Ombudsman to block Napoles from becoming state witness

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) — The Ombudsman on Tuesday said it will block any move to turn the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles into a state witness.

"As far as the prosecution is concerned, she is one of the principal malefactors, alleged malefactors. So certainly the office of the prosecutors will block any attempt to make her a state witness," Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said, when asked to comment on a meeting between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and lawyers of Napoles to reopen investigation into the scandal.

Morales clarified that it is the Ombudsman and not the DOJ that decides on who becomes a state witness in corruption and graft cases filed at the Sandiganbayan.

In 2014, Napoles applied to become a state witness for the first batch of cases filed regarding the misuse of P10 billion Priority Assistance Development Funds. However, the Ombudsman denied Napoles's application.

Napoles is one of the principals accused in plunder and graft cases being heard in the Sandiganbayan.

Morales said the prosecution is confident that Napoles is one of the most guilty personalities in the multibillion-peso scam, and that they were not concerned with the Justice Department's plans for Napoles and any reinvestigation.

"We are not bound by the findings of the Department of Justice...we can reverse, disapprove, or approve," she said.

In an interview on CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon, Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said the DOJ "definitely" has the power to turn Napoles into a state witness.

But when asked if he would pursue state witness status for Napoles, he said he would not, and instead "most probably" work for her inclusion under the DOJ's Witness Protection Program.

"We are not going to petition before any other body, what we are going to do is work on an application to put somebody under the protective custody...under the provisional protection of the Witness Protection Program," Aguirre told CNN Philippines.

Differing opinions could mean a clash between Aguirre and the Ombudsman.

"Matter of fact, 'yung opinion namin ni Madam Ombusdman e halos magkaiba nga...Baka nga magkaroon ng banggaan pag na-file," he said.

[Translation: It's possible. My opinions and that of the Ombudsman are different...There could be clash when it is filed.]

"Ang masasabi ko lang diyan ay lahat tayo may kani-kaniyang opinyon and we have the right to do things na inaakala natin na karapat-dapat," Aguirre said.

[Translation: All I have to say is we all have our opinions and we have the right to do things we believe are right.]