Aguirre: DOJ studying making Napoles state witness in PDAF scam

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 10) — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said talks are underway for making alleged pork barrel queen Janet Lim Napoles a state witness in the Justice Department's forthcoming reinvestigation into the pork barrel scam.

"Mag-uumpisa pa lang 'yan, so I have to know ano bang hawak-hawak niyong ebidensya [The talks are just starting, so I have to know what evidence they have]," he said in a May 10 media forum in Manila.

The Court of Appeals cleared Napoles on May 8 in her serious illegal detention case, saying that her cousin and aide Benhur Luy, who became a whistleblower on the scam, was never deprived of his liberty.

Read: Janet Lim Napoles acquitted in serious illegal detention case

Aguirre said the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not be appealing the acquittal.

However, Napoles remains detained on malversation, graft and direct bribery charges for her alleged involvement in the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF scam.

Napoles was tagged by witnesses as the alleged mastermind of the scam, where around ₱10 billion of taxpayers' money was coursed through her companies for "ghost projects" or non-existent government projects implemented by lawmakers.

The money was supposedly split between Napoles and the lawmaker.

Aguirre said he had previously met Napoles' lawyer around two-to-three times.

"But andun pa lang kami sa ibabaw ngayon since medyo seryoso na talaga itong pag-file ng PDAF cases [But we're only scratching the surface since filing these PDAF cases in quite serious]," he said.

No selective justice

Aguirre also said unlike the probe conducted by former Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, there will no selective justice this time around, even suggesting that former President Benigno Aquino III could be involved in the scam.

"When the name of Janet Napoles was exposed, the first thing she did was to go to Malacañang," he said. "She was accompanied by no less than... well, you know who accompanied her to Camp Crame. Kaya napakatataas po ng involved dito [Those involved her include very high-ranking officials]."

Napoles surrendered to Aquino in August 2013, with the former president turning her over to former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and former police chief Alan Purisima.

So far, only lawmakers have been charged as a result of the scam, including former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada.

Related: Supreme Court grants Enrile's petition to post bail; Jinggoy to wait longer

Tantamount to acquittal

Aguirre said he is aware that to qualifty as state witness, Napoles should not be the "most guilty."

But University of Santo Tomas Law Dean Nilo Divina said proving this might not be that easy for Aguirre.

"We do not know whether if Napoles is the most guilty because she was at the center of the scam itself," he said. "So it maybe difficult on the part of (the) Secretary to convince the court that Napoles appears to be not the most guilty of all the persons charged in the PDAF scam."

Divina added that making Napoles a state witness is tantamount to an acquittal.

"She cannot be charged for the same offense for future prosecution," he said. "Basically, she would be a free person."