Who takes the lead? Napoles counsels confuse court, prosecution

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The resumption of the trial proper for Janet Lim Napoles’ serious illegal detention case on Tuesday, June 17, started on a confusing note.  

Before pork barrel scam whistleblower and alleged kidnapping victim Benhur Luy took the stand, Napoles’ spokesman Bruce Rivera made a manifestation: he would be taking over as lead counsel in the serious illegal detention case. 

Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the multi-million-peso corruption scandal, is currently detained at a Laguna camp for allegedly detaining Luy against his will from December 2012 to March 2013. 

Speaking to Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150 presiding judge Elmo Alameda, Rivera said Napoles herself convinced him to take over the case Monday evening.

“In all honesty, I am handicapped in this case,” Rivera admitted. 

Rivera’s announcement came as a surprise even to members of Napoles' legal team. Stephen David, who earlier manifested as Napoles’ lead counsel in the serious illegal detention case, said he was not privy to the change in strategy.  

“I have to confirm this with [Janet Lim Napoles] because this is a surprise to me,” he said. 

Rivera attempted to ask for more time to prepare for the case. On Tuesday, June 17, the prosecution presented Luy as a witness in the trial proper. Luy has testified before the court before, during hearings for Napoles’ motion for bail

Prosecutor Chris Garvida, however, said Luy's presentation had already been moved several times and that Rivera should already be equipped to represent Napoles. Alameda ordered the presentation of Luy right after. 

The defense asked the court to reschedule their cross-examination of Luy. Alameda set the next hearings on July 1 and 8.

Asked about the continuing delay in the trail proper, Garvida only quipped: "Bahala sila." (It's up to them.) 

Fourth lead counsel 

Should the court formally recognize Rivera as Napoles’ lead counsel in the case, he would be the fourth lawyer to assume the role.

Rivera, better known as Napoles’ spokesman in the pork barrel scam case, told Alameda that Napoles' family asked him to take over the serious illegal detention case so David and his team of lawyers could concentrate on plunder and graft charges filed before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. 

The serious illegal detention case was first handled by lawyer Lorna Kapunan. At that time, Kapunan teamed up with Alfredo Villamor as collaborating counsel.

Kapunan resigned on October 30, allegedly because of differences with Villamor. (READ: Kapunan resigns as Napoles lawyer)

Ironically, the day Kapunan resigned as Napoles’ lead counsel was also Luy’s last day on the stand for the bail hearings. Villamor eventually took over the case. 

The tale of Napoles’ lawyers took a stranger turn after Kapunan's resignation. Months later, it was revealed in Napoles’ affidavit on the pork barrel scam that Villamor was allegedly one of her agents. Villamor was the counsel for JLN Corporation, Napoles’ flagship business. 

Villamor slowly disappeared from the spotlight. On February, a new team of lawyers formally made their appearance before the Makati court during the filing of motions related to Napoles’ medical woes.

The former JLN counsel formally filed his firm’s withdrawal as Napoles’ motion on Tuesday, June 17. Villamor's withdrawal was filed by his associate Francisco Tolentino. 

Asked if Villamor's mention in the affidavit was a factor in his withdrawal as lead counsel, Rivera declined to comment.

He said, however, that "it should not be discounted as a factor."  – Rappler.com