Law bars DOJ from taking custody of Janet Napoles – Sandiganbayan chief

MANILA, Philippines – Anti-graft court Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said on Monday, March 19, that the Witness Protection Program law does not allow the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take Janet Lim Napoles into its custody.

Tang cited on Monday Section 1, Article IX of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 6981 or the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act.

SECTION 1. The program shall not take into its protective custody a witness who is under detention for any lawful cause. However, it shall direct the custodian of the witness to take necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of the witness.

Why this matters. Three divisions of the Sandiganbayan are handling Napoles’ non-bailable plunder charges. Now they are all hearing Napoles’ motion to be transferred out of Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City to a safehouse to be determined by the DOJ.

One of those divisions is the 3rd division chaired by Tang.

On Monday, Tang quizzed Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David and recited to him in court the above provision.

What was the court’s decision? None yet. All 3 divisions asked the Ombudsman prosecutors to submit their comment in 10 days. The 1st Division wants an official from the DOJ to appear in the hearing, while the 5th division wants the DOJ to also submit a comment.

The justices were wondering why Napoles submitted the motion, when it should be the DOJ because they are the ones interested in her being a witness.

All 3 divisions want clear proof that Napoles’ safety is threatened at Camp Bagong Diwa under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

"BJMP is a secure facility, she's been there for quite some time and we have not received a single report from the BJMP," Tang said.

David stuck to one story all day, saying that people from inside Camp Bagong Diwa ransacked her jail cell. It’s an occurrence that was called “unimaginable” by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg.

What are the scenarios? If all 3 divisions approve, Napoles will move to a safehouse. It is unclear now what kind of safehouse that will be.

If even one of the divisions deny the motion, rules dictate that the transfer will not happen.

David is contesting this, saying the motions are a matter of courtesy, but Chief Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval stressed it’s the court who will decide.

What happens if she transfers? She will be used by the DOJ as a key witness in its reinvestigation of the pork barrel scam that targets members and allies of the opposition Liberal Party. (READ: No need for Janet Napoles: Cases vs LP lawmakers pending at Ombudsman)

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has made it clear it will not affect already existing cases at the Sandiganbayan.

But that can change if the next Ombudsman after her, who shall assume office in July, changes position. It’s the Ombudsman who will recommend to the court declaring Napoles a state witness if they so wish, and the first recommending authority is Sandoval.

Duterte appointed Sandoval in July 2017. Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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