By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 22, 2014 - 12:00am
0 1 googleplus0 0
MANILA, Philippines - It’s “pointless” to talk about Jessica “Gigi” Reyes being tapped as state witness in the pork barrel scam when businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles may have more useful information for the prosecution, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.
“If there’s anyone who should tell all, it is Mrs. Napoles. If Mrs. Napoles would tell all, I will be more interested in that, more than anyone else,” De Lima told reporters in a chance interview.
She said Reyes doing a “tell-all” would be “a bonus for the prosecution but it does not necessarily mean that the government is open to making her a state witness.”
Moreover, Reyes has not signified any intention to turn state witness, De Lima said.
“I think if there’s intention to apply to become state witness there should have been prior advice before she returned to the country, just like what Ruby Tuason did,” De Lima said, referring to the social secretary of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada when he was president. Tuason has implicated Sen. Jinggoy Estrada in the scam.
“There was no advice, no prior information about her return. She has not accessed or contacted the DOJ and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) for anything. Everything is still speculative at this point,” she added.
Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
While stressing that she was not totally averse to the idea of having Reyes as state witness, such arrangement would have to undergo “deeper study or evaluation.”
De Lima explained that whatever Reyes has to offer may be limited compared to what Napoles can share with the prosecution.
Reyes was chief-of-staff of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, for whom she reportedly had received kickbacks from pork barrel projects arranged by Napoles.
Reyes, Enrile, Estrada and Napoles were among the more than 30 individuals indicted on plunder and graft charges last April 1 in connection with the alleged embezzling of some P10 billion worth of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the official name of the congressional pork barrel. Also indicted was Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.
For the DOJ chief, the best that Reyes could offer is to implicate Enrile, with whom the ombudsman said she enjoyed his “full trust and confidence.”
“If attorney Gigi Reyes will tell all, of course that would probably cover only about JPE (Enrile). But with Mrs. Napoles, a tell-all narrative would cover every one of the respondents,” De Lima pointed out.
She also said the documentary and testimonial evidence against Enrile are strong enough to stand scrutiny by the Sandiganbayan, as “exhaustively discussed” in a resolution issued by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The DOJ chief said it would be important to determine the real motive of Reyes in surfacing at this stage of the prosecution of the cases.
She reiterated that at this point, Reyes would have to face the charges as one of the principal respondents.
De Lima emphasized that Reyes is not yet considered a fugitive since no case has been filed against her with the Sandiganbayan.
But De Lima warned that if Reyes decides again to leave the country, “we will act accordingly.”
Reyes returned to the country on Black Saturday from the United States. She left the Philippines in August last year after she was linked to the PDAF scam.
No Palace hand
Malacañang, meanwhile, denied it had a hand in the return of Reyes and assured the nation she would not be forced to say or do anything against her will.
In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the most important thing was for the public to find out the truth about the alleged misuse of PDAF.
“We will just wait for the proper process of law. We have no project to force her to speak or to convince her to do anything that is not of her own initiative,” he said.
He said public accountability was paramount and that those involved in the scam must be held accountable based on evidence.
Coloma said De Lima had stated she had neither invited nor spoken to Reyes regarding the case. He reiterated the government had never been selective in the investigation and prosecution of the case.
He said it’s up to the DOJ to determine if Reyes can be made state witness, although it’s ultimately the Office of the Ombudsman which can decide on the matter.
Coloma also stressed, “The government has done what it could when the Department of Justice included her (Reyes) name in the list of those alleged to have played a role (in the pork barrel scam).”
At the Senate, Sen. Francis Joseph Escudero said Reyes’ chances of being taken in as state witness would depend on how far she would be willing to go to implicate Enrile.
Reyes, Escudero said, should undergo the processes provided by law for anyone applying to be state witness.
“She should give her testimony. There are requirements under the Rules of Court… It should have her permission,” Escudero said.
He said it’s the Sandiganbayan – not the DOJ – which should decide if Reyes is qualified to stand as state witness since she and the others have been indicted.
On reports that Reyes’ decision to return from hiding abroad could be part of her legal strategy. Escudero said it is within the rights of an individual to come back and face the charges being leveled against her.
Escudero also said he does not see anything wrong with the call of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago to reopen the hearings of the Blue Ribbon committee even if it had early on released a draft of the committee report on the pork barrel scam.
Reyes is welcome to air her side before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, Escudero said.
Santiago has sent a letter to committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III requesting that Reyes be asked to face the body.
“I believe the testimony of attorney Reyes would serve to round off and clarify certain aspects of the partial report and that the committee findings could be the proper subject of an addendum or similar subsequent report on attorney Reyes’ testimony,” Santiago said.
In a telephone interview with reporters yesterday, Santiago said that she would prefer to hold the hearing immediately or anytime before Congress resumes session on May 5.
Allowing Reyes to testify before the Blue Ribbon committee, Santiago said, would pave the way for the perpetuation of her testimony just in case something untoward happens to her later.
“If I were Enrile, as one of the major suspects in the case of plunder, I certainly do not want my own chief of staff to assume the status of a state witness because she will tell all against me,” Santiago said.
“So there could be a lot of maneuverings before attorney Reyes gets to speak her turn in a public forum like a Senate media conference. That’s why I want the hearing to be held before the session resumes May 5,” she added.
Santiago said that the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman should seriously consider making Reyes a state witness because her testimony would only help their cases against the accused in the pork barrel scam.
“For me, the best way to advance the interests of the public in unearthing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is to make as many state witnesses as possible testify if not before the Sandiganbayan immediately, because it might take a lot more months or even years, at least before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee so they can watch these people on television,” she said.
“The testimony of Atty. Gigi Reyes could be the seal of guilt for all the accused,” she added.
Sen. Grace Poe, for her part, said making Reyes testify before the Blue Ribbon committee would allow the public, particularly ordinary citizens, to “weigh in on many different issues” and “form their own judgments on the matter.”
“She should also be given the opportunity to answer the allegations against her,” Poe said.
“I am always of the view that aside from aiding legislation, a Senate hearing tends to fuel the people’s participation in the formulation of government policies,” she added.
Senators Sergio Osmeña III and Antonio Trillanes IV also voiced support for the reopening of the Senate hearing on the PDAF case.
“I’m open to a special hearing of the Blue Ribbon committee but only after getting an assurance from her lawyer that she would tell all. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time and might end up like the testimony of Napoles,” Trillanes said.
Osmeña said Guingona should first “interview” Reyes just to get a sense of what she would say in a Senate hearing. “Otherwise, we waste time and money,” he said.
For Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA) executive secretary Fr. Edu Gariguez, Reyes should now “speak out and tell everything she knows about the alleged P10-billion pork barrel fund scam” now that she’s back in the country.
“If she’s really not involved in the scam then she should clear her name,” said Gariguez said.
“If she’s the only one who can pin down the senator to prove his alleged involvement in the scam, then she should speak out and tell the truth. It’s her moral obligation to tell the truth,” he added.
Meanwhile, Napoles will undergo operation tonight to remove a myoma in her uterus at the Ospital ng Makati (Osmak), her lawyer Faye Isaguirre-Singson confirmed yesterday.
Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda earlier allowed hospital confinement for the ailing Napoles.
She was ordered detained at the Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna for a serious illegal detention case filed by main whistle-blower and former employee Benhur Luy. With Marvin Sy, Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica, Evelyn Macairan, Mike Frialde
- Cedric, Deniece ordered arrested
- Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
- MILF fighters aided Abu Sayyaf – military
- Palace blames media for uproar over Pacquiao tax woes
- Army to NPA: Observe Holy Week
- In glow of fresh peace deal, MILF members killed by military ‘by mistake’
- Roxanne loses job over Vhong case
- Philippines celebrates comeback of boxing hero Pacquiao
- No immediate relief for Cedric, Deniece from CA
- Roxas hits PNP's 'bata-bata' system