The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) made a shocking disclosure on Wednesday when it declared that the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) had erred in convicting accused pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles of illegally detaining whistle-blower Benhur Luy.
“After examining and reviewing anew the evidence presented by both the prosecution and defense, the OSG finds the evidence presented does not support the conviction beyond reasonable doubt that (Napoles) committed the crime of serious illegal detention,” Solicitor General Jose Calida said in his manifestation in lieu of a rejoinder to the Court of Appeals (CA) 13th Division.
Calida claimed that Luy’s conduct during his “alleged detention” from December 2012 to March 2013 by his former boss Napoles in her swank condominium unit and a Catholic retreat house “belied the fact that he was detained or deprived of his liberty.”
Calida said it wasn’t the first time that the Solicitor General had taken a position adverse to his state clients. He said he could not just close his eyes and allow an innocent person go to jail. He said he was “duty-bound” not to allow an “innocent person go to the gallows.”
Saying his motion was not to seek Napoles’ acquittal, Calida said “we just wanted the CA to know what is our opinion and it is up to the justices to assess the weight of our pleading.”
New pork queen?
Last August, President Rodrigo Duterte raised the possibility of reopening the pork scam allegedly masterminded by Napoles, who is under detention and the whole issue of corruption that he said involved Sen. Leila de Lima when she was justice secretary.
Salvador Panelo, chief presidential legal counsel, dismissed suggestions that Mr. Duterte had a hand in Calida’s move. “He allows the departments to do what they must as long as it’s within the bounds of the law,” he said.
“Will they now make me the pork queen?” De Lima said when asked for comment. “Release Napoles, the number one enabler of plunderers in the government, and we might as well dissolve our justice system and declare this government a government of criminals, where the innocent are imprisoned and the criminals liberated.”
Luy’s legal team led by Raj Mendoza expressed surprise that Calida had to go out of his way to make an adverse manifestation that could overturn the conviction of Napoles by the Makati RTC in April 2015, for which she had been sentenced to life imprisonment.
The team feared that Calida’s move could discredit Luy and undermine his testimony against Napoles, former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Jinggoy Estrada and other lawmakers, government officials and private individuals in the alleged P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, racket.
Mendoza said that the impact of Calida’s action could go beyond the illegal detention case and affect the pork barrel scam cases.
“It’s possible that Luy’s credibility would be hurt, it is possible that this is where the cases are heading to, especially if it is perceived that he is not truthful,” Mendoza said.
In a phone interview, Mendoza said he was caught flat-footed by Calida’s announcement. He said he had yet to receive an official copy of the OSG’s comment submitted last Jan. 11.
“There is nothing that would trigger the manifestation. Usually in a higher court, you need to be ordered or seek permission first before making any manifestation. We believe that the Solicitor General’s comment is a superfluity, as we are not aware of any order from the Court of Appeals requiring the OSG to file the subject manifestation. We are not aware of any recent developments that would have necessitated the filing of such manifestation,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza was in disbelief how Calida took Napoles’ defense hook, line and sinker without taking into consideration that it took the Makati court two years to decide on the conviction of Napoles.
“In this case, the OSG acted on his own and defended his action by echoing solely what the accused, Napoles, had declared in her defense in court. It’s just one side of the story,” Mendoza said.
Normally, Mendoza said the Solicitor General would just state facts but not reiterate the position of the accused.
Mendoza said Calida failed to cite Napoles’ motive in detaining Luy, who had threatened to expose her pork barrel scam. “They want to show that there was no evidence to convict the accused,” Mendoza said.
“If we lose Benhur Luy, what is now the foundation of the PDAF cases?” said Stephen Cascolan, a lawyer for Luy’s former coworkers under Napoles.
Luy’s former counsel, Levito Baligod, found it “alarming” that Calida had been misrepresenting the facts, and using them as evidence in the appellate court. “Why is he taking the side of the accused instead of the state?” Baligod said.
Luy was quoted as saying by a lawyer, who did not wish to be named, that Luy was “disappointed” and “alarmed” by Calida’s move. “The government has turned against us,” Luy reportedly said. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, AIE BALAGTAS SEE AND MARK JAYSON CAYABYAB