Pork barrel scam prime suspect Janet Lim Napoles now under witness protection

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Janet Lim Napoles

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 16) — Pork barrel scam principal suspect Janet Lim Napoles has been provisionally placed under the Justice Department's witness protection program, Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes said Friday.

She is under the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Program provisionally, pending an evaluation of her new affidavit, the contents of which have yet to be disclosed.

The Witness Protection Program (WPP) seeks to encourage a person who has witnessed or has knowledge of the commission of a crime to testify before a court or an investigating authority, by protecting the person from revenge and from economic dislocation.

Napoles' lawyers filed an urgent motion before the Sandiganbayan Friday morning to transfer her from her detention cell in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig to the custody of the Justice Department.

Stephen David, one of Napoles' lawyers, told CNN Philippines they expect the anti-graft court's decision within next week.

He said Napoles has been placed under WPP since February 27.

He also revealed Napoles filed new affidavits on what she knows about the controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2013.

Napoles in May 2017 said she has been receiving death threats from former and current high-ranking officials, so she asked for protection.

Her lawyer said this was also the reason why Napoles refused to tell all during the Senate hearings.

"We have to understand the situation at that time she was in great danger, and she did not know what will happen to her so she just said 'hindi ko po alam (I don't know)'" David said.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II earlier said he explored the possibility of turning Napoles into a state witness to shed light in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel scam. Napoles' lawyers said she will only reveal big names involved in the pork scam if she turns state witness.

But Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said she will block any move to turn Napoles into a state witness, adding that its the Ombudsman -- not the Justice Department -- who will decide who becomes state witness in corruption and graft cases filed at the Sandiganbayan.

Related: Ombudsman to block Napoles from becoming state witness

Morales on Friday said Napoles' placement under the witness protection "has no effect on the cases under trial in court."

Napoles faces several plunder and graft charges before Sandiganbayan divisions for alleged involvement in a ₱10-billion pork barrel scam.

Napoles allegedly conspired with about 12 former lawmakers to divert public funds to her fake nongovernmental organizations. Apart from Estrada, former senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla were also tagged in the scam.

Meanwhile, Napoles was acquitted also in May for the crime of serious illegal detention of her second cousin, whistleblower Benhur Luy.

'Crazy development'

Some senators agree Secretary Aguirre failed to uphold justice with Napoles' inclusion in the witness protection program.

Senator Bam Aquino noted the absurd instances the Department of Justice was involved in this week. He said DOJ's mandate is to enact justice and not protect criminal masterminds and drug lords.

"Sa loob ng isang linggo, napalaya ng Department of Justice 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?" he said in a statement.

[Translation: Within a week, the Department of Justice released drug lords and placed the pork barrel scam queen in the witness protection program. Where is justice for victims of war on drugs and the

Prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ) have dropped charges against alleged drug lords Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, and others. The DOJ resolution was made public on Monday.

Senate President Koko Pimentel said what happened was an unbelievably "crazy development."

"Do some people in the DOJ really believe that Janet Lim Napoles is qualified to be a state witness in the PDAF scam which she herself invented organized and perpetuated???" he said in a statement.

Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano and Aquino called for the resignation of Aguirre for his blunders.

"I call on Secretary Aguirre to resign and spare the whole DOJ from further destruction and embarrassment. His failure to perform his duties with utmost competence and fairness has been a huge disappointment," Alejano said.

Napoles' lawyer, meanwhile, said those who accuse that Napoles is the "pork barrel scam queen" should welcome this development instead since their allegation would mean she knows the people and transactions involved in the mess.

"Are they not interested to know the real story behind pork barrel scam?" David said.

He said Napoles may have knowledge of the scam but reiterated she is not the mastermind.