MANILA - Embattled businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged brains behind the multi-billion scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers and the P900-million Malampaya Fund mess, is now a high-profile fugitive from justice.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said on Tuesday that efforts by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to arrest Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim, on charges of serious illegal detention, have been, thus far, futile.
Judge Elmo Almeda of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 issued the order, dated Aug. 14, and recommended no bail.
Napoles and Lim are facing charges for the alleged abduction and illegal detention of Benhur Luy, the so-called primary whistleblower of the alleged pork barrel and Malampaya scams.
"There are reported sightings [of Napoles]... nakita mga sasakyan nila... but these have not been validated... she is a high-profile fugitive from justice," De Lima told reporters in a chance interview at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The justice chief said Napoles' camp knew about the issuance of the arrest order ahead of the DOJ and the NBI, and could not be located since.
De Lima ordered an investigation into the suspected leak of the resolution dated Aug. 6 that reversed the findings of Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera; Navera's resolution junked the charges against the siblings.
Amid criticisms she caused Napoles to evade arrest, the justice chief said she was not to blame.
Even before she informed media men about the arrest order and the instruction for the NBI to serve the warrant, De Lima said Napoles' camp already had the first crack on the information.
"Are you blaming me for it? Natunugan na niya, obviously; she's well-connected. Her lawyers were there (RTC) even before the NBI [agents] were there.
"Hindi na kami nagugulat na ganyan dahil sa resources ng mga ganyan," De Lima said.
SURRENDER AND DEFEND SELF IN COURT
Instead of evading arrest, Napoles should just surrender and prove her innocence in court, De Lima said.
The trial court, in issuing the arrest order, affirmed the DOJ's finding of probable cause, she stressed.
De Lima lamented how the NBI's resources are now being "diverted" in its manhunt against Napoles.
"Kung ako sa kanya, mag-surrender na siya," she said.
She warned that anybody found coddling Napoles will be slapped with charges for harboring a fugitive from justice, and obstruction of justice.
Any information that will lead to Napoles' arrest is helpful, at this time, she added, announcing that the public may get in touch with the NBI through its Operation Center hotlines 524-1141 and 09175838612.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI), also an attached agency of the DOJ, has been instructed to monitor seaports and airports that Napoles may use to exit the country, the justice chief further said.
While she was only the subject of a Lookout Bulletin before that merely alerts the BI of her departure via any port of exit, with the arrest order out, Napoles can no longer leave the country, De Lima stressed.
Coordination has been made by the DOJ and NBI with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to monitor private flights, apart from the commercial ones.
The NBI will proceed with its pork barrel and Malampaya fund mess investigation, even if Napoles refuses to cooperate.
De Lima said it is up to Napoles to opt to waive her right to be heard before the special team created to probe the alleged anomalies.
"Tuloy ang investigation; kung kailangan mag-file ng kaso, mag-file kami ng kaso," De Lima stressed.