Via Official Gazette
Statement of Secretary Leila M. de Lima:
During the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing
[September 26, 2013]
I come here before the Senate today in compliance with the subpoena issued by the Committee Chair, Senator Teofisto L. Guingona III, as approved by Senate President Franklin M. Drilon. Also in compliance with the subpoena, I have with me several witnesses and whistleblowers in the Napoles/Pork Barrel Scam.
I have brought them here to preserve the peace, respect, and goodwill between the Executive and the Legislative branches of government, with the understanding that their presence can aid in the refinement and crafting of legislation. However, I also take this opportunity to respectfully emphasize that this action goes against my better judgment as the Secretary of Justice, and that I bring them here with significant reservations.
My task is to ensure successful prosecution of these cases and to hold accountable those who have stolen the people’s money. It concerns me greatly that the public testimony of these witnesses before the Senate today may put them and their families—as well as the future of these cases—at greater risk. Most of these witnesses have not yet exposed their faces to the public. They are still afraid to do so. In terms of their personal security, my better judgment tells me that the only time that their public appearance is entirely necessary is during the trial, on the witness stand, and definitely not in front of national television.
At the same time, case build-up on those yet to be filed, and even those already filed with the Ombudsman, is still ongoing. The NBI’s case build-up is still continuing, a process that does not stop even during preliminary investigation. Having the witnesses talk in further detail about what they know can reveal parts of our legal strategy, the identities of others who may be charged in the near future, and other matters regarded as privileged law enforcement information. Certain information known only to the witnesses and NBI investigators is deliberately kept from public knowledge and access for valid reasons. Public knowledge of and access to this information will give some of those involved a chance to preempt our efforts or, even worse, to escape.
The least that the prosecution of these cases need is a live broadcast of prosecution strategy that has been carefully developed in the course of the investigation. All of this will be threatened by the insights to be gained by lawyers of the other side from this public exercise. In a sense, this public hearing takes the form of a mode of discovery offered in a silver platter, of interrogatories and depositions, even when none is legally required under the rules of criminal procedure. Discovery as a rule of procedure is limited to civil cases for good reason. In criminal cases, the Constitution only accords the accused the right to confront the witnesses during the trial itself, not before, and definitely not through pre-trial depositions and written interrogatories, the new judicial affidavit rule notwithstanding. I am worried that this public deposition and interrogatories of sorts might compromise the integrity and effectiveness of the prosecution when information known only to it is telegraphed in advance to those who will be charged before the courts. The exhaustive examination of witnesses in criminal cases is reserved for the courtroom for good reason. I am constantly reminded of that. Finally, the same logic or reasoning the Ombudsman applied or invoked, when she advised the Senate against the summoning of Janet Lim-Napoles, applies and ought to apply as well to the witnesses present here today.
While it is true that some of the witnesses have already spoken with the media, those conversations happened before the case had been filed with the Ombudsman and, at that point, there was very little we could do to prevent it.
As the Ombudsman is now undertaking an independent evaluation of the cases already filed, as a prelude to the preliminary stage, if they’re not yet at that stage, for the time being, it would drastically help the case if public statements from the witnesses would cease.
These are the reservations that I respectfully bring before this body. I emphasize that the priority of my office is to hold accountable those who have committed wrongdoing, and I urge this respected body to aid us in achieving this goal.