BECAUSE its ideology sits on the opposite side of the liberal and the progressive, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is busy undoing liberal and progressive policies and moves its predecessors have put in place through the years. The latest is Solicitor General Jose Calida filing with the Court of Appeals (CA) a “manifestation in lieu of rejoinder” recommending the acquittal of Janet Lim-Napoles for the crime of serious illegal detention.
Napoles, a major player in the celebrated P10-billion pork barrel scam, was convicted in 2015 by a court in Makati City and sentenced to reclusion perpetua for illegally detaining Benhur Luy from December 2012 to March 2013. Luy later exposed Napoles’s operation of setting up bogus organizations that implemented fake projects and where funds from lawmakers’ pork barrel were channeled and looted.
Before this, the Duterte administration, with help from the Supreme Court, allowed the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to bury the body of the former strongman at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. At the House of Representatives, moves to reimpose the death penalty have been mounted. The President has also been pushing for federalism, or the breaking up of the country into smaller states.
But the latest attempt to undo what was touted as the biggest achievement of the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III in the fight against corruption is surprising. Why would the Solicitor General, apparently with the approval of the President, help to have Napoles acquitted?
What makes the SolGen’s position awkward for me, a non-lawyer, is that the serious illegal detention case against Napoles was filed with the lower court by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), another government entity. And while a Department of Justice (DOJ) panel did initially dismiss the case as the SolGen claimed, the DOJ eventually went on with the filing of the case when the NBI filed a motion for reconsideration. Meaning the case still had the DOJ’s imprimatur.
A special report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) posted in the gmanetwork.com website, has an interesting take on the issue. For the report, journalists Malou Mangahas and Nancy Carvajal sought the reaction of unnamed senior officials of the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the Executive Secretary and the Supreme Court. Their description of the move varied from “dangerous,” to “alarming” to “shocking.”
PCIJ also sought the opinion of five unnamed lawyers. They were one in saying that the move signifies a policy shift “in how the Duterte administration wants to deal with Napoles, Luy, other state witnesses and the lawmakers who have been indicted in the plunder cases involving the misuse of pork barrel funds now pending trial before the Sandiganbayan.”
One lawyer was more direct: “Benhur gave a lot of documents kasi. Certainly, the indirect impact of this is to question his credibility, and that of the other witnesses. That might be the point of this manifestation.” Incidentally, among those indicted were senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.