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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Napolesgate? Napoles: Star witness . . . vs Aquino?



by RIGOBERTO TIGLAO

If we had an independent Congress, one with integrity and balls, President Aquino would be most certainly impeached in what would be his “Napolesgate.”

In the infamous 1970s Watergate crisis in the US —for which the suffix “-gate” has since been used to refer to political scandals—President Nixon was impeached for obstruction of justice. This was because for nearly two years, as Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein painstakingly uncovered, Nixon covered up his staff’s complicity in the break-in on the opposition Democratic National Committee headquarters in Watergate hotel, undertaken obviously to gather information that could be used against the Democrats in the 1973 elections.

In the case of Mr. Aquino, we really don’t need much investigative journalism to uncover our president’s own obstruction of justice. Aquino’s and his justice secretary’s babblings and actions are evidence enough.

What however would make his impeachment almost certain would be the testimony of Janet Lim-Napoles, demonized now as the brains behind the wholesale theft by legislators of funds intended to help their constituencies.

In fact, the only way Napoles could now evade spending the rest of her life in prison would be for her, in impeachment proceedings against the President, or in criminal proceedings after he steps down in 2016, to reveal the deal she struck with the President when she talked to him on August 28 when she surrendered to him in Malacañang.

There’s a precedent for that. Former governor Luis “Chavit” Singson admitted to getting bribes from jueteng operators in his province, and to have siphoned off money from the tobacco excise tax.



Napoles in Malacañang August 28, 2013 when she met with President Aquino. Photo has Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras and Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, left, Napoles seated and her former lawyer standing. Did Napoles give the very first “list” to Aquino, for which she was given special treatment and escorted by Aquino himself to police headquarters in Camp Crame?

But, he cleansed himself of all his sins, as it were, and even became a hero of sorts—after he felt he was being set up for assassination—by spilling the beans against his friend, former President Estrada, and testifying that he personally delivered to Estrada his part of the loot from jueteng and tobacco tax proceeds.

In Aquino’s case, it might not be as brazen as a president receiving boxes of graft money. But obstruction of justice is just as much an impeachable violation of his oath, for which Nixon was impeached and driven out of office.

Consider these facts.

Napoles last April 22, before she was put under the knife for hysterectomy, gave Justice Secretary Leila de Lima a sworn affidavit listing legislators and other government officials with whom she connived while undertaking the pork barrel scam.

De Lima of course just had to boast that Napoles “confessed” to her everything, and after her five-hour meeting, she rushed to tell Aquino what the woman revealed.

Of course, everyone demanded that the justice

secretary must disclose the list, which Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III did after de Lima was subpoenaed for it.

Lo and behold, Napoles’ list of pork-barrel grafters she connived with includes not only the five opposition senators, whose names the media have barraged the people with in the past nine months, but also 20 other incumbent and past senators, 70 congressmen, and more than a dozen officials, many of whom are with Aquino’s camp.

Napoles’ list includes key Aquino allies in Congress and high priests of his tuwid-na-daan cult: Budget secretary Florencio Abad, Agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala, and TESDA director-general Joel Villanueva as well as senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Francis Escudero.

Another list drawn up by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, based, it claimed, on alleged whistle-blower Benhur Luy’s computer files, included Aquino’s political mentor, Senate President Franklin Drilon, whose photos of him and his wife holding hands with Napoles had convinced the public that he was close to the “pork-barrel queen.”

Aquino then implicated himself when in a press briefing on May 11 on the sidelines of the 24th ASEAN Summit in Myanmar.

“I think I have physically seen two (lists) and they don’t agree with each other exactly, “ he said.

Aquino said one list came from de Lima, while the other was given to him “directly” even before the justice secretary spoke to Napoles.

“Directly”? Aquino’s own statements points to the distinct possibility that it was Napoles herself who gave him the first list when she surrendered to him in Malacañang in August last year.

That explains why Aquino agreed for her to be taken to the Palace, to talk to her extensively (even over lunch, an allegation made by one columnist which had never been debunked conclusively), and even — in the wee-hours of the morning, and with the scantiest of security precautions — to ride with her in the residential limousine to the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame. These acts made up a very clear message to Napoles from Aquino, which could only be personally delivered by the President to be credible: “I will take care of you.”

In exchange for what? Recent events clearly have shown: In exchange for not implicating his people.

Why did Napoles nine months later summon Secretary de Lima to her hospital room to give her not just a list but also an affidavit purportedly revealing details of the entire pork barrel scam and all those involved in it?

The most probable, logical explanation: She felt that Aquino wasn’t “taking care of her” as he had promised last year. Aquino wouldn’t even allow her to have surgery at the hospital she liked. She also felt at grave risk, as anything could happen to her during surgery. Having run the scam operation for a decade, Napoles obviously is a clever lady, and one you can’t run circles around.

She gave the list to de Lima, on the calculation that the justice secretary would show it to Aquino and remind him to take care of her. Note that de Lima had not claimed that Napoles asked her to submit the list to the Ombudsman.

Napoles’ Plan B was to give Senator Panfilo Lacson a copy of the list, which she did earlier than her hospital meeting with de Lima.

Since Lacson had become such a big supporter of the President that he was given the post of rehabilitation czar for areas hit by typhoon Yolanda, Napoles calculated that he could be relied on to give the President the list — and the blackmail message it in effect really was.

If de Lima, and later Lacson, had just kept their mouths shut that Napoles had made a list, no one would have known about it.

Napoles however miscalculated that the justice secretary would keep the list secret. But it was after all it a fantastic opportunity for de Lima to be in the limelight, to be portrayed as the sole official in government Napoles could reveal her secrets to.

De Lima probably thought that if an obscure justice secretary in 1962 — Jose Diokno — could be catapulted to fame and the Senate by going after big-time corruptor Harry Stonehill, she could too with the Napoles case that has gripped the nation’s attention for months. Senatorial elections after all are just two years away.

She blabbered that Napoles gave her the list. But that points now to the very real possibility that Aquino for nine months has known that among Napoles’ accomplices are his own people like Secretary Abad and Secretary Alcala.

Then Aquino kept that knowledge to himself, and most probably ordered de Lima to focus on compiling evidence against the three opposition senators, so they’d be put behind bars and presented as Exhibit A of his anti-corruption campaign in his fifth State of the Nation Address in July.

That’s a flagrant case of obstruction of justice. Nixon tried to cover up for his operatives involved in the Watergate break-in. Aquino tried to cover up for his officials and allies involved in Napoles’ pork-barrel scam.

It would be Napoles of course who could confirm beyond a reasonable doubt this narrative, as she could tell the world what she and Aquino talked about in their meeting in Malacañang last year in August.

Napoles should really, really think about it. She could rot in jail for years, or she could redeem herself in the way Chavit Singson did in 2001.


tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
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