Janet Lim Napoles acquitted in serious illegal detention case

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(File photo) Janet Lim-Napoles

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 8) — The Court of Appeals (CA) has cleared Janet Lim Napoles in the crime of serious illegal detention of her second cousin, whistleblower Benhur Luy.

According to Atty. Stephen David, a lawyer for Napoles, the CA reversed the ruling of the Makati RTC ruling on the case and acquitted Napoles "based on reasonable doubt."

In a message sent to CNN Philippines, Atty. Raji Mendoza, Luy's lawyer, said, "We are saddened by this recent development. Moving forward, we are still studying our options."

The Justice Department said it respects the appellate court's decision.

Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said that they are also considering Napoles as a state witness on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam if she is willing cooperate.

"Depende 'yan sa sasabihin niya. Dapat may knowledge kasi sa kanya naman nanggaling 'yan. The credibility of certain witness, depende 'yan sa sasabihin niya. Kung talagang 'yung testimony niya is coupled with documents then there's no reason why she's not being credible," Aguirre said.

[Translation: That depends on what she will say. She should have enough knowledge because she is behind the scam. The credibility of a certain witness depends on what they will say. If her testimony is coupled with documents then there's no reason why she's not being credible.]

Napoles was charged with plunder at the Sandiganbayan, along with former senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada.

She is facing three other pork barrel scam cases: malversation, graft, and direct bribery charges with former congressmen.

Calida: There was a mistake in Napoles' conviction

At a press conference on February 16, Solicitor General Jose Calida said the RTC made a mistake in convicting Napoles of serious illegal detention.

"It is my well-considered opinion, as well as the opinion of my assistant solicitor generals, that the Regional Trial Court erred in convicting Janet Napoles for the crime of serious illegal detention under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code."

Article 267 states:

Any private individual who shall kidnap or detain another, or in any other manner deprive him of his liberty, shall suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death:

1. If the kidnapping or detention shall have lasted more than five days.

2. If it shall have been committed simulating public authority.

3. If any serious physical injuries shall have been inflicted upon the person kidnapped or detained; or if threats to kill him shall have been made.

4. If the person kidnapped or detained shall be a minor, female or a public officer.

The penalty shall be death where the kidnapping or detention was committed for the purpose of extorting ransom from the victim or any other person, even if none of the circumstances above-mentioned were present in the commission of the offense.

Calida said a review of the evidence shows, Napoles did not actually illegally detain Luy, who also happens to be her cousin. He pointed out, Luy's behavior during the three months of his supposed detention "belies the fact that he was actually detained or deprived of his liberty."

Calida mentioned the following facts that led them to conclude that Napoles was wrongly convicted:

Luy was in the retreat house where he was allegedly detained for three months. Even with access to a cell phone, which he used, the prosecution never stated that Luy called anyone that he was being held against his will.

Luy was never restrained in the retreat house. Calida said that according to witnesses, Luy "acted like any other normal persons who would go under a retreat."

Luy was able to see his family three times while allegedly illegally detained. Calida said that "in none of these instances did he (Luy) intimate to anyone that he was being kidnapped or detained by the appellant." He added that that was not the "normal reaction" of anyone illegally detained.

Luy was able to leave the retreat house on several occassions; having dinner with several priests and going to a supermarket to buy "foodstuff."

In a letter Luy slipped to a relative on February 21, 2013, he never mentioned that he was detained against his will.

Calida stressed that "most telling" was that during the alleged rescue on March 22, 2013, Luy refused to go with the agent of the National Bureau of Investigation. Shouting and insisting that he had not been kidnapped by Reynaldo Lim, another person accused in the alleged PDAF scam.

At least 30 years in jail

On April 14, 2015, a Makati trial court convicted and sentenced Napoles to reclusion perpetua or to life in prison for illegally detaining pork scam whistleblower Benhur Luy in a retreat house and at her home from December 2012 to March 2013.

The decision was handed down by Judge Elmo M. Alameda of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150.

READ: Napoles gets at least 30 years for serious illegal detention

The alleged pork scam mastermind was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt as principal of the crime and sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or at least 30 years in jail, after which Napoles becomes eligible for pardon.

She was also asked to pay Luy ₱50,000 for civil indemnity and ₱50,000 for moral damage.

Luy is the whistleblower in the alleged Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam in which Napoles was embroiled.

This story was updated on May 10, 5:32 p.m. to change headline.