Solicitor General: More senators, higher officials involved in pork barrel scam

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — More high officials — including senators — are involved in the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam than was previously believed — the Solicitor General disclosed on Friday.

When asked for more information on CNN Philippines' The Source, Solicitor General Jose Calida said: "It goes beyond the three senators."

Calida was referring to former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla, who were implicated in the scam in 2013. Enrile has since been granted bail.

Evidence connected the three officials to ghost projects in league with bogus NGOs by businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, for a cut in the money from the politicians' Priority Development Assistance Fund.

However, it was for the illegal detention of whistleblower and later state witness Benhur Luy that Napoles was jailed. Multiple charges for plunder against her are pending at the Sandiganbayan.

"Can you believe that Janet Napoles did this on her own? There has to be a conspiracy," said Calida. "How can she get money from the coffers of the government if there were no co-conspirators?"

He added that they were also looking into positions higher than the senators.

"Well, we will see," said Calida on the possible involvement of the president and vice president. "I will cross the bridge when we get there and I will tell you what I [find] out."

Calida had moved to acquit Napoles of illegal detention at the Court of Appeals, a report from the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism revealed on Wednesday. He maintained that there was not enough evidence to implicate her in the case of illegal detention.

The move could tarnish Luy's credibility as a witness, lawyers consulted in the PCIJ report speculated, with a possible impact on Napoles' pending plunder cases.

Read: 'Regional trial court made a mistake in convicting Napoles' - Solicitor General

"My focus is on this case, the serious illegal detention," said Calida. "So whether it will have an impact of the other cases, as of now that's not my concern."

On the President's statement

Calida also weighed in on President Rodrigo Duterte's call in September last year to return to the pork barrel issue.

"Let us revisit the Napoles case," Duterte had said. "I have some revealing things to tell you about it. You just wait, but I will… if that is the only thing that I have to do until the end of my term, I will do it, for I shall have done a singular task, giving you the truth about the government."

"There were only three senators who were charged... Were they the only ones who received pork barrel?" said Calida. "Why was the investigation limited on these three senators? I think that was the context of the President's statement."

Duterte had also said long-time critic Sen. Leila De Lima was also involved in the scam, although he did not divulge more details.

Calida appeared to echo this statement when he told The Source that De Lima had a "special interest" in the case, with the intention to "detain and convict Janet Lim Napoles."

Calida maintains that he did not speak to the President about the issue.

Napoles' lawyer Stephen David is a supporter of Duterte. His wife Lanee, a former lawyer of Napoles, was appointed deputy commissioner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Read: Former Napoles lawyer appointed to BIR

Stephen David on Wednesday said the Solicitor General's statement lends weight to Napoles' side, possibly affecting her other pending plunder cases.

Related: SolGen's findings carry weight - Napoles lawyer

Calida said he does not know David.

Open to Napoles testimony

Calida said that he is open to hearing Napoles' side, saying that she may help "ferret out the truth."

"She is the main player in this case. She is the one who was accused," said Calida. "She was the one who was convicted for life. I want to hear her story."

"Everybody should have a second chance," he added.

When asked about the senators involved, Calida said, "We will find that out when Napoles will talk."

Calida also said that he would withhold judgment on Napoles' involvement in the pork barrel scam until she is proven guilty in court.

"If somebody tags her as the pork queen, what is their basis?" he said. "As a lawyer, I will only believe that if she is proven guilty in court, [if] there's a conviction."