June 24, 2017, 3:07 am
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Weaponizing Janet Napoles

FOR three years and nine months, Janet Napoles has been living her life detained in various cells, all of them a far cry from the luxury and comfort she and her family had grown accustomed to since Napoles’ “business” started booming in 1998. 

I first met Janet Napoles when she surrendered to former President Noynoy Aquino in 2013, which was facilitated by her former lawyer, Atty. Lorna Kapunan. Aquino was criticized for allowing Napoles to surrender to him, with some saying that it reeked of special treatment. While I have a vivid recollection of what transpired during that time, what stands out is Napoles’ vehement denial of the accusations against her, saying that media reports of her ostentatious wealth were severely exaggerated.

From where I was standing, I could see that this woman who had been dubbed “Pork Scam Queen” by the media had a certain guile about her. She tried to turn on the charm, so to speak, and pleaded her case to anyone who would listen. By all accounts, the woman was used to getting her way; after all, she had hobnobbed with politicians in the highest echelons of power, and had throngs of staff to cater to her every whim. (Even as she emerged from her mother’s mausoleum in Heritage Park on the night of her surrender, she was accompanied by a female assistant who carried her bags.) She had a fleet of luxury vehicles ready to whisk her off to wherever she wished, and money had apparently been no issue when it came to living the privileged life. The public was outraged at the ostentatious display of wealth by the Napoleses, so much so that her youngest daughter Jean was vilified for months because of flaunting sports cars, designer shoes and bags, and all the glitzy parties she threw, on social media.

Unfortunately for the elder Napoles, Aquino only had a stony stare in return for her efforts to engage him, and despite her pleas, she was off to Camp Crame to await instructions from the Court about her incarceration, as she already had a standing warrant for her arrest.

Her transfer from Camp Crame to Makati City Jail was slightly delayed when she complained of chest pains and difficulty with breathing, and asked that she be brought to a hospital in Bonifacio Global City before being sent to Makati City Jail. Then Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas put his foot down and denied the request by saying “hindi ito drive through.”

The woman who could talk (and buy) her way out of anything was told point-blank that she couldn’t have what she wanted. I could see the consternation on her face when she was told that she would be examined by the PNP doctor, and the results reported to her personal physician via telephone. Perhaps, she thought, the jig was finally up.

I imagine that she stewed over this moment, and other perceived slights, many a time during her continued incarceration. Once the toast of the town, her fall from grace was slow and brutal, with many of her politician friends disowning any sort of relationship with her. It had become so toxic to be associated with the Napoleses that even a photo with her would be hurriedly disavowed by public officials and broadcasters alike. “Fair weathered friends,” she must have thought to herself while sitting in her overcrowded cell, thinking of all the times she was asked to be a principal sponsor at weddings because of the lavish gifts she’d give. And well, because times were great.

But now, Napoles is seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Her conviction for serious illegal detention has been overturned by the Court of Appeals, after Solicitor General Jose Calida intervened on behalf of the Republic. Talks of her turning state witness in the plunder cases have been confirmed by Calida himself and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre. Just yesterday, Napoles’s lawyer, Atty. Stephen David (whose wife was appointed as Deputy Commissioner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue) revealed in an interview that Aquino, Roxas, former Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Senator Frank Drilon will be implicated by his client in the PDAF scam.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella continues to deny through his teeth that there has been a favorable change in how the Duterte administration intends to treat Napoles and her cases, but so far, the actions of Calida and Aguirre belie this claim. The assumption by these officials is that Napoles was the least guilty in the entire scheme, never mind that it was her who put up the spurious non-governmental organizations that enabled lawmakers to funnel PDAF funds into their own accounts.

Make no mistake about it, but should the current administration be inclined to go after its predecessor, weaponizing a loathed figure like Napoles is one way to do it. In the era of post-truth, it will not matter whether or not there is actual evidence against these men, just that Napoles’ finger is pointing in their direction. Trial balloons have already been released to gauge public reaction to Napoles: she was allegedly a victim of extortion by Senator Leila de Lima when the latter served as Secretary of Justice.

I’m no Oracle of Delphi, but it will only get hairier by the minute once Napoles starts talking. Expect the list of legislators who supposedly worked with Napoles to siphon PDAF funds to resurface, this time with an unmistakable political tinge. Expect that whatever bombshells Napoles has in her arsenal, none of these will be detonated in the direction of Bongbong Marcos, despite Benhur Luy’s identification of Marcos as one of the lawmakers who supposedly participated in Napoles’ scheme.

So it begs the question: what does Janet know, and what is Janet willing to say against the people who put her behind bars in the first place in exchange for a return to her old life?

Issues facing government are not always about two sides. Abigail Valte’s law background and deep dive into government provides insight on its inner workings and what factors go into policy decision making. Her once a week column is an incision on current political and social issues.
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