Editorial: Napoles’s acquittal

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has acquitted businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind in the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam, of the serious illegal detention case filed against her by the scam’s whistleblower Benhur Luy. This is in the same case where Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a “manifestation in lieu of a rejoinder” recommending Napoles’s acquittal.

The filing was made on January 11, or just six months after President Rodrigo Duterte took over the reins of the government from Benigno Aquino III, under whose administration Napoles was prosecuted. It jarred the sensibilities of people who thought government would be consistent in its effort to go after Napoles. And with Napoles’s acquittal, how that move influenced the CA’s ruling would be noted.

While the branches of government--executive, legislative and judiciary—are supposed to be independent of each other, their actions can also influence each other. We already know how that principle of independence has long been corrupted by our practice of politics, at least in the case of the executive and legislative branches. We have also seen that court rulings can be vulnerable too.

This is one reality that is being used by the influential to evade not only prosecution but also to blunt litigation. The Marcoses and cronies of the former dictator, for example, have been using the ebb and flow in the executive branch leadership to weaken attempts to make them pay for their abuses under the dictatorship. They knew that their prosecution can only be as strong as the determination of the executive branch to pursue it.

While Napoles has been acquitted of the illegal detention charges, she is still facing a string of plunder and graft cases with the Sandiganbayan. But the will of government prosecutors to pursue those cases could crumble with the change of the leadership in the executive branch and the obvious shift in the way it views Napoles. The latest report is that her lawyer now wants her made a state witness.

Napoles has been tagged the mastermind in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam whose uncovering led to an unprecedented (at least in scope) filing of cases against big fishes, most of them senators and members of the House of Representatives. But whatever hope we have of finally seeing the big fishes convicted for the plunder of people’s money may yet vanish with the current shift in the wind of governance.
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