Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s ex-chief of staff, argues that she should not be deprived of liberty after spending six years and seven months in jail.
She has filed a writ of habeas corpus before the Supreme Court (SC), citing violations of her right to due process and “a speedy, impartial and public trial”.
In a petition Reyes filed with the assistance of lawyer Estelito P. Mendoza, she claimed that there is no sign that she will be freed soon after she was indicted as a co-accused in the plunder case related to the Napoles scam.
Janet Lim-Napoles is the former businesswoman who masterminded the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam by diverting government funds to “ghost projects” in exchange for cuts and commissions given to the lawmakers for whom the budget had been allotted.
Her case is non-bailable but Reyes had tried to seek bail that was denied. She pleaded for her release in 2020, citing humanitarian grounds and the threat of Covid-19 to her health and life but to no avail.
Reyes is currently detained in Camp Bagong Diwa where Napoles is also held.
In her petition, Reyes invoked: “Under our laws and those of other civilized nations, which respect human rights, when a person has committed a criminal offense, specifically under our Constitution… (he/ she is entitled) to have ‘a speedy, impartial and public trial.’”
She claimed that she has been detained “and continues to be under detention now for a period of six years, seven months, or for 2,409 days… and counting the end beyond perception”.
The SC was asked by the petitioner to order the director of Camp Bagong Diwa “to make a return of the writ, produce the petitioner before the SC within five days” from its receipt.
Reyes has been in detention since 9 July 2014 after she was implicated by her friend Ruby Tuazon in the case that started when Napoles kidnapped and illegally detained one of her staff who had threatened to expose her anomalous transactions with the lawmakers.
But on 22 March 2013, Benhur K. Luy was rescued by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) at the Pacific Plaza Towers unit of Napoles at the Bonifacio Global City.
Napoles was later exposed by Luy as the mastermind of the PDAF scam. That revelation expanded the Senate investigation, which initially centered on Napoles’ involvement in the 2004 Fertilizer Fund Scam, to include the “ghost projects”.
Some P10 billion in public funds was lost in the scam, believed to have been diverted by Napoles to “ghost projects” — through her JLN Group of Companies — in connivance with some members of the Congress and other government officials. It was found that P900 million in royalties earned from the Malampaya gas field was also lost in anomalous transactions.
The PDAF was a rebirth of the Cory Aquino-era Countrywide Development Fund (CDF) or more popularly known as “pork barrel” — discretionary fund given to lawmakers for “soft projects”. It was started in 1990 with an initial allocation of P2.3 billion fund small-scale infrastructure or community projects which fell outside the scope of the national infrastructure program (non-infrastructure deals, scholarships, financial assistance, etc).
Earning criticisms from the public, the CDF was later renamed as PDAF during the administration of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada with each member of the House of Representatives allotted P70 million while senators received P200 million in annual allocations.
The President’s Social Fund (PSF), worth around P1 billion, was also considered as “pork barrel funds” as it was not dissimilar to the PDAF.
Napoles’ operation, the Senate probe revealed, centered on “ghost projects” funded by the PDAF funds of the participating lawmakers using fake foundations and non-governmental organizations (NGO) controlled by the JLN Group of Companies.
Five Senators — Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Bongbong Marcos, and Gregorio Honasan — and 25 members of the House were implicated in the Napoles scam.
Revilla was said to have transacted P1.015 billion of his PDAF with Napoles, the largest among all lawmakers implicated in the case.
Enrile had P641.65 million, Estrada had P585 million, Marcos had P100 million, and Honasan P15 million.
On 16 August 2013, the Commission on Audit named a host of lawmakers from both houses of Congress as having benefited from the Napoles scheme.
Twelve days later, Napoles surrendered in Malacañang to former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III who placed a P10-million bounty for her arrest.
On 16 September of the same year, then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima filed cases of plunder and malversation of public funds against Napoles, Revilla, Enrile and Estrada.
Revilla was acquitted of plunder charges in December 2018 after spending four years in detention. The Sandiganbayan declared Revilla’s staff, lawyer Richard Cambe, guilty of misusing the lawmaker’s P224 million from his “pork barrel”.
Revilla has since made a return to the Senate.
Estrada was allowed to post bail for plunder and graft in 2017. He failed in his bid to return to the Senate in 2019.
Enrile, now 96, was released for humanitarian reasons in 2015.