooms, complete with outsize TVs, refrigerators, game consoles, bathrooms with jacuzzis, even a recording studio with keyboards and a drum set. Those were just some of the outlandish amenities Justice Secretary Leila de Lima found, to her professed shock, when she led an inspection-cum-raid of the prisoners’ facilities at the national penitentiary, apparently all funded by syndicate operations run by powerful detainees right from inside prison. That doesn’t mention yet the more dangerous stuff—drugs, firearms and other illegal paraphernalia found hidden in secret places all over the facility.
Compared to this, Napoles may be said to be engaging in harmless pursuits. Wangling special privileges such as staying in a sheltered room with two “helpers” in tow can’t be said to be as outrageous, can it?
Well, when does it end? If Napoles can apparently buy her way into more comfortable living in jail this early, what would her life be like two or three years from now? With her own jacuzzi, too, and perhaps a virtual army of helpers to do her bidding, prison officials meanwhile made sufficiently happy to look away?
Napoles must be treated like any other regular prisoner, sans pampering and privileges. That is the demand of elementary justice.
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