THE Office of the Ombudsman on Friday granted immunity to state witness Ruby Tuason for returning P40 million in kickbacks in connection with the P10 billion pork barrel scam.
At a news conference, Asyrman Rafanan, spokesman for the Ombudsman, said Tuason’s testimony was necessary to build a strong case against opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.
“Tuason can no longer be impleaded,” he told reporters.
The Ombudsman granted Tuason’s application for immunity upon the recommendation of a special panel tasked to conduct the preliminary investigation of the case.
The anti-graft body, in a five-page immunity agreement forged between the Ombudsman and Tuason, granted her immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for undertaking to “testify on her personal knowledge” and to “produce documents in her possession” on the details of the alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
The Ombudsman Act of 1989 gives the Ombudsman the authority to “grant immunity from criminal prosecution to any person whose testimony or whose possession and production of documents or other evidence may be necessary to determine the truth in any hearing, inquiry or proceeding.”
Under the agreement, if Tuason fails to faithfully discharge her undertakings or materially deviates from her sworn statements, her immunity will be revoked, and she will be reinstated as a respondent in the plunder complaint.
“As Tuason herself expressly committed to undertake, Tuason returned the full amount of P40 million which, by her own admission, was derived from the questioned PDAF transactions,” Rafanan said.
Tuason turned over a manager’s check for the amount to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday at the Ombudsman building.
Rafanan said the money would be remitted to the national treasury.
Tuason said the P40 million was her “commission” for channeling Estrada’s pork barrel to bogus projects in a scheme organized by Janet Lim Napoles.
The Palace defended the granting of immunity to Tuason, saying it was done in accordance with existing laws.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said with the immunity, Tuason should now reveal all she knows about the scam.
Tuason earlier said she personally delivered pork barrel kickbacks to Estrada, one of the three senators who have been indicted over the scam.
Estrada, on the other hand, has hinted that Tuason approached senators other than him and Juan Ponce Enrile for the scam.
He said Tuason cornered infrastructure projects from some of the 21 senators holding office at the 5th floor of the Senate building.
Without disclosing the names of his colleagues who were also approached by Tuason, Estrada nonetheless asked for a review of the closed-circuit television footage of her supposed visits to the Senate since 2010.
De Lima said Tuason is not completely off the hook because she still faces charges before the Ombudsman for her alleged involvement in the P900 million Malampaya fund scam, which is not covered by the immuity agreement.
Tuason has denied involvement in the Malampaya scam, pointing to her late brother Remy Chan as the one who had knowledge of the anomaly.
De Lima said the Ombudsman has not yet decided on the immunity application of former Technology Resource Center head Dennis Cunanan, who is also facing plunder charges.
Estrada said Friday he was not surprised that the Ombudsman granted Tuason’s application to become a state witness.
“At the onset I expected that Mrs. Ruby Tuason will be granted immunity although she was included as one of the accused by the DOJ and the NBI and in the joint resolution in earlier issued by the Ombudsman to make it appear that there was a semblance of fairness to this ongoing investigation,” said Estrada.
“But we all know that this is already a done deal and the only real targets of this persecution from the very beginning are the three senators,” said Estrada in an interview over Channel 2’s ANC.
Tuason told the Justice Department and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that she delivered kickbacks from Napoles to Estrada in his Senate office.
But Estrada said he remained confident that he would be acquitted if the case goes to trial.
He also asked why Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, has not started the investigation of the Malampaya scam in which Tuason has been implicated. – With Joyce Pangco Pañares, Rey E. Requejo and Macon Ramos-Araneta