Tuason backs Luy vs Enrile, Estrada
Through Ruby Tuason, Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile accepted millions of pesos in kickbacks from businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam, and they got more than what the principal whistle-blower claimed they had received, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Friday.
Tuason, who is facing plunder charges along with Estrada, Enrile, Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. and several other former congressmen and government officials, returned to Manila from the United States on Friday, offering to serve as state witness and tell all she knows about the pork barrel and Malampaya Fund scams in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
De Lima said Tuason had been provisionally admitted into the government’s Witness Protection Program (WPP). Her being given full coverage and taken in as state witness depends on the evaluation of her testimony by the Office of the Ombudsman, De Lima said.
Tuason is a former social secretary to former President Joseph Estrada, who is now mayor of Manila, and is related by marriage to Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
She may just be the witness the government needs to “tie up” the conspiracy among the key players in the P10-billion pork barrel scandal, President Aquino said Friday.
Mr. Aquino said the whistle-blowers and even state auditors had all pointed to a conspiracy in the funneling of lawmakers’ allotments from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to questionable nongovernment organizations set up by Napoles.
The PDAF is a pork barrel that channels funds to congressional districts. The Supreme Court struck down the PDAF last November, but not fast enough to stop the government and Congress from realigning the funds to agency budgets in the general appropriations law for this year.
“According to the whistle-blowers and even the (Commission on Audit) itself, there was a conspiracy,” Mr. Aquino told reporters after presiding over the Philippine Army turnover of command at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
“When she said she’d testify, [we said] here’s one who could complete the process, tie up, reaffirm the allegations of [the] whistle-blowers. That will strengthen the evidence, and as I’ve promised to our people, we will go wherever the evidence leads us,” he added.
If at all, the President said Tuason could add “more details to the story” behind the pork barrel scam.
“This will help put closure to this episode on the abuse of our country,” he said.
Tuason arrived on a Philippine Airlines flight from San Francisco, California, Friday morning and, escorted by WPP Director Martin Meñez and National Bureau of Investigation Special Task Force head Rolando Argabioso and NBI Interpol head Dan Daganzo, went straight to the Department of Justice to submit her affidavit to De Lima.
Gist of testimony
Speaking at a news conference, De Lima relayed to reporters what she said was a “gist” and the “salient points” of Tuason’s affidavit sworn to before Jaime Ramon Ascalon, Philippine consul general in San Francisco, on Feb. 4.
She declined to give reporters copies of Tuason’s affidavit.
De Lima said Tuason’s testimony would “more than corroborate” the testimony of the pork barrel scam whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy.
She said Tuason acted as the “agent,” “representative,” or “middleman” in the illegal transactions between Napoles and Senators Estrada and Enrile.
“The actual transfer [of the kickbacks], the personal handing out [to the senators]—this is it. We can call it slam-dunk evidence,” De Lima said, adding that Tuason would fill the gaps in the testimony of the whistle-blowers involving the transfer of money to the two senators.
They got more
De Lima said the investigators showed Tuason a list of the amounts of kickbacks given to the senators, as recorded by Luy. Tuason, she said, recalled in some cases delivering “more” than the amount listed in Luy’s ledger, indicating that there were other conduits used to remit the kickbacks to the senators.
Discussing how the DOJ reached Tuason, who left the country in August last year, De Lima said she sent feelers sometime in the second week of January. She said she sent a team to the United States to hold “preliminary talks” with Tuason and her lawyers.
The team returned to Manila and reported to her what Tuason had offered to testify about, she said.
“I made an evaluation then I gave the go-signal,” she said, adding that she sent another team to the United States on Feb. 3 to fetch Tuason and accompany her in swearing to her affidavit in the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco.
De Lima said Napoles contacted Tuason way back in 2004 to link her (Napoles) with Estrada and Enrile.
Kickback for Jinggoy
Citing Tuason’s affidavit, De Lima said Estrada at first did not want to meet Napoles, but relented after Napoles offered to give him as much as “40 percent less 5 percent withholding tax” in kickbacks on PDAF-funded projects channeled through her NGOs.
Tuason also confirmed that Napoles advanced the kickbacks to lawmakers and later recovered the amount after the special allotment release order (Saro) for the projects had been issued, De Lima said.
She said Tuason also admitted accepting “referral fees” amounting to 1.5 percent for the deals she brokered.
Tuason is still trying to recall the exact amounts of the kickbacks she gave to the senators, De Lima said.
She said Tuason personally delivered cash sometimes at the senator’s offices. Whenever Tuason went to the Senate, she passed through the basement parking area, De Lima said.
Sometimes the money was picked up in Tuason’s house or in restaurants in Makati or Taguig cities, she said.
Coffee with Enrile
In Enrile’s case, Tuason negotiated through his then chief of staff, Lucila Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, De Lima said, adding that Tuason and Reyes were “friends.”
There were occasions when Enrile himself joined Reyes and Tuason in restaurants, as the two women were “almost done” with their transaction and that they all had coffee afterward, De Lima said.
She said Tuason had been brokering transactions between Napoles and the two senators since 2004.
But the testimony that Tuason would offer to the Ombudsman pertained only to the period 2007 to 2009, covered by the Commission on Audit (COA) report on PDAF use that served as the basis of the pork barrel scam investigation.
As for the other years during which Napoles did business with the lawmakers, De Lima said the NBI was still investigating.
First posted 2:09 am | Saturday, February 8th, 2014
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