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‘Doubts’ may cost Cunanan witness status

Benhur’s testimony complicates matter

THE bid of former Technology Resource Center director general Dennis Cunanan to turn state witness may be in jeopardy due to doubts about his credibility after he persistently denied receiving kickbacks in the pork barrel scam, contrary to the testimony of whistle-blower Benhur Luy.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Friday that Luy’s testimony before the Senate Thursday that Cunanan received P960,000 in kickbacks could affect his status as a provisional state witness.

She added that his status in the Witness Protection Program was also at risk.

Luy said Thursday he was the one who prepared the P960,000 and put it in a bag that was given to Cunanan when he met with Napoles at her office at the Discovery Suites.

But Cunanan insisted he received no money and said that if he did, he would have expedited the transactions instead of trying to validate them.

De Lima acknowledged that the contradictory statements of Luy and Cunanan have “complicated” the situation.

She said the Justice Department stood by the credibility of Luy.

“He remains a very credible witness. Benhur has not given us reasons to doubt his credibility,” De Lima said.

She said Cunanan would be asked to “rectify” his statement.“We are actually giving him a chance to explain or rectify himself on that matter. Will he continue to profess such innocence when it comes to the issue of whether or not he received kickbacks? Let’s just see what his answer will be so that we can act accordingly,” De Lima said.

She would not say, however, that Cunanan’s credibility as a witness had already been tainted.

“It’s up to you to interpret what I said but it’s unfair for me to say something categorical at this point,” she said.

The Justice Secretary noted that Cunanan, while being interviewed for WPP coverage, had consistently denied pocketing kickbacks from the pork barrel scam.

But De Lima believed that Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares could be correct in saying that Cunanan is afraid to admit any wrongdoing because he is about to take a position in an international organization.

“That is a probable reason. But we ask him to tell the truth on this matter because we still believe he is telling the truth when it comes to what he knows about the scam,” she said.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, who chairs the Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the pork barrel scam, said De Lima would sit down with both witnesses to reconcile the differences in their testimony.

In contrast to his enthusiastic endorsement of another provisional state witness, Ruby Tuason, Guigona would not comment on Cunanan’s credibility.

Guingona said the panel would have to review Cunanan’s statements, evaluate and scrutinize them and compare them with the testimony of other witnesses.

“We will also have to take into account the demeanor of Dennis Cunanan. Then after we evaluate all of that, we can come out with a conclusion,” he said.

But the Palace on Friday said the testimonies of Luy and Cunanan did not need to be in complete agreement to build a strong case against those involved in the pork barrel scam.

Like De Lima, however, presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Luy’s allegations against Cunanan might affect the latter’s application to be a state witness.

Guingona said the purpose of the Senate hearings was to test the strength of the witnesses’ sworn statements.

“So the senators are asking, grilling and testing them,” he said.

During Thursday’s hearing, Cunanan was grilled about his academic background and his lifestyle.

In a sworn statement, Cunanan claimed that Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile funneled millions of their PDAF to bogus non-government organizations linked to Napoles, through the TRC as implementing agency.

He also said that Revilla and Estrada had spoken to him over the phone to pressure him into approving their pork-funded projects, a charge they both denied.

The three senators and Napoles are respondents in a plunder case now pending in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Cunanan, on the other hand, faces charges of bribery, malversation and graft and corruption filed by the National Bureau of Investigation, also before the Ombudsman.

Reacting to Cunanan’s testimony, Estrada said the plunder case against him was getting weaker and weaker.

“They are starting to crumble. They are no longer in agreement,” said Estrada of the state witnesses.

He said Cunanan’s testimony actually worked in his favor because he was not credible.

“Cunanan had not said anything new. He’s also a liar... He merely told lies before the Senate panel chaired by Senatore Guingona,” Estrada said. – With Macon Ramos-Araneta and  Joyce Pangco Panares

 

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