Napoles Trial: Examining the SolGen’s Move to Acquit Napoles
THE INFAMOUS Janet Lim Napoles is back in the news, courtesy of government’s principal lawyer, Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Napoles is the central figure in the P10-billion pork barrel scam in 2013. The corruption scandal implicated prominent politicians who were arrested and detained on charges of plunder, a non-bailable offense. The pork barrel scandal also led the Supreme Court in 2013 to declare as unconstitutional the allocation of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
In 2015, The Makati Regional Trial Court found Napoles guilty of forcibly detaining her cousin and employee, Benhur Luy, who later revealed what he knew about Napoles’ operations which diverted development funds to her accounts. Napoles appealed her case and filed a “reply brief” on September 20, 2016, repeating her argument that “the essential element of deprivation of liberty is absent and wanting in the case.” On January 11 this year, instead of filing the government’s reply to Napoles’ appeal, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) sided with the appellant and filed a manifestation to acquit Napoles.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) presented two reports on the development. The first report presented the views of lawyers on the manifestation filed by the OSG, a helpful tactic which made the legal issues more accessible to the public (“Reversal Of Fortune For ‘Pork Barrel Queen’? Duterte’s SolGen moves to acquit Napoles in illegal detention of Luy”). The second article reviewed the links between President Rodrigo Duterte and the lawyers of Napoles, including Lanee Cui-David and Bruce Rivera. The former was appointed by Duterte as a deputy commissioner of the Bureau of internal Revenue (BIR); while the latter has a high profile as a staunch supporter of the president online. (“Reversal of Fortune for ‘Pork Barrel Queen’? Lawyers, Duterte, Napoles: What gives?”).
Later on the same day, TV evening news programs and online news sites picked up the story while major newspapers carried reports on the development the following day.
Mandate of the OSG
Calida defended the manifestation, saying, that he was required by the CA to comment on the case since the government is the respondent on the case.
A Rappler article published in February 16 explained that as per Section 5, Rule 46 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedures, the court may “require the respondent to file a comment on the same within ten (10) days from notice” (“FACT CHECK: Where should the Solicitor General stand in Napoles’ case?”).
Rappler sought the side of Luy’s legal counsel, Raji Mendoza, who questioned the move of the OSG. Mendoza claimed that their camp was not informed of such order from the court. Mendoza also said that the manifestation of the OSG only parroted Napoles’ arguments and did not include rebuttals already made in the court.
When Rappler asked the OSG about the court order, they said the order exists, but were unable to provide copies.
While the OSG’s move had to do only with the illegal detention charge, the OSG’s manifestation favoring acquittal may reflect the Duterte’s administration’s position on the plunder cases against Napoles and other lawmakers for their involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Politics can have an impact on judicial matters. The media’s responsibility is to alert the public about how this can happen.