Manila, Philippines – Surrounded by seven members of the elite police Special Action Force (SAF), businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles appeared before the sala of Judge Elmo Alameda, Makati City Regional Trial Court, Branch 150, yesterday in a Kevlar helmet and bullet-proof vest under her white long sleeve blouse, for her scheduled arraignment.

However, Napoles, the alleged brains of a P10-billion pork barrel scam, opted not to enter her plea on serious illegal detention charges filed by her cousin Benhur Luy, prompting the court to enter a not guilty plea for her.

Napoles’ close-in security had to shove members of the media who were waiting for her as they forced their way in the courtroom at 1:09 p.m. yesterday. Due to security reasons and the limited space in the court room, media coverage was not allowed inside Branch 150, said Senior Supt. Manuel Lukban, Makati City police chief.

Lawyer Lorna Kapunan, Napoles’ defense lawyer, said Alameda pushed for the arraignment since Napoles was already present. But Kapunan said they told the judge that Napoles cannot enter a plea, citing her pending petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals.

Questions Raised

“We are questioning the Department of Justice’s reversal of its earlier dismissal of the case against Napoles. In the initial resolution, there was no serious illegal detention case,” said Kapunan after the closed-door arraignment.

Kapunan said they are also questioning Alameda’s hasty issuance of the warrant of arrest, “without considering our motion for deferment of the issuance of arrest warrant.”

According to the Rule 116 of the Rules of Court, during an arraignment, charges against a person are read to him and she is given an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty of the charges. The respondent may refuse to enter any plea and the court automatically enters a not guilty plea in his behalf, said Kapunan.

Hours before her scheduled arraignment, Napoles made a last minute appeal to transfer the venue from Makati City court to Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa, Laguna for security reasons.

Kapunan said the court was not able to decide on the matter since the Supreme Court suspended the office due to heavy rains. “The motion to move her and arraignment is already moot and academic according to the judge,” said Kapunan.

She said they are set to file before the Supreme Court a motion to change the venue of the succeeding hearings. “On the part of the accused, she has the right to waive her appearance in the next hearing,” she added.

Tight Security

Meanwhile, police tapped most of its specialized units in securing Napoles’ arraignment.

Aside from the SAF, other units like the Health Service, Logistics Support Service (LSS) and even the Communication and Electronics Service (CES) were also tapped.

Senior Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, chief of the police’s Public Information Office (PIO), said at least 100 policemen were deployed to secure Napoles’ arraignment, led by SAF which is in charge of her security.

The Southern Police District deployed several teams from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) and K-9 unit. (With a report from Aaron B. Recuenco) and even from the Explosives and Ordnance Division.

And it paid off, according to Sindac, as Napoles was successfully transported to Makati City Hall of Justice around noon yesterday and was safely returned to Fort Sto. Domingo in Laguna at around 3 p.m.

Police started mapping out plans for Napoles since Friday that include the inspection of the Makati City Hall of Justice.

“Our SAF have also conducted some drills in anticipation of all the possible scenarios,” said Sindac.

The PNP has been in charge of Napoles security since her surrender to President Aquino last month for a case of serious illegal detention filed by Luy, the whistleblower of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

A case of plunder was also filed against Napoles along with 38 others, including three senators.

Friday Hearing

Meanwhile, the court will hear on Friday the pending motion for bail filed by Napoles.

“Of the 32 respondents, only Mrs. Napoles is now in jail. I do not think it’s fair. Napoles is under detention for another case” said Kapunan.

Alameda set the summary hearing at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. where the prosecution is required to adduce evidence to enable the court to determine whether the evidence against her is weak or strong.