In 2006 and again in 2008, senators had a chance to nail Janet Lim-Napoles and pursue leads that could have led to fellow lawmarkers. But they dropped the ball, enabling Napoles to continue business as usual, until her quarrel this year with a subordinate blew up into a national scandal that continues to fixate the public's attention.
Janet Lim-Napoles. GMA News
She first appeared on the Senate's radar in connection with the fertilizer fund scam investigated by two Senate committees.
Four years ago, then-Senator Richard Gordon warned of "other wolf packs .... feasting on government resources" when he ended his probe on the alleged P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
Little did he know that one of the "wolves" he was able to identify in his investigation -- Janet Lim-Napoles -- would be involved in an even bigger scandal years later.
Unknown to the public then were the alleged conspiracy between Napoles and several senators to divert pork barrel funds to private hands.
How did Napoles manage to slip through the Senate's net, despite the fact that she was described during the investigation as "the second largest supplier" of allegedly overpriced fertilizers worth P58 million?
As of posting time, authorities have yet to serve the arrest warrant
on Napoles, who is wanted along with her brother, Reynald Lim, in connection with the illegal detention case involving her employee Benhur Luy. Luy is the whistleblower in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Napoles.
Napoles' falling out with Luy was triggered by suspicions by the former that her subordinate was running a secret pork racket on the side.
Napoles first came to the Senate's attention in February 2006, when then-Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. summoned her to the agriculture committee's probe of the fertilizer fund scam.
The scam involved the alleged diversion of government funds intended for poor farmers to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s campaign kitty in the 2004 elections.
A copy of Napoles' subpoena dated February 22, 2006 – where she was identified as "Jenny Napoles" of JLN Corp.– was obtained by GMA News Online from the Senate archives. The document showed that Cecilia Esquillo, a receptionist from Napoles' company, was able to receive the Senate panel's summons.
Napoles, however, did not show up at the hearing scheduled five days after she was summoned. The Senate records on the probe did not state the reason for her absence.
Napoles also did not have to attend any further hearings on the alleged anomaly during the 13th Congress. Magsaysay decided to end the investigation on the fertilizer fund scam after Mrs. Arroyo issued Executive Order 464, which bars Cabinet officials from attending congressional inquiries without permission from the chief executive.
In a phone interview, Magsaysay said time was also on Napoles' side, because the 13th Congress was already ending when her name came up during the hearings.
"Actually, there were a lot of people who were sent subpoenas but did not come. Hindi na namin na-pursue iyon because we had to close our series of hearings. We had to complete our report. Parang kung baga, nasa archive na lang iyon. Marami iyon," the former senator said.
Given the premature closing of the investigation on the fertilizer fund scam, Magsaysay said he just decided to "concentrate on the government side."
In his final report, Magsaysay recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against five former top agriculture officials led by Undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante, who was described in the report as the "brains and implementor" of the alleged fertilizer fund scam.
Magsaysay also asked the Ombudsman to check and complete the paper trail to be able to file charges against suppliers of "substandard and diluted" fertilizers. The report, however, did not name Napoles or other suppliers who were supposed to attend the Senate probe.
The hunt for persons involved in the fertilizer fund scam continued two years later, when the Senate blue ribbon committee then chaired by Gordon resumed the probe on the alleged anomaly.
Despite the fact that Napoles' name was already mentioned in Magsaysay's investigation, it took the Senate panel five hearings covering two months before Gordon ordered her to be invited to the new congressional inquiry.
In a hearing on December 17, 2008, then-Commission on Audit (COA) director Flerida Jimenez identified Napoles' firm, Jo-Chris Trading, as a supplier of allegedly overpriced and diluted fertilizers amounting to P58,498,000.
During the inquiry, then-Senator and former military chief Rodolfo Biazon even remarked about Napoles, "Mukhang kilala ko 'yan ah. Dealer 'yan sa Armed Forces." [Biazon now represents the lone district of Muntinlupa City.]
Despite Gordon's orders, Napoles did not appear during the hearing on December 22, 2008. On that date, Gordon once again gave explicit orders to invite Napoles to face the Senate probe, but to no avail.
Just like in the previous Congress, the Senate transcripts did not give an explanation for Napoles' absences.
In a text message last week, Gordon said he no longer pursued the leads on Napoles because the "principal focus" of the Senate blue ribbon committee's inquiry was "Bolante and other big fish."
"At the time, we had a good lead against all conspirators specifically Bolante and the others, which was our mandate. If you look at our report, we said the Ombudsman can continue with the rest of the investigation. That is what they are supposed to do," the former senator said.
Gordon's committee report indeed focused on recommending charges against agriculture officials and executives of Feshan Philippines, the largest supplier of allegedly overpriced fertilizers. Once again, there was no specific mention of Napoles or her firm in the final report.
In hindsight, Gordon said he "wished" he was able to catch Napoles early on in the congressional inquiry he headed.
He added that the Ombudsman should utilize the Senate committee reports to "go after" other suppliers in the fertilizer fund scam.
In 2011, the Ombudsman filed graft and malversation charges against Bolante and 23 other individuals, mostly former agriculture officials. No charges were recommended against Mrs. Arroyo.
Last month, Napoles said in an affidavit that she and her business outfit were never involved in the fertilizer fund scam
Magsaysay, for his part, said he thinks Napoles was able to evade prosecution in the alleged fertilizer fund scam because she is being "protected" by some government officials.
"Ang nakikita ko riyan maraming nagpo-protect sa kanya within the government. Alam mo, ano yan e, you scratch my back and I scratch yours," the former senator said.
Magsaysay did not identify any of the supposed protectors of Napoles. He, as well as Gordon, also denied having been pressured by their colleagues at the Senate not to pursue charges against Napoles. – RSJ/HS, GMA News