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SC affirms ruling granting bail to ex-Masbate lawmaker, Napoles

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed a ruling of the Sandiganbayan that allowed businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and former Masbate congresswoman Rizalina Seachone-Laneta to post bail in the plunder charges filed against them in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork scam.

In a resolution promulgated on Oct. 11, 2023, but released only on Wednesday, the SC’s Third Division denied the petition filed by the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) of the Office of the Ombudsman, which sought to reverse the Sandiganbayan ruling.

In its 2016 ruling, the Sandiganbayan said the guilt of Napoles and Lanete was “not strong.”

The OSP ”failed to prove” that the amount allegedly amassed by Lanete and Napoles reached the threshold of P50 million, which is required under plunder cases, the anti-graft court said.

Lanete and Napoles were initially accused of embezzling P64.4 million.

However, the Sandiganbayan excluded several daily disbursement records, noting that these do not pertain to Lanete’s PDAF allocation from 2007 to 2010.

In denying the petition, the SC said the Sandiganbayan did not commit any grave abuse of discretion, noting that “the OSP failed to establish evident guilt as the threshold amount of P50 million required in plunder cases was not reached.”

“The Court concurs that said items must be excluded from the computation of the supposed amassed ill-gotten wealth for being irrelevant to this case,” the SC decision read.

Despite being allowed to post bail, Napoles remains in custody for other PDAF cases in which she was found guilty.

Napoles was convicted of multiple counts of graft and malversation of public funds over her involvement in the misappropriation of the PDAF allocation of several lawmakers.