NAPOLES TESTIMONY IN SENATE BLOCKED / NAPOLES' MAID: WE KNEW ENOUGH THINGS


MANILA, SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Macon Ramos-Araneta - 25 Drilon, De Lima cite Ombudsman ruling vs publicity

A fuming Senator Teofisto Guingona III berated Justice Secretary Leila de Lima Tuesday for failing to bring witnesses before the Blue Ribbon Committee, which is investigating the P10 billion pork barrel scam.

Guingona, chairman of the panel, dismissed De Lima’s explanation that the law might prohibit the appearance of the whistleblowers after a plunder complaint had been filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against the alleged mastermind of the scam, Janet Lim Napoles and 37 other people, including three senators.


If looks... Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto Guingona III confronts Justice Secretary Leila de Lima after whistle blowers Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas failed to attend Tuesday’s resumption of the Senate’s investigation of the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam. Inset, Senate President Franklin Drilon holds up the subpoena he had signed compelling De Lima to present the whistle blowers. Ey Acasio

“You have attempted to undermine and diminish the power of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. I’m very, very disappointed. I do not agree with your stand. I am therefore issuing a subpoena directed to you, to have the whistleblowers appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon on Thursday, 10 a.m.,” said Guingona told De Lima.

He also expressed “extreme disappointment” over Senate President Franklin Drilon’s refusal to sign a subpoena to compel Napoles to appear before the Blue Ribbon panel, on the grounds that the Senate should defer to the Ombudsman, which was already handling the case.

Guingona asked what part of Napoles’ testimony was so secret that it could not be made under oath before his committee.

The tirade triggered a sharp rebuke from the Palace, which said De Lima was merely following the law.

“I understand that the secretary of Justice went there personally to state her position, that she is deferring to the Office of the Ombudsman on the matter, precisely because of a specific provision that is found in the Ombudsman Law,” said presidential deputy spokeswoman Abigail Valte. “In our parlance, she did not snub the Senate. She appeared before the committee… The treatment was quite surprising.”

Valte said as head of the Justice Department, De Lima cannot be expected to violate an existing law.

“The President expects her to execute her mandate in faithful compliance to our existing laws,” she said. “It cannot be that the secretary of Justice is the first one to violate an existing rule of law.”

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Tuesday ruled out a Senate appearance by Napoles, citing a provision in the Ombudsman Act of 1989 that authorizes her office to determine which cases may not be made public.

“It cannot be gainsaid that publicity that may be spawned by the testimony of Napoles would, among other things, adversely affect public interest, prejudice the safety of witnesses or the disposition of cases against her or her co-respondents pending before this office, or unduly expose them to ridicule or public censure,” Morales said.

“I hope that the distinguished Senate will understand the concerns of this office, under the contextual circumstances of the cases against Mrs. Napoles et al., so that it can effectively discharge its mandate,” she added.

At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Guingona told De Lima he did not issue a subpoena for the appearance of the whistleblowers due to the commitment she had made to bring them.

“We had a meeting last week. You and I met and in that meeting, I asked you point blank if you will bring the whistleblowers and you did say yes. In fact, you even named them. So I asked you who are the whistleblowers that you will bring and you said, Benhur Luy, Getrudes Luy, Marina Sula and Merlina Suna,” Guingona reminded De Lima.

De Lima explained that her appearance without the whistleblowers was not an act of disobedience but an acknowledgment of the Ombudsman Act.

But Guingona took offense and banged the gavel to suspend the hearing, cutting off De Lima, who was about to speak further.

He said he needed no more talk but action from De Lima to bring the whistleblowers to the Senate.

Earlier, Guingona had told De Lima he could not understand why she would not allow the whistleblowers to appear in the Senate when she permitted them to be interviewed on television stations, and by newspapers and ratio stations.

“I really cannot understand, Madam Secretary. What you have done is unprecedented,” said Guingona , noting that the Supreme Court has recognized the power of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in a long line of decided cases.

In a press briefing after the hearing, Guingona said he was not amenable to De Lima’s suggestion that they seek the permission of the Ombudsman.

He said if this were the case, anyone who wished to avoid being investigated before the Senate could simply have a case filed against him before the Ombudsman.

Drilon on Tuesday stood firm on his decision to defer to the Ombudsman regarding Napoles’ testimony, but he signed Guingona’s new subpoena for the whistleblowers to appear before the panel on Thursday.

“I am signing this subpoena in your presence now, for Secretary De Lima to produce the witnesses in this subpoena. This is now the subpoena for Secretary De Lima and the other witnesses that the Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee wishes Secretary De Lima to bring,” said Drilon.

De Lima told reporters she would comply with the Senate subpoena and apologized to Guingona, who readily accepted her apology.

Guingona said Drilon did the right thing in signing the new subpoena but insisted the same thing should have been done for Napoles.

“If the Senate President can allow the whistleblowers to come before the Senate, I see no logical reason why he should prevent the Blue Ribbon Committee from summoning Janet Lim Napoles, the very reason why this investigation is being conducted in the first place,” he said.

“If we accept the invocation of the Ombudsman’s power to protect the confidentiality of matters before it, then the Senate President should not have signed the subpoena for the whistleblowers. The different but unreasonable treatment between the whistleblowers and Janet Lim Napoles raises the obvious question: what is so confidential about Ms. Napoles’ possible testimony that it cannot be made under oath before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee? It just does not make logical and legal sense,” Guingona said.

Drilon, however, said Napoles and the whistleblowers were not in the same situation. He said the Ombudsman had ruled that the appearance of Napoles could prejudice the prosecution of the case, but it made no such finding in the case of the whistleblowers.

He also denied accusations that the Senate was trying to prevent Napoles from testifying since she might drag other senators in the scandal.

Earlier this month, pictures of Drilon partying with Napoles surfaced. He later admitted seeing Napoles several times during social gatherings (“no more than 10 times), but denied channeling pork barrel to any of Napoles’ bogus non-government organizations.

Senator Francis Escudero, a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee, sided with Guingona on the independence of the Senate. He called for a caucus to resolve the issue.

Escudero also said the prohibition on Napoles to appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee would be applicable only during the preliminary investigation, and not during the fact-finding probe.

Also on Tuesday, the lawyer of whistleblower Benhur Luy said a former Cabinet secretary was behind the misuse of millions of pesos from the Malampaya gas fund. With Joyce Pangco Pañares and Rey E. Requejo

FROM THE INQUIRER

Napoles' maid says, We knew enough things

By Nancy C. Carvajal - For 10 years, Dominga Cadelina slept on the floor, at the foot of the bed of Janet Lim-Napoles.

“She did not want to be left alone in her room while she slept,” said the 56-year-old Cadelina.

But early this year, Cadelina was accused of theft by Napoles for allegedly stealing her signature panties, bras, bags and a jacket.

This was while Benhur Luy, a cousin and personal aide of the businesswoman, was reportedly being held captive by Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim, for allegedly pocketing P300,000 she had asked him to deposit in her bank account.

Cadelina was detained by Napoles’ brother on Jan. 29 this year. The following day, Assistant City Prosecutor Michella Veluz indicted Cadelina and charged her with qualified theft. She has been held without bail since.

Lim, who is in hiding for the alleged illegal detention of Luy, in an affidavit to the Makati court admitted that he “arrested” Cadelina on Jan. 29 at 9 a.m. in the house of Napoles on No. 9 Narra St., Forbes Park.

Pity, joy

“We knew enough things,” Cadelina told the Inquirer, explaining why she and Luy were detained.

“We were longtime employees and we had heard and seen a lot of bad things that’s why she wanted to keep us away,”

Cadelina told the Inquirer after a hearing on Tuesday on the qualified theft case filed against her by Jimmy Napoles, the husband of Janet, in Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 145.

She was charged with stealing four pieces of Maidenform underwear ($800), YSL jacket ($8,000), two Balenciaga clutch bags ($3,600) and YSL bag ($2,800).

Cadelina said she did not see Napoles when her employer was detained overnight at the Makati City Jail, following the surrender of the businesswoman to President Aquino last month after a court issued a warrant for her arrest for the illegal detention of Luy and she disappeared for two weeks.

Cadelina, who has been in the Makati jail for eight months, said she had “mixed emotions” about the situation of her former employer—“pity and joy.”

Bags of money in bathtub

As a maid in the Napoles household, she said she saw bags of money in her employer’s bathtub, and had helped count the bills and store these in her vault.

“When one of her close aides left because she was also accused of stealing, she asked me to help her put the money in the vault. I counted P27 million in the vault, twice,” she said.

“She accused all of her aides of stealing from her that was why they all left,” the maid said.

Cadelina said part of her job was to attend to Napoles’ needs and also that of her guests.

“Clothes and underwear were lent to visitors who slept over and I am in charge of them,” Cadelina said.

As Napoles’ personal maid, Cadelina claimed her job was to accompany her in the bathroom to ensure she did not slip and to hand to her a towel and other things she needed.

Discrepancies

Lim claimed he detained Cadelina when he saw items owned by his sister which the maid allegedly took out from an eco-bag and placed in a balikbayan box in the garage.

He added that he tailed Cadelina when she left Napoles’ unit in Pacific Plaza Tower based on the tip from his brother-in-law, Jimmy.

Public attorney Persida Acosta, Cadelina’s lawyer, said the receipts submitted by Napoles’ lawyer to the court showed “plenty of discrepancies.”

“The list of evidence was tampered with and the prices were bloated and erroneous,” according to Acosta.

“For example, the panty, they say was worth $200 each, but in the brochure they submitted it was, $25. This is true for the other items,” she added.

“Lim’s family has a penchant for violating their housemaids’ rights not to mention possibly silencing or threatening their workers by either detaining them or falsely charging them with a crime,” Acosta said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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