Dares DOJ to come up with ‘standard of proof’ against him
SENATE Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday vowed to face his accuser in the courtroom, after the Justice Department claimed it had “slam dunk” evidence linking him and Senator Jinggoy Estrada to the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
“What slam dunk? Let us look at this slam dunk evidence and then we will study the affidavit and make a formal statement about it,” said Enrile, referring the sworn statement by Ruby Tuason, former secretary of ousted President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Despite Tuason’s testimony that she had personally delivered kickbacks to Senator Estrada and Enrile’s former chief of staff, Gigi Reyes, Enrile rejected Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s claim that this was enough to pin both of them to the scam.
“We will see. You know, I have been in law practice for a long, long time. Nothing is sure,” Enrile said. “And the standard of proof is much higher in criminal law than in civil cases.”
The chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Teofisto Guingona III has invited Tuason to testify before is panel on Feb. 13 to shed light on the pork barrel controversy, but Enrile has inhibited himself from attending the hearings.
This was the first time Enrile issued a statement after Tuason arrived in the country from the United States Friday last week.
She was escorted by Witness Protection Program (WPP) Director Martin Menez, NBI Special Task Force head Roland Argabioso and NBI Interpol head Dan Daganzo.
Tuason offered to tell all she knows about the racket in exchange for freedom from prosecution.
She applied as a state witness in the pork barrel scam, and was immediately placed under provisional coverage of the WPP.
In an affidavit submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman, Tuason said that since 2004, she acted as a conduit for Estrada and Enrile for the kickbacks and other entitlements through a scheme allegedly developed by the accused mastermind of the pork barrel scam, Janet Lim Napoles.
Tuason said she personally handed bags of cash to Estrada and Reyes as kickbacks after the senators funneled their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to bogus organizations set up by Napoles.
But Enrile said he was not aware of any such meetings.
“I don’t know because I don’t live with Mrs. Reyes. I don’t live in her house. I had never authoritezed Reyes to talk to Tuason about my PDAF,” Enrile said.
Enrile said he is also not worried if Reyes, who is still abroad, comes home to implicate him.
“What will she say? I have faith in her honesty and integrity because she has been working for me for almost 25 year. There has never been any occasion that she violated that degree of rectitude expected from a public servant,” Enrile said.
Enrile said he has never talked to Reyes since she left the country for Macau in Agusut 2013 at the height of the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scandal.
While admitting that he had lunch with Tuason in late 2006 or early 2007, Enrile said he never received any kickbacks from his pork barrel.
Enrile recalled that it was Tuason, whom he has known as “Ruby Chan,” who sought the meeting about a property transaction.
“The only time I met her was in Mamou restaurant, a very crowded restaurant and it was not to discuss PDAF or pork barrel or to receive a bribe but I was discussing with her a prospective property transaction, and that was about it,” Enrile said.
The minority leader remembered asking Reyes to facilitate the meeting with Tuason, whom she referred to as a “casual acquaintance.”
“I brought her in that meeting and asked her to make the arrangements because I always want somebody to be present in my discussion with anybody and that was Mrs. Reyes because I have difficulty in hearing, reading and its better that somebody is there to record the details of whatever was discussed,” he said.
Before that Mamou restaurant meeting, he met Tuason during the presidency of now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
“I met her along a time ago and, over the years, I had not seen her until Erap [Estrada] became President, and I saw her in Malacañang. That was about it.”
When he returned to the Senate in 2004, Enrile said he used to see Tuason in the elevator. He later learned she was acting as a broker or a buyer of property for some other person.
Senator Estrada on Monday asked the Senate sergeant-at-arms to release all closed circuit television (CCTV) footage of Tuason, who claimed she passed through the Senate parking basement to deliver to his kickbacks.
“You are free to show CCTV footage if Mrs. Tuason was here,” Estrada said, adding that he had nothing to hide.
“I am being totally destroyed. I am being tried by publicity,” he added.
Senate President Franklin Drilon granted Estrada’s request, but asked that the Senate security personnel be given time to locate the footage, since no dates of the visits were specified.
Estrada denied ever receiving kickbacks at his residence or at the Senate.
He also asked the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to ask Tuason for dates of her visits when she testifies before the panel.
Guingona agreed to do so.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that all CCTV footage of the Senate premises over the last 10 years have been preserved.
In the House, the leader of the independent minority bloc dared Tuason to bare all, and to identify all politicians, including Palace allies, who benefited from the pork barrel kickbacks.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez cautioned Tuason against the selective naming of politicians behind the scam.
“Ms. Tuason should come out with physical and indisputable evidence first before she says anything else about the ‘pork barrel’ scam. We also urge Justice Seretary Leila de Lima to stop claiming that Ms.
Tuason’s revelations are ‘slam dunk evidence’ until she presents proof,” Romualdez said.
“Let it be for the record that we are not trying to defend anybody in the ‘pork barrel’ scam,” he added.
Romualdez said Tuason, being the oganizer for Napoles’ lavish parties, should name all politicians with whom she had dealings.
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz said Tuason “should not hold back, bare everything she knows even if this will hit Palace allies.”
The Palace said it would be up to the Ombudsman to evaluate Tuason’s affidavit.
“We in the executive branch are not in a position to judge the merits of the case. The Ombudsman files it with the Sandiganyan and Sandiganbayan decides,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
In an earlier interview, President Benigno Aquino III said the government will only consider Tuason’s application to be a state witness if her testimony would “benefit the state” in its bid to run after those involved in the scam.
“The criteria being utilized, I understand, is he who is not most guilty can be offered. So if the testimony benefits the state then that would probably be considered,” Aquino said.
Aquino admitted that Tuason’s testimony could put a closure to the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
The scam involved channeling the pork barrel of lawmakers to bogus non-government organizations affiliated with Napoles in exchange for kickbacks.
“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 allegedly received P242.775 million in kickbacks on behalf of a still unidentified principal.
Lacierda on Monday refused to rule out the possibility that Napoles, too, might become a state witness.
“We will cross the bridge when we get there,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda made the statement in reaction to talk in the Senate about the possibility.
“Has there been an offer already? There have been no overtures so we are not in a position to say (whether she can considered as state witness or not),” Lacierda said.
“It will be up to the Department of Justice to decide in case there is an offer,” the Palace official added.
Earlier, Senator Miriam Santiago said Napoles can turn state witness if it is proven that someone else was the mastermind of the scam.
Whistleblowers led by Benhur Luy, however, have denied there was anyone above Napoles.
Plunder charges have already been filed before the Ombudsman against Napoles; Enrile, Estrada; Senator Ramon Revilla Jr.; former Masbate Rep. Rizalina Lanete and former Apec party-list Rep. Edgar Valdez. With Joyce Pangco Pañares