The lawyer of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who is at the center of the pork barrel scandal involving several lawmakers and dubious nongovernment organizations, is set to file a string of cases against her client’s accusers, their counsel, law enforcers, two news organizations and fashion designer Eddie Baddeo.
Lawyer Lorna Kapunan said in radio interviews that the Inquirer and the online news portal Rappler.com were liable for libel for failing to get the side of Napoles and her daughter, and for printing “false” stories about them.
“We want to test this so-called good faith in reporting. Using ‘alleged’ in your story is not a license to commit falsehood. If you say something is ‘alleged’ and print it (the story) based on hearsay, and say the other camp can’t be reached for their side—which is not true—that is not a defense to libel,” Kapunan said.
Trial by publicity
The lawyer said articles that were based on unverified “testimonials” had the tendency of subjecting her client to “trial by publicity.”
Hard-earned or ill-gotten wealth?
Netizens were outraged upon seeing the younger Napoles's photos of her expensive belongings, despite her mother Janet's assertion that they grew rich from coal mining in Indonesia, and that their funds came from legitimate businesses.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has stepped into the picture, investigating the Napoles family's properties. In an ANC interview, BIR Chief Kim Henares stated that there was nothing wrong with displaying one's wealth, so long as one pays the corresponding taxes. She confirmed that someone came forward with photos and information on the Napoles family.
The scandal first leaked in July, four months after the NBI rescued kidnap victim Benhur K. Luy, a distant relative and personal assistant of Janet Lim-Napoles, from a condominium unit in Bonifacio Global City.
When Luy detailed the reasons for the kidnapping, the NBI sensed that something fouler than a simple abduction was afoot: apparently, the elder Napoles did not like anyone copying her methods of acquiring funds.
The website of the family-owned JLN Corp. yields only the following information in the "About Us" page, which is about as vague as Janet's media interviews:
"JLN Group Of Companies was established last April 27, 2009. Our company provides explicit service and outstanding products addressing the unique requirements of different industries all over the Philippines.
"JLN Corporation also serves as the prime and holding corporation for a number of subsidiaries.
"Today, over the years of hard work and dedication, JLN Group of Companies boasts of a highly competitive venture and has successfully managed to survive the challenges of the local market industry and has penetrated numerous roster of clientele.
"JLN Corporation has expanded its operations and widened its resources to meet the fast and growing demands and will continue to be a reliable provider of quality products and outstanding service."
JLN's home page contains a slideshow of generic pictures on the following services:
Healthcare Services and Equipments
Threat Detection and Prevention
Renewable Energy Design and Implementation
Engineering and Construction, Professional Security and Surveillance Systems
Information Communication Technology
And these three words in bold white letters: WHO WE ARE.
But according to Luy, those aforementioned "years of hard work and dedication" were directed mainly at funneling some P10-B in pork barrel funds into ghost NGOs through government-funded projects.
JLN apparently represents the initials of Janet Lim-Napoles, who says she is ready to face the probe into the matter and is willing to open her bank records to prove her innocence.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer, which broke the story, listed five senators and 23 House of Representatives members as JLN Corp. clientele. Most of them have denied any involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Here comes the cavalry
While all this was happening, social media erupted after seeing the pictures first circulated by Toto Causing on the web.
As expected, there was an explosion of outrage and mockery, but an equal number of netizens may have been driven by curiosity--especially after the young socialite closed down all her accounts. A wise move, perhaps, but it also feeds public imagination (which tends to be vicious, at best)--for example, a number of fake Jeane Napoles accounts have popped up in the wake of her disappearance from the Internet.
Some were a little more level-headed and said that all this rage could be directed toward bigger fish in the pond, such as Jeane's mother and those who continue to support the pork barrel, formally known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).