Napoles denies involvement in PDAF scam

Posted on November 08, 2013

BUSINESSWOMAN Janet Lim-Napoles appeared before the Senate yesterday to deny any involvement in the alleged misuse of the so-called "pork barrel" funds of legislators.

Wearing a bullet-proof vest, Ms. Napoles faced her accusers for the first time yesterday as the Senate blue ribbon committee resumed its hearings on the multibillion-peso scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Government prosecutors have said three sitting senators, five former congressmen and five ex-government agency chiefs were involved in the scam, which has triggered widespread outrage about deep-rooted corruption within the nation’s ruling class.

"That is not true. It is all lies," Ms. Napoles told the nationally televised Senate hearing during a day of questioning during which she often sat stone-faced but at other times joked with her lawyers.

Ms. Napoles was taken from her detention center at Fort Sto. Domingo in Santa Rosa, Laguna in a convoy guarded by rifle-toting police commandos, and she was warned during the Senate proceedings that she had good reason to fear being killed.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said the senators accused of conspiring with Ms. Napoles were now hoping to kill her to ensure she did not testify against them.

"Tell the truth before the senators affected have you assassinated, that is your path to safety," said Ms. Santiago, one of the country’s most outspoken politicians against corruption.

One of the senators implicated is 89-year-old Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the defense minister in Ferdinand E. Marcos’s dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s, who is one of the Philippines’ great political survivors.

Mr. Enrile, who did not appear at hearing yesterday, denied Ms. Santiago’s accusations. "I feel compelled to issue a statement on [yesterday’s] Senate hearing lest my silence in the face of the most outrageous allegations will be construed against me," he said.

Aides for Senators Ramon "Bong" B. Revilla, Jr. and Jose "Jinggoy" E. Estrada, who also did not turn up at the Senate, declined to comment.

The hearing was called to investigate the alleged P10-billion scam, with the aim of creating legislation to prevent a repeat.

Senators questioned Ms. Napoles about reports of her family’s immense wealth including a luxury apartment, a fleet of expensive cars, a massive family mausoleum in a private cemetery and exclusive schools for her children.

Ms. Napoles denied she was extremely rich. "We make just enough to get by," she said.

She also repeatedly invoked her right to remain silent, saying that plunder and tax evasion cases were already filed against her before the Office of the Ombudsman and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

The Justice department has recommended charges be laid against Ms. Napoles and 37 other people, but none has yet been filed. She was detained after being charged over the alleged kidnapping of the whistle-blower in the case, Benhur K. Luy.

Ms. Napoles denied having created the 21 bogus nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to which the billions of funds of lawmakers were purportedly directed to in order to implement ghost projects.

Among the fake foundations Ms. Napoles denied any connection to were: the Social Development Program for Farmers’ Foundation, Inc.; People’s Organization for Progress and Development Foundation, Inc.; Abundant Harvest for People’s Foundation, Inc.; Agriculture Para sa Magbubukid; Agriculture and Economic Program for Farmers Foundation; Bukiring Tanglaw Foundation; and Country Agriculture Rural Economic Development Foundation (CARED).

Ms. Napoles only admitted to creating the Magdalena Lim Luy Charity Foundation named after her mother.

Ms. Napoles similarly denied that she received 35% of the PDAF allocations from the lawmakers as earlier detailed by Mr. Luy.

Senator Teofisto D. Guingona III, Senate blue ribbon chairman, verified each denial with the whistle-blowers. Mr. Luy, along with the five other whistle-blowers, refuted the denials of Ms. Napoles, and stated that they were directed by the businesswoman to carry out the creation of the fake NGOs, deliver the monetary payment to lawmakers and fabricate beneficiaries.

Mr. Guingona said there is documentary evidence to disprove the denials of Ms. Napoles, including the bank account numbers of the chief-of-staff of the lawmakers, and black market transactions when Ms. Napoles bought dollars.

But Ms. Napoles stood by her statement that she did not know anything about the scam.

Mr. Luy detailed the amounts, which lawmakers received since they allegedly began their involvement in the scam with Ms. Napoles:

Based on the affidavit of Mr. Luy, Mr. Revilla allegedly received 50% of the aggregate PDAF amount of P652 million from 2004 to 2010, while Mr. Enrile allegedly received half of his P726-million PDAF from 2004 to 2012.

Mr. Luy said Mr. Estrada allegedly pocketed P383 million from his PDAF.

Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano presented a letter evidence from the businesswoman’s lawyer indicating that the fertilizer projects of Ms. Napoles’ companies were funded through the PDAF allocations of lawmakers.

Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero similarly tried to extract information about the nature of the jobs of her employees in JLN Corp. which includes the whistle-blowers.

Mr. Escudero also clarified the issue that lawyer Levito Baligod, the counsel of the six whistle-blowers, tried to extort money from Ms. Napoles, facilitated purportedly through the businesswoman’s current legal counsel, lawyer Alfredo L. Villamor.

Mr. Baligod clarified that he did not ask for any amount but instead was allegedly offered the money, amounting from P250 million to P300 million to compel the whistle-blowers to leave the country. -- Catherine Elizamarie N. Pillas with AFP