Luy drops bombshells vs Estrada
MANILA, Philippines–Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who is accused of embezzling P183 million of his pork barrel allotments, once phoned businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles to complain that his “commission” from a project was short by P10,000, whistle-blower Benhur Luy told the Sandiganbayan on Tuesday.
It was but one of the bombshells that Luy dropped on his return to the witness stand against Estrada, sending the detained senator’s lawyers scrambling for legal remedies to block the testimony.
Looking confident and relaxed as in his previous court appearances, Luy narrated how Estrada purportedly collected his kickbacks from the elaborate scheme that Napoles allegedly drew up to funnel some P10 billion in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations of lawmakers to her spurious nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
“Estrada’s commissions were collected by his middlemen or his representatives. [Napoles] made the payments either in cash or in checks,” he told the Sandiganbayan Fifth Division, which is hearing Estrada’s bail petition.
He said the senator even asked Napoles to make a fund transfer to a bank account registered under the name of Juana Ng, who the witness claimed is a friend of Estrada’s.
“[Estrada] once called Madam to complain that P10,000 was missing from the bundles of money we sent as his commission. That was sometime in 2011 or 2012,” Luy said.
He said he was able to hear Estrada’s conversation with Napoles who put him on his speaker phone. He said he was familiar with the senator’s voice since he had heard him deliver speeches in the Senate and during parties hosted by Napoles.
“After the phone call, Madam left our office while she was laughing a lot (tawa nang tawa),” he continued.
Luy also claimed Estrada signed a letter endorsing Napoles’ NGOs as recipients of his PDAF while the lawmaker was presiding over a plenary session in the Senate. “I think he was still the Senate [President] Pro Tempore at the time,” he said.
A visibly incensed Estrada, who was seated just a few steps away from the witness stand, immediately stood up upon hearing Luy’s claims and approached his lawyers, Sabino Acut Jr. and Jose Flaminiano. He was heard hurling invectives at Luy, who was then answering questions posed by Special Prosecutor Jacinto de la Cruz during the direct examination.
Speaking with reporters after the proceeding, Estrada admitted that he lost his cool when Luy told the court that the senator called Napoles about the missing P10,000. He, however, denied cursing the witness and merely uttered “sinungaling” (liar).
“I have never spoken to Napoles to complain about that supposed shortage of P10,000. Assuming just for the sake of argument that it’s true that I got P183 million in commissions, will I complain about the missing P10,000? This witness is a liar,” Estrada said in a raised voice.
The senator, who had been locked up since June at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame, Quezon City, after he was ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan, also pointed out that Luy did not mention his new allegations in the affidavits he had previously signed.
“You know these are all coached by the prosecution. [Luy] said he first met me in a party in 2012. Now he’s claiming that he went to my office in 2010 or 2011 to have some documents signed through my secretary [Pauline] Labayen,” he said.
“There are details which are being added to the story which are all lies. First of all, what this witness just disclosed was nowhere in his affidavit. These are all new allegations, these are all new lies,” he added.
Estrada noted that Luy, whose damning revelations about the intrinsic fund scam led to the filing of plunder and graft charges against several private individuals and public officials, had testified during the Senate inquiry that he did not know him.
The senator’s lawyer, Acut, repeatedly tried to stop Special Prosecutor De la Cruz from further asking Luy about Estrada’s supposed role in the fund scam. At one point, Acut argued that the witness’ disclosures were not included in the prosecution’s offer of testimony.
“We object to the witness’ testimony that Estrada or his representatives received funds from Napoles’ NGOs. The offer merely stated that the (kickbacks) allegedly came from JLN Corp. and not from Napoles herself,” the lawyer said.
But Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo explained that the criminal complaint itself stated that Estrada was being accused of receiving money from Napoles and her supposed bogus foundations. “The information is very clear already. It’s broad enough to cover this situation,” Gesmundo said.
When De la Cruz argued that the contents of Luy’s testimony were “generic,” Acut retorted: “Claiming the offer of testimony is not enough. This is not like writing a prescription for generic medicines.”
Associate Justice Roland Jurado, the division chair, eventually ruled that Luy should be allowed to continue his testimony “to avoid any confusion.”
Under questioning by Jurado, the witness claimed that he was just “an arm’s length away” from Napoles when Estrada called her about the missing P10,000. He said Napoles used her Apple iPhone to take the call.
Luy said the shortage in kickbacks was intentional, saying Napoles had instructed him to remove a P1,000 bill from each of the 10 bundles of P100,000. “Madam wanted to make sure that Estrada counts and receives his commission,” he said.
Using a cutter, he said he slit open the 10 plastic bags and removed a P1,000 bill from each bundle before the cash was collected by Estrada’s representative, whom Luy did not identify.
Luy said he was sure that Napoles was speaking with the senator since both addressed each other as “Ate” and “Kuya”—their “terms of endearment,” he added.
“Ate, the money that you sent was short by P10,000,” Luy recalled Estrada as telling Napoles on the phone.
To pacify the senator, Napoles told Estrada to just keep the pieces of paper which were used to keep the cash so they could file a complaint with the bank where the money was withdrawn, Luy said.
De la Cruz asked Luy more questions detailing the incident, but Acut objected.
“The witness cannot recall that incident, you honors,” Acut said. The remarks elicited laughter from those inside the courtroom, even the three justices.
Reacting to Luy’s revelations, Estrada was seen pointing his finger at the witness as he smiled. At some point, his wife, Precy, had to restrain him when he stood up apparently in protest of the testimony.
Luy, who had earlier claimed he saw Estrada sign endorsement letters for Napoles’ NGOs during a party she had hosted, said he visited Estrada’s Senate office twice. He said Labayen formally introduced him to the senator as he came out from his room together with his security escorts and his friend, Fritz Yenko.
“He is Benhur, a staff member of Ate,” Luy quoted Labayen as telling Estrada.
Luy said the senator just waved his right hand as he and his companions left the office.
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