De Lima says Tuazon’s testimony to link JPE, Estrada in pork scam
THE Justice Department said Friday that the former social secretary of deposed President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Ruby Tuason, was in custody and would provide “slam dunk evidence” linking opposition Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile to the P10-billion pork barrel scam.
Tuason also confessed that she made the same offer to Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, Enrile’s chief of staff.
“At first, Attorney Gigi Reyes refused to see Janet Napoles but agreed to course the release of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s PDAF following the same arrangement that Janet Napoles made to Senator Jinggoy Estrada,” Tuason said in her sworn statement, which was executed last Tuesday at the consular office in San Francisco, Calif.
Tuason recalled there were instances when she herself delivered the shares of the senators.
Tuason admitted that she would pass through the basement of the Senate building in Pasay City to personally deliver the kickbacks to Senator Estrada.
On the other hand, Tuason only dealt with Enrile’s chief of staff, meeting Reyes in several restaurants in Makati and Taguig.
On one occasion, Enrile arrived right after their meeting, Tuason said.
While Tuason has yet to recall the exact amounts of Napoles’ transactions with the two senators, she said the figures mentioned in the affidavits of the pork barrel scam whistleblowers led by Benhur Luy could be higher.
No receipts were issued for the transactions, which were done several times in cash, she said.
Tuason admitted she received a referral fee of 1.5 percent, but the amount was also not disclosed.
De Lima said Tuason has promised to return her share for referring projects to the lawmakers that she implicated in the scam.
Tuason Tuason arrived in Manila at about 3:40 a.m. Friday on board PAL Flight PR 105 from San Francisco where she was fetched by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Bureau of Immigration records showed that she left the country on Aug. 26, 2013, just two days before Napoles surrendered to President Aquino.
De Lima said Tuason sent feelers to the Justice Department early last month. NBI agents first went to her in San Francisco during the second week of January for preliminary talks.
Last Monday, the same team returned to the US to fetch her. She executed her affidavit before Consul General Jaime Ramon Ascalon the day after before being booked for her flight back home.
After assessing her testimony, the Justice Department approved her application to turn state witness and placed her under the witness protection program.
“This offer of testimony is very significant. This is more than corroborative because she is able to provide whatever was missing in the earlier testimonies of the whistleblowers,” De Lima said.
However, she said Tuason’s coverage under witness protection program would be provisional, pending the approval from the Ombudsman on her motion be granted immunity from suits.
“Based on our evaluation, she is qualified to be state witness. But the final say lies with the Ombudsman after its own independent evaluation of the testimony. If the Ombudsman agrees with our evaluation, then she will be given full WPP coverage,” De Lima said.
At the Palace, President Benigno Aquino III said the government would allow Tuason to turn state witness only if her testimony would “benefit the state.”
Aquino admitted that Tuason’s testimony could bring closure to the P10 billion pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Napoles.
“When she said she would testify, we now have one person who can complete the process, who can weave the story, who can reaffirm the allegations of our whistleblowers,” Aquino said.
“So this would strengthen the evidence that we have, and as we have promised the Filipino people, we will go where the evidence takes us,” the President added.
Tuason was among the chiefs-of-staff of lawmakers who were also charged with plunder, graft, malversation of public funds, or direct bribery before the Ombudsman in September last year over the pork barrel scam.
In her affidavit, Tuason also said she has witnessed the delivery of alleged kickbacks to the house of her late brother for an “undisclosed principal.”
“She mentioned the name of an individual who was picking up the money from their house. And that can lead us to Jess Santos,” De Lima said, reading from Tuason’s affidavit.
“You all know who Jess Santos is,” she said, referring to Arroyo’s former lawyer.
De Lima said Tuason’s statement was “a very important development.”
“Who is that undisclosed principal? There is already a name mentioned in the affidavit, so we will pursue this. Finally, we have an idea who is the so-called principal,” she said.
De Lima declined to give more details, saying the matter is undergoing investigation in the Office of the Ombudsman.
Last year, the NBI investigated the Malampaya fund scam based on the testimony of the whistleblowers led by Benhur Luy.
In October, the NBI filed with the Ombudsman plunder charges against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and 23 others, including former officials of her administration and Na-poles.
Tuason was among those charged. She was believed to have received P242.7 million, all delivered either through cash or through bank transactions, for an unidentified principal.
In cooperating with the NBI and agreeing to turn state witness, she vowed to return the kickbacks she got. With Joyce Pangco Pañares
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