By Mary Joy L. Fernandez
A woman stands alone in the spotlight of a P10 billion worth of chaos that angered every Filipino, at least those who pay their taxes right. With most of the country’s problems rooting from the lack of proper financial budget, the people’s taxes in the Priority Development and Assistance Funds (PDAF) apparently went in someone else’s pocket. This businesswoman knows how to use the citizens’ taxes well, hopping to 28 different houses one unit at a time.
“Janet Lim-Napoles” instantly became a household name after the Philippine Daily Inquirer published in its July 12 issue the first part of its special report about the businesswoman being involved in allegations about bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).
While it is true that it was her who put herself in this position in the first place, it was Napoles’ cousin, Benhur Luy, who sent the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents after her.
Luy was first rescued by NBI agents in Napoles and Reynald Lim’s house in Taguig City. He was reportedly apprehended to prevent him from exposing Napoles’ schemes.
Luy, together with the other whistleblowers who are her former employees, faced the trial court to spill how Napoles managed to allocate the lawmakers’ PDAF to dummy aid organizations.
The JLN group of companies CEO was the alleged mastermind behind the controversial P10 billion PDAF or pork barrel scam where lawmakers from different offices are involved. According to the report, Napoles allegedly created false NGOs and channeled the pork barrel of 28 different lawmakers (in the Senate and in the lower house) and the Malampaya Funds to her ghost projects.
The news of these allegations sparked almost every Filipino’s outrage towards the case. A Facebook event page created by Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña spread like fire in the social media calling for everyone to march to Luneta Park on National Heroes’ Day, August 23. In response to what most consider as the country’s biggest corruption exposed yet, citizens from different sectors wore white shirts and carried placards against the pork barrel scam while marching from Liwasang Pambansa to Luneta. The event, famously known as the “Million People March”, was attended by around 75,000 people excluding other groups who held their protests in other areas of the globe.
“The Filipino people have had enough of plunder and impunity, where billions are siphoned to private pockets and no one is held accountable. The people are protesting against a rotten system of patronage politics with zero accountability. The people reject the so-called reformed pork of the Aquino regime. They want nothing less than the total abolition of all forms of pork barrel funds,” Bayan chairperson Carol Araullo said in an article in Philstar.com.
The public continued to campaign for the total abolition of PDAF on the second Million People March in Makati on October 4. Junep Ocampo, one of the organizers, estimated 10,000 citizens joined the rally including the office employees around the area.
With an angry mob after her, Napoles would have been ticked by guilt. And just like a villain in a usual television drama, the accused Napoles tried to flee even before the Makati Regional Trial Court branch 150 issued a warrant of arrest for illegal detention charges against her and her brother. It was quite a curious thing how she managed to escape even before the issuance of her warrant of arrest, leading to speculations of how she still had connections inside the government.
Maybe it was conscience, maybe it was fear from threats. Whatever it is, it surely pushed Napoles to surrender herself to President Aquino on August 28 and was eventually turned over to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Napoles said that she surrendered only to the President because he is the only person she trusts.
Netizens’ reactions boomed in social media sites as Janet Napoles’ manhunt ended, after authorities cancelled her passport, freezed some of the 415 accounts linked to her and her family, and a P10 million bounty for whoever has information about her whereabouts, courtesy of the president.
And as if it was not enough, the legal counsel who stood by her all this time finally decided to drop the case. Atty. Lorna Kapunan resigned as Napoles’ representative for her serious illegal detention charges. Kapunan reportedly had a difference in strategy with Atty. Alfredo Villamor, another of Napoles’ lawyers.
“You cannot have a difference in opinion when you strategize for defense,” she said in an interview with Philstar.com.
Kapunan added that the policy in her law firm states that they have to withdraw from a case if they are not the lead counsel. Napoles then chose Villamor over Kapunan to represent her in the illegal detention case.
Meanwhile, new characters settled in as NBI’s investigation progressed. A roster of names surfaced as Napoles’ allies in the multimillion peso scam, with “Tanda”, “Sexy”, and “Pogi” among others.
The Filipinos couldn’t be more shocked as Minority Leader Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. are among those charged with plunder while other former congressmen and heads of agencies are charged with malversation, bribery, graft and corruption practices. The Commission on Audit apparently listed the three senators as major patrons of Napoles’ bogus NGOs on its August 17 report.
After settling into her jail unit, an air conditioned room that is much larger than her other inmates’ cells, Napoles appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on November 7 and was asked by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago about “Tanda”, “Sexy”, and “Pogi”. But Napoles surely earned the lady senator’s hot temper as the only things Napoles said were “I don’t know” and “I invoke my right against self-incrimination.”
And sure enough, none of the accused senators wanted to admit being affiliated with Napoles’ schemes in the pork barrel issue.
Sen. Estrada earlier expressed in his privilege speech how he was already condemned guilty with no proper investigation yet. He then exposed how selective the investigation was and how the administration was involved in a bribery to the senators who favored the ousting of the then Chief Justice Secretary Renato Corona.
In an answer to President Aquino’s live broadcast speech about the “thieves” who try to divert the public’s attention to his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) from the pork barrel issue on October 30, Sen. Revilla reiterated the next day that he is not a thief and he will face the investigations to prove his innocence.
On the other hand, Sen. Enrile seems like he is not only fighting for his innocence in the pork barrel scam. He found himself defending his reputation against Sen. Santiago’s accusations as the two engaged themselves in a word war through their privilege speeches.
The Senate turned into a circus as the lawmakers pointed fingers at each other, exposing one another’s dirty secrets in the government.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court already ruled on November 19 that the much-talked about PDAF is unconstitutional. But Sen. Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito appealed to the high court to lift the temporary restraining order on the remaining 2013 PDAF to channel it as “immediate assistance” to the victims of the typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
With more and more names surfacing as people affiliated with Napoles and her NGOs, the first largest corruption case in President Aquino’s term since 2010 unfolded in a whirlwind of investigations, privilege speeches, trial proceedings and a lot of finger-pointing.Thanks to the investigation about this CEO, probing of different agencies linked to the process of allocating lawmakers’ PDAF also commenced. But however Napoles’ story as the number one point person in the pork barrel scam ends, it only conveys how President Aquino must strengthen his will to clean the government of corruption towards his “matuwid na daan”.