SC denies bid of Napoles for release due to COVID

Published June 16, 2021, 3:30 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (SC) has denied the plea for release of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles who was convicted of a non-bailable offense of plunder in 2018 and has been detained since then at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City.

In pleading for her release, Napoles claimed that she is at risk of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) due to her diabetes, an underlying COVID-19 health condition.

She said she could be released on recognizance, bail, or be placed on house arrest for humanitarian reason.

In a resolution written by Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez, the SC said that “aside from her conviction of Plunder which necessarily imports that the evidence of her guilt is strong, Napoles failed to establish that there are exceptional and compelling considerations for her temporary release.”

“Be it noted, that the Constitutional and statutory requisites for the grant of bail are neither suspended nor supplanted by the existence of a pandemic,” the SC declared.

Napoles and lawyer Richard Cambe were convicted of plunder and were sentenced to a prison term ranging from 20 years and one day to 40 years for the misuse of the P224.5 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. Cambe was Revilla’s former chief of staff.

Revilla was acquitted of the charge for failure of the prosecution “to establish beyond reasonable doubt that accused Revilla received, directly or indirectly, the rebates, commission, and kickbacks from his PDAF….”

In resolving Napoles’ petition, the SC said that “before conviction, every person is entitled to bail as a matter of right unless, he or she is charged with a capital offense and the evidence of guilt is strong.”

“On the other hand, bail after conviction is not absolute. It is a matter of judicial discretion which must be exercised with grave caution owing to the ascertainment of the accused’s guilt,” it said.

The SC also said:

“In this case, Napoles was charged with Plunder, a capital offense which carries with it the penalty of reclusion perpetua. During the summary bail hearings, the Sandiganbayan determined that the evidence of her guilt was strong and consequently denied her bail application.

“Thereafter, the Sandiganbayan found Napoles guilty as charged and imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua. It was held that all the elements of plunder were present.

“Napoles’ allegation (on plea for release) is a question of fact which is not within the province of this Court to determine. Neither can the Court take judicial notice of her medical condition.

“However, even assuming that she is indeed suffering from diabetes, that, in itself, is not sufficient to grant her provisional liberty, post-conviction.

“FOR THESE REASONS, accused-appellant Janet Lim Napoles’ Urgent Motion for Recognizance/Bail or House Arrest for Humanitarian Reason Due to COVID-19, is DENIED. SO ORDERED.”

The SC resolution was promulgated last Jan. 13 but was made public only last June 11.