Sandiganbayan junks plea for new probe of Malampaya scam
The Sandiganbayan has denied the plea of socialite Ruby Tuason to return the P900-million Malampaya fund scam cases to the Office of the Ombudsman for reinvestigation by President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointee, Samuel Martires.
In a five-page resolution dated Nov. 16, the court’s Third Division said Tuason’s motion for reinvestigation was a “veiled” attempt by her to become a state witness and get off the hook in the 194 criminal charges filed on Dec. 7 last year.
Tuason, who is accused of finding a contact in Malacañang to receive P242.77 million in kickbacks, claimed that Martires should be allowed to evaluate for himself if her admission to the witness protection program “vested upon her the right to immunity in all cases.”
She argued that Martires “had no opportunity to consider” the legal implications of her sworn statements that purportedly helped in the investigation against the alleged mastermind of the fund scam, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
But the Sandiganbayan pointed out that Tuason’s immunity agreement — concerning the pork barrel scam cases of former Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile — already existed when Martires’ predecessor resolved the case and ordered her indictment.
“It would be fair to assume that then Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was aware of these matters when she proceeded to determine the existence of probable cause in the present cases,” the court said.
It said giving Tuason another chance to seek immunity would be a “grave infringement” of the Ombudsman’s functions, since the office already decided to deny her the privilege.
Morales found probable cause against the Malampaya scam defendants in a Dec. 19, 2016 resolution. She later denied an appeal on Sept. 5, 2017.
The resolution was signed by Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justices Bernelito R. Fernandez and Sarah Jane T. Fernandez.
Tuason and Napoles were among the 25 people charged with 97 counts each of graft and malversation through falsification over the scheme to divert the discretionary funds to ghost livelihood projects of 12 bogus foundations linked to Napoles.
The funds—royalties derived from the operations of Malampaya gas field—were released by the Arroyo administration as assistance to 97 cities and municipalities that were devastated by typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009. —Vince F. Nonato