Appearance of Napoles, whistleblowers in Senate hearing rests with Ombudsman-A A +A
Monday, September 23, 2013
A FACE-OFF in the Senate between alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles and her former employees who spilled the beans regarding the multi-billion peso scam may not happen anytime soon.
Senate President Franklin Drilon and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Monday it is up to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales whether to allow Napoles and the witnesses to attend the hearing, given that cases related to the scam are now undergoing evaluation by the anti-graft body.
"We sought the advice of the Ombudsman given the fact that under the law, publicity is to be avoided or prohibited where in her judgment, it can prejudice the case," Drilon told reporters.
Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairperson of the blue ribbon committee, had requested Drilon to require Napoles to appear on the probe's fifth hearing on Thursday.
The whistleblowers led by Napoles' former personal assistant and relative Benhur Luy were scheduled to testify on Tuesday but de Lima rejected the request.
In a two-page letter to Guingona, de Lima said she is not in the position to allow or disallow the appearance of whistleblowers in the hearing.
"It is only the Ombudsman who is now in a position to determine whether a public exposition of the testimonies of all the whistleblowers would be detrimental to a just and fair evaluation of the evidence before it," she said.
She added that the Ombudsman can gauge if the hearing would pre-empt the final resolution of the complaints, prejudice the safety of witnesses or unduly expose the 38 respondents to further ridicule or public censure.
Despite the limitation, de Lima said she will continue to support the committee's investigation "to the extent that my mandate and authority will allow."
The Ombudsman earlier said it will not discuss the merits of the cases pending their resolution. Probable cause has to be established before an actual trial takes place in the Sandiganbayan.
Among those charged last week were Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., who all denied the accusation that they channeled their priority development assistance fund (PDAF) to Napoles' fake non-government organizations to gain multi-million peso kickbacks.
Enrile's former chief of staff Gigi Reyes was also included in the complaint as the veteran lawmaker's lawyer said she was not authorized to sign documents endorsing Napoles' NGOs as recipients of his PDAF.
Over the weekend, Reyes objected to the statement of Enrile's lawyer Enrique dela Cruz, saying she will feel betrayed if it had the lawmaker's blessing.
"I'm not up to betray any of my people. I’ve never been known for that," said Enrile.
Enrile, however, declined to defend or pin down Reyes.
"I will not discuss my case, if you don’t mind. I’ll face the music in the courtroom," he said.
Reyes, who left the country on August 31, said Enrile assured her that they will disprove the accusations "together." (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)