The temporary inclusion into the Justice Department's witness protection program of the alleged pork barrel fund scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles on Friday puzzled several senators, even those allied with the administration.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III described the matter as a "crazy development."
“What an unbelievable crazy development. Do some people in the DOJ [Department of Justice] really believe that Janet Lim Napoles is qualified to be a state witness in the PDAF scam which she herself invented, organized, and perpetuated?” Pimentel said in a message to reporters.
Also, the issue prompted Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV to call for the resignation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
“Sa loob ng isang linggo, napalaya ng DOJ ang mga drug lord at naipasok ang reyna ng pork barrel scam sa witness protection program. Nasaan ang hustisya para sa mga biktima ng war on drugs at para sa taumbayang nanakawan ng pinaghirapang yaman?” Senator Aquino said in a statement.
He reminded the DOJ that its mandate is to act for justice for the Filipino people and not to protect drug lords and criminal masterminds.
He said that for the ordinary Filipino to have any hope for justice, the DOJ must stop perpetuating the culture of impunity in the country and begin upholding the rule of law.
“President (Rodrigo Duterte) should put his house in order. Secretary Aguirre should resign to give way to a credible and capable Justice Secretary,” Aquino said.
For his part, Senator Joel Villanueva expressed hope that the Justice Department has a good strategy in going after those who are guilty of crime and corruption, but that is not what he is seeing.
“So far, I haven't seen that in the way the Secretary handled the immigration issue where a P1,000 peso disappeared [from a total] so the case was downgraded from plunder to an ordinary criminal case, in the way the case of (Kerwin) Espinosa and (Peter) Lim are being dismissed, and now with Napoles turning into state witness,” he said.
“I don't want to preempt their approach. But really I hope he has a good one,” Villanueva said.
For Senator Risa Hontiveros, the Duterte administration's decision to turn Napoles into a state witness is a travesty of justice.
“It reverses the gains won by the people in our anti-corruption struggle which culminated in the historic Million People March,” she said.
But the senator said she already expected it as it is the same government that used the testimonies of convicted and self-confessed drug lords to intimidate and incarcerate Senator Leila de Lima.
“That being the case, I would not be surprised if Napoles would also be used as a political weapon to further harass the other members of the political opposition and create a chilling effect,” she said.
Napoles could also be used as a means to enforce loyalty within the Duterte camp, Hontiveros added.
“All those who would have strong opinions against the government's policies and the President himself could easily be included in Napoles' pork barrel list,” Hontiveros added.
In dismay, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito said that the DOJ is on a “clearing spree” with its decision with Napoles.
“I am disturbed and dismayed by the news that the so-called pork barrel queen has been granted provisional government protection by the DOJ under its Witness Protection Program. This is a setback in our fight against corruption and the pork barrel system.”
He said he is not prepared to accept the idea that Napoles is the least guilty in the PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] scam as the latter rigged the system to enrich herself and others at the expense of the public.
“I urge the President, who has adopted a no-nonsense attitude towards corruption and inefficiency in government, to review the performance of the DOJ.
“This is the latest in a string of questionable decisions and actions by the Justice Department, which in my opinion, undermine the success of this administration in its relentless war against drugs and corruption,” Ejercito added.
Meanwhile, Senator Gregorio Honasan II said the recent developments are judgment calls of the Secretary of Justice “some recommendatory, others subject to review, reversal, modification, any changes by the final authority of the President, as long as due process and rule of law are applied, to protect life liberty and property.” —LBG, GMA News