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Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO
The Senate cannot grant Janet Lim-Napoles immunity and her appearance at next week’s hearing on the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam will likely be turned into a political “circus” by senators obsessed with 2016, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Tuesday.
Santiago, a former trial court judge and law professor, said that neither the Senate nor the Office of the Ombudsman could grant immunity to the alleged pork barrel queen because such power belonged to the courts.
Santiago said that it was the courts that assumed jurisdiction over an accused upon the filing of charges, and only they could determine whether or not an accused was entitled to immunity in exchange for a tell-all testimony.
“If that’s the case, the rules of court regarding immunity will apply only if the courts determine that the criteria set by law are met,” she said by phone.
The Senate, which is bound by the rules of court, cannot “preempt what the court will do,” she explained.
“It’s not for the Senate to determine who is the most guilty. The most guilty can’t be state witness,” she added.
That’s why the Senate cannot compel Napoles to testify “on the enticement of complete immunity.”
The Senate cannot guarantee immunity to a witness if he or she tells the whole truth, she said. “The Senate has no such power.”
Even the courts are hesitant about granting state-witness status to a witness “because that means that the most guilty will go scot-free because he has sung against his colleagues,” she pointed out.
If at all, the Senate can guarantee a witness that it won’t take any action for anything that he or she says, Santiago said.
Not considered state witness
In the end, the most that the Senate can do is to recommend to the Ombudsman that Napoles should not be considered a state witness.
Napoles, who is facing a plunder complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman together with three senators and 34 others, has been subpoenaed to appear at the blue ribbon committee’s hearing on the scandal on Thursday next week.
She will be arrayed against six of her former employees who have turned whistle-blower and have also been summoned to the hearing.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III has broached the idea of granting immunity to Napoles so that she would be persuaded to rat on the lawmakers and government officials who benefited from the conversion of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel into kickbacks over the past 10 years.
Senate President Franklin Drilon asserted that the committee could grant Napoles immunity in such a way that her testimony would not be used against her. Some of his colleagues have objected to this.
Without such immunity to coax her to divulge her ties with the senators, and given her right against self-incrimination, among others, next Thursday’s hearing may just turn into a political circus, Santiago said.
“It will turn into a circus,” she said.
Trying to be cute
Santiago recalled that when she was sick at home and was watching previous hearings, she observed that the questions were “intellectually challenged” and showed her colleagues’ “superficial grasp” of the issue.
Nobody is giving careful attention to the issues involved. “Everyone’s trying to be cute,” Santiago said.
But then again, this should not be surprising at all, she added.
“What the blue ribbon committee wants to do is to turn the spotlight away from the Ombudsman and concentrate it on the senators who will be running for president and vice president. All the people involved are presidentiables and vice presidentiables,” she said of her colleagues.
Risking her life
She said the Senate’s power to conduct inquiries had been “abused” because it had been used not in aid of legislation but to “focus public attention on certain senators running for election or other public office.”
Santiago wondered aloud what new information could be extracted from Napoles that had not already been divulged in the media. By appearing in the Senate, the accused “was just risking her life.”
“She’s afraid for her life. She’s not going to risk herself so that the Senate will get her to say what it wants her to say before the TV cameras,” she said.
Read this article: Santiago says Napoles hearing a circus – Inquirer.net