Infant got Estrada pork
MANILA, Philippines–A 19-month-old infant and several dead persons were among the “farmers” who purportedly received farm inputs purchased out of the pork barrel allocation of detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, an antigraft investigator told the Sandiganbayan on Tuesday.
At the continuation of his testimony, lawyer Vic Escalante Jr. said he and other field investigators of the Office of the Ombudsman had discovered irregularities in the implementation of the projects financed by Estrada’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Citing the affidavits of witnesses, Escalante said Estrada pocketed over P50 million in kickbacks from at least 10 livelihood projects in the provinces of Laguna, Pangasinan, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur. The projects were allegedly carried out by nongovernment organizations (NGOs) created by Janet Lim-Napoles, the purported brains of the P10-billion PDAF scam.
“We went to the (villages) to check if those on the list of beneficiaries were actual residents. Many, if not all, were not residents of the villages where the projects were implemented,” Escalante told the antigraft court’s Fifth Division at the hearing on Estrada’s petition for bail.
“All of them denied receiving livelihood packages and kits. One of those who executed an affidavit said her spouse was already dead before the project implementation,” he continued. “One father said one of the beneficiaries was his child who was only 1 year and 7 months old.”
He said even the mayors and municipal agriculturists denied signing the delivery reports and acknowledgment receipts for the supposed Estrada-sponsored projects, bolstering the allegations of whistle-blowers that there were ghost deliveries.
Unperturbed, Estrada and his lawyers dismissed Escalante’s testimony as mere hearsay, pointing out that the investigator admitted in court that he had no personal knowledge if the senator himself received kickbacks from the projects.
Estrada challenged government prosecutors to present their main witnesses against him, principal whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and Ruby Tuason, to speed up the proceedings.
“He does not have any knowledge that Luy delivered money to me or any person for that matter. I’m pretty confident that I will be granted bail,” he told reporters after the three-hour court proceeding.
Estrada, who allegedly pocketed P183 million in commissions, accused the prosecution of delaying the bail hearing, noting that the testimonies of the witnesses that the prosecution was set to present in the weekly hearing had “no probative value.”
“I hope the prosecution will present their strong witnesses, Benhur Luy and Ruby Tuason, for the court to determine if I will be (allowed to post) bail or not,” he said.
Asked why he wanted Luy and Tuason to take the witness stand, Estrada told the Inquirer: “The other prosecution witnesses will not have anything to say. By presenting Luy and Tuason, at least it could expedite the hearing.”
“The time in jail is time wasted. It’s been too long already,” he said of his detention.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada also believed that Escalante’s testimony was weak. “It’s all hearsay. So there’s no damage at all,” the former President told reporters.
Letters of endorsement
In his direct examination handled by acting Deputy Special Prosecutor Manuel Soriano Jr., Escalante revealed that Estrada had endorsed numerous projects that were coursed through National Livelihood Development Corp. and National Agribusiness Corp. through letters addressed to then Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap.
Soriano asked Escalante to identify which documents he used to conclude that Estrada benefited from the projects. But Sabino Acut Jr., one of Estrada’s lawyers, objected, pointing out that the best evidence was the document itself.
In addition to the sworn affidavits of Luy and other whistle-blowers, Escalante said copies of the tripartite memorandums of agreement between Estrada’s office, the implementing government agencies and the Napoles-linked NGOs showed that the senator’s pork barrel funds went to spurious projects.
He said he and the other investigators also interviewed mayors and other concerned local officials who revealed that the individuals on the list of beneficiaries of Estrada’s PDAF were fictitious.
“In their sworn affidavits, Benhur Luy and other witnesses admitted that they forged the signatories (on the documents) and even the names on the list of beneficiaries,” he said.
In his cross-examination, Acut asked Escalante if he had personal knowledge about the processing of the special allotment release orders, notices of cash allocation and other documents pertaining to the supposed funneling of PDAF allocations to Napoles’ NGOs.
Escalante replied, “None, sir.”
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