Court enters not guilty plea for Napoles in illegal detention case-A A +A
Monday, September 23, 2013
MANILA (4th Update) -- Janet Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, refused to deny in open court accusations that she detained whistleblower Benhur Luy against his will for three months.
Judge Elmo Alameda of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch 150 entered the plea on her behalf on Monday, said Napoles' lawyer Lorna Kapunan after the 20-minute hearing, which was off-limits to media.
Kapunan said Napoles, who was wearing a bullet proof vest and helmet, did not enter a plea in light of petitions questioning her arrest and the Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution that found probable cause to charge her with serious illegal detention, an offense where she can be jailed for life if proven guilty.
"On behalf of accused Janet, we manifested in court that even if there is arraignment, we are not waiving her right to continue questioning the propriety and legality of the proceedings before the Makati RTC, in light of her legal position that there is no probable cause to charge her of the crime of serious illegal detention. Accused Janet is not waiving her legal remedies, including all her arguments and prayers in her pending petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals," said Irene Garcia, one of Napoles' lawyers, in a text message to Sun.Star.
Luy claimed he was detained from December to March this year because of his knowledge about Napoles' alleged racket of using fake non-government organizations (NGOs) to corner public funds such as pork barrel and proceeds from the Malampaya gas project off Palawan.
Luy, who was prohibited by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima from continuing his testimony regarding the scam before the Senate blue committee on Tuesday, was rescued by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in one of Napoles' high-end condominium units last March 22.
The businesswoman, however, said Luy went on a spiritual retreat in exchange for the non-filing of cases against him for allegedly stealing P300,000 and obtaining loans worth more than P5 million without her consent.
Napoles' brother, Reynald Lim, is a co-accused but he has yet to be arrested. The government offered P2.5 million for information that could hasten his capture.
Security was tight at the Makati City Hall, where the courtroom is located. Members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) escorted Napoles from the detention house in Fort Sto. Domingo in Laguna to the Makati RTC, and vice versa.
Malacanang welcomed the arraignment, saying it was a step forward for the case.
"What is important (is that) she is arraigned," said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda in a press briefing.
The Makati RTC pushed with Napoles' arraignment despite earlier motion of her camp to hold it in Fort Sto. Domingo, citing her safety.
The court received the motion some two hours before the 1:30 p.m. hearing. Kapunan said Alameda junked the motion since Napoles was present anyway at the hearing and that only the High Court can order the change of venue.
She said they will file a motion with the Supreme Court before the bail hearing on Friday to request the conduct of future hearings at Fort Sto. Domingo.
"I would assume that the court would ask the security agencies as to which would be the best venue to conduct the trial, and we leave it with the court," said Lacierda.
He also said that it would be up to the DOJ and the prosecutors on whether they would oppose any petition to transfer the venue of the trial.
Meanwhile, the Senate blue ribbon committee wanted Napoles to appear in its inquiry into the scam on Thursday.
Committee chairperson Senator Teofisto Guingona III forwarded the request to Senate President Franklin Drilon.
Instead of issuing a subpoena, the Senate leader sought the advice of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, whose office is currently evaluating plunder and malversation cases filed against 38 people in relation to the scam.
Drilon was wondering if the statements of the whistleblowers and Napoles to be made in a public hearing can prejudge the cases and the respondents.
"The appearance of Ms. Napoles in the Blue Ribbon hearing is important to our investigation as the Filipinos are looking for answers that may shed light to some issues at hand," said Guingona.
The committee will hold its fourth hearing on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Napoles surrendered to President Benigno Aquino III on August 28, two weeks after the court ordered her arrest.
She is also facing several complaints, such as plunder, before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the scam. (Virgil Lopez/SDR/Sunnex)