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Cynicism, suspicion over Napoles surrender

“Janet surrenders to P-Noy” was the banner headline yesterday, referring to the alleged brains of the pork barrel scam. “Wow, such a respected, trusted President that the high-profile fugitive surrendered only to him, and to no one else,” one’s first reaction to the headline probably was.

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda in fact had to do some research to point out in a press conference that it is not unprecedented. A Robin Hood-like bandit (known as Asedillo), he said, surrendered to President Quezon before the war and that Huk Supremo and Socialist Party leader Luis Taruc surrendered to President Magsaysay.

In a photo released by Malacañang on Thursday, Janet Napoles (center) sits in a sofa while her lawyer Lorna Kapunan (right) talks to Cabinet officials Edwin Lacierda (left) and Jose Almendras (second, left). Malacañang

In a photo released by Malacañang on Thursday, Janet Napoles (center) sits in a sofa while her lawyer Lorna Kapunan (right) talks to Cabinet officials Edwin Lacierda (left) and Jose Almendras (second, left). Malacañang

But Janet Lim-Napoles, accused in April by her former staff Benhur Luy of illegal detention, hardly seemed to be in the league of a romanticized bandit or of the head of a socialist insurgency.

As the day wore on though, netizens and radio-TV commentators were instead asking the question: “Was it all a script, to try to salvage an initial script that terribly went wrong and backfired?”

Consider the sequence of events. The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran daily for more than a week its expose of the huge scam that siphoned off pork barrel funds of lawmakers, on the basis of claims of Napoles’ staff, mainly Luy.

What raised eyebrows at that time however was the alleged whistle-blowers’ allegation that the senators who profited from the scam were those who could be candidates for the presidency in 2016 (like Bong Revilla and Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.) and those (Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada) who seemed to be on a collision course with Aquino and his factotums in the Senate.

The expose though was electrified by the Commission on Audit’s report based on voluminous data done for two years that the siphoning of pork barrel funds had been on a mammoth scale and involved even legislators identified with Aquino’s camp.

However, what probably stunned Aquino and his camp was that even if the COA report—suspiciously—covering only the years 2007 to 2009—or during President Arroyo’s term, people’s outrage against the scam turned towards this President.

This was obvious in social media comments, in the placards during the Million People March depicting Aquino as pork barrel king, and even, very significantly, in the avalanche of negative comments on the online sites commemorating the deaths of Cory (June 30) and Ninoy Aquino (August 21).

The COA report was even viewed as part of an Aquino plot, since his budget department refused—as the agency itself admitted—to turn over documents covering more than half of the total pork barrel disbursements. This could have involved the use of pork barrel funds by Aquino’s allies.

Furthermore, Aquino’s declaration that he won’t abolish pork barrel funds but merely put “tighter controls” on its use, the barrage of claims that he had actually discretionary funds bigger than pork barrel funds, and the COA reports’ glaring omission in its report on how Aquino, Drilon, and his other allies used their pork barrel funds created a groundswell of criticism and even disgust against this administration, never before seen in its past three years.

Worse, an apolitical celebrity, Lolit Solis, whose business is to manage actors and actresses, claimed that Napoles knew on first-name basis Aquino’s Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, and that she had financially contributed to Aquino’s campaign kitty in 2012. Even Napoles in her earlier interviews with a newspaper showed that he personally knew Ochoa. It was also the Executive Secretary’s former law firm, which had been the first counsel Napoles contracted to deal with the allegations against her when these broke out.

The events leading to Napoles’ surrender have intensified suspicions over Aquino’s motives and involvement in the entire controversy:

• Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last week reversed her department’s decision made in June, which dismissed in April the illegal detention charges brought against Napoles by her staff Luy. It suddenly found “probable cause” after media had demonized Napoles. Manila Times sources in the courts alleged that they were arm-twisted into issuing a warrant of arrest against Napoles. De Lima obviously looked for some case by which to arrest Napoles – and bring her within the government’s wing.

• Napoles however seemed to have been warned of the arrest order and eluded authorities. Newspaper articles quoting anonymous sources report that Napoles’ life may be in danger, as those involved in the scam would want her silenced. “Dead men tell no tales, “ Lacierda in a press conference said.

• A few days later, Aquino offered a P10 million reward for information leading to Napoles’ arrest, which became newspaper headlines that had the impact of portraying him as determined to get to the bottom of the pork-barrel issue.

• And then the other day, Malacanan announced that Napoles met with spokesperson Lacierda in a cemetery (Heritage Park), who then brought her to Aquino in the Presidential Palace itself. Media had been barred from covering the event and from interviewing Napoles. Aquino has so far not bared what has transpired in his meeting with Napoles.

This sequence of events just after news of Napoles’ surrender to Aquino broke out, led commentators to ask serious, rational questions:

Why would the President of the Republic receive Napoles, charged with illegal detention, a case in which she can be bailed out of for P20,000 to P100,000?

She could have surrendered—as our institutions indeed call for—to the Secretary of Justice who asked for her arrest, to the Court which issued her arrest warrant, to the head of the Philippine National Police that was hunting her, and even to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who commanded the PNP and who after all has been one of the President’s trusted men.

Did Aquino strike a deal with Napoles, that she will be safe and even taken care of, as long as she implicates lawmakers who are not within the President’s camp? This certainly is a deal only the President, and the President alone, can offer, and only in person and not through an intermediary.

Or worse, did Napoles give Aquino some “black book” listing whom among the legislators she dealt with in the pork-barrel scam? Would that black book be something Aquino could threaten unfriendly senators and congressmen with for the rest of his term?