DOJ shifts tone on Napoles; doesn’t back her safehouse demand

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – In his first action on pork barrel scam cases, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles does not have the right to demand transfer to a safehouse.

“The Department hereby manifests that accused Napoles was previously granted a provisional coverage under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Program. The same, however, does not confer upon her an actionable right to demand detention or custody under the aforesaid program,” Guevarra said in a manifestation sent to the Sandiganbayan on April 16.

Guevarra added: “Her application is still pending, and the provisional coverage merely signifies that she has yet to complete all the requirements and/or that her application is still under evaluation.”

LOOK: In his first action on PDAF cases, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles does not have the right to demand transfer to a safehouse. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/bFQdbAnYps — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) April 17, 2018

Context. After resigned secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II granted Napoles provisional entry to the Witness Protection Program (WPP), she immediately filed motions with the Sandiganbayan to be transferred out of her regular jail in Camp Bagong Diwa and into a safehouse of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Curiously, it wasn’t the DOJ that filed the motions, something which was questioned by justices of the Sandiganbayan. In principle, the DOJ is the one interested in keeping her safe as its witness, so it has the personality to file the motion.

It was later revealed that Napoles’ lawyer Stephen David didn’t even want to file a motion in the first place. He wanted to transfer his client immediately and just inform the court later.

David was overruled by Aguirre and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea in a meeting inside Malacañang that raised questions on why a plunder defendant’s lawyer could easily get meetings with top-ranking officials.

What happens to the motion? On April 16, the Sandiganbayan 5th Division denied Napoles’ motion to be transferred. This comes after the denial of the First Division last week.

And, to deal another blow to her safehouse bid, the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division denies her motion. Now, two divisions have denied the motion. pic.twitter.com/7j9Z6XXNzb — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) April 17, 2018

Although the Third Division is yet to rule, Napoles effectively remains inside Camp Bagong Diwa because she needs all 3 divisions to sign off before she could be transferred.

On the surface, Guevarra’s manifestation did not do much to change the outcome in the court. But it’s significant because it’s a drastic shift in tone from the DOJ.

Aguirre pushed for Napoles not just being a WPP witness but also being a state witness immune from suit.

Before Guevarra’s manifestation, Aguirre had sent a similar manifestation to the Sandiganbayan. Aguirre’s manifestation was sent to the court on April 6, the same day he tendered his resignation to President Rodrigo Duterte.

Guevarra said he has not met with Napoles’ lawyers and has no intentions of doing so. "Why would I?" he said, which is a drastic change from the style of Aguirre who often met with David.

“I’ll go by the extant records and the applicable rules on witness protection,” Guevarra said in a text message. – 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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