MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division wants the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prove with records the supposed threats to the life and safety of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, as it heard on Monday, March 19, the motion to move her to a safehouse.
The Sandiganbayan’s 1st, 3rd, and 5th divisions (the divisions handling the plunder charges) will hear Napoles’ motion to move her from Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City to a safehouse following the move of the DOJ to put her under the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
Fifth Division Chairman Associate Justice Rafael Lagos asked the DOJ to submit a comment to the court in 10 days, scolding Napoles’ young lawyer Carlo Acasili.
“You say there’s a threat, where are the records?” Lagos said.
“It’s with the DOJ,” Acasili said as he fumbled for answers, often turning to their lead counsel Stephen David for help.
“Why did you not attach these records? So you have nothing?” Lagos said. The 5th Division gave both the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman 10 days to submit their comment.
The court's actions are not meant to determine Napoles' eligibility to be put under state protection, but to determine whether there's valid reason to move her out of her regular jail.
When it was the turn of the 1st Division, David argued for Napoles, saying that there had been a ransacking incident inside her prison cell.
“The laptop used to make the affidavit, it was stolen,” David told the court, referring to the affidavits that Napoles had executed to the DOJ in exchange of the provisional entry to the WPP. (READ: Ombudsman Morales: Janet Napoles' witness protection won't affect cases)
First Division Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg said the story was “unimaginable.”
“You are saying that the [DOJ officials] left the laptops, the documents with Napoles? It’s unimaginable. Richard Cambe even had to request this court to be given a laptop inside his cell for his defense. What kind of an arrangement is this?” Econg said.
Like the 5th Division, the 1st Division also gave Ombudsman prosecutors 10 days to comment. Econg told David to coordinate with the DOJ so that they could also appear in the next hearing.
The 3rd Division was still to hear the motion as of writing.
“If the court grants this motion, it will have a far-reaching effect,” Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval told the court.
Sandoval said that the Witness Protection Law or Republic Act 6981 does not mention anything about a provisional entry.
“How long? Can it be 10 years, one year, let’s suppose later on after about 6 months, and she is denied, what will happen to the provisional admission?” Sandoval told reporters afterwards.
David was prepared on Monday to argue that Napoles should be moved to a safehouse and not a high-profile inmate facility like the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is also under the DOJ.
“There is frequent coordination between her and the DOJ so we want her to be near,” David said.
But 1st Division Chairman Associate Justice Efren dela Cruz questioned this, saying that even if she is moved to a safehouse, there will still be traveling involved.
David claimed that the motions are just a matter of courtesy, and that the government can still insist on moving Napoles even without the court’s permission.
In the scenario that one division denies the motion, David said: “Then it’s up to the government what to do, the DOJ can get her. Whatever happens to Napoles is the responsibility of the WPP.”
But this was rebuffed by Sandoval, a former presiding justice of the Sandiganbayan,
“It is the court’s call,” Sandoval said.
The spotlight also now turns to Sandoval, who is, under the rules, the first recommending authority should the government indeed move to declare Napoles state witness.