Ruby Tuason pleads not guilty in Malampaya fund scam

Lian Buan
Ruby Tuason pleads not guilty in Malampaya fund scam
Former budget chief Rolando Andaya Jr files for a bill of particulars and delays his arraignment

MANILA, Philippines – From rubbing elbows with the political elite, socialite Ruby Tuason now finds herself inside court rooms with the officials she allegedly helped earn kickbacks from public funds.

In a fiery red blazer, hair perfectly coiffed, Tuason on Friday, February 23, pleaded not guilty to 97 counts of graft and malversation in the P900-million Malampaya fund scam pending before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s 3rd Division.

Tuason allegedly served as the middle person of businesswiman Janet Lim Napoles to pay P75 million in kickbacks to former agrarian reform secretary and now Masui City, Lanao del Sur Mayor Nasser Pangandaman and P56.5 million to his finance officer at the time, Teresita Panlilio.

Tuason appealed to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales not to be indicted for the Malampaya fund scam as she was already a state witness, but Morales said her immunity only extends to pork barrel scam cases.

The last time Tuason was in the Sandiganbayan was to testify in the bail hearing of lawyer Gigi Reyes, who used to be the aide of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile. Tuason and Reyes allegedly connived to help Enrile earn P172.8 million in kickbacks in the pork barrel scam.

Tuason faced the court on Friday with co-accused Pangandaman and Napoles children Jo Christine and James Cristopher. Napoles, detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, is charged alongside them but she did not appear in court on Friday.

The Napoles children, accompanied by their lawyer Stephen David, wore hooded jackets and sunglasses to evade news cameras.

The Napoleses and Pangandaman were not arraigned on Friday due to pending motions.

Malampaya fund misuse 

Also in court was former budget chief and incumbent Camarines Sur First District Representative Rolando Andaya Jr who is charged for signing the Special Allotment Release Order (SAROs) which the Ombudsman said was “fraught with irregularities constituting badges of fraud.”

The Malampaya fund consists of royalties collected from operations of the Malampaya gas and oil fields in the waters off Palawan province. It is supposed to be used for energy resource development programs.

But a 1976 presidential decree allowed some of it to be used for other projects. In 2009, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo authorized Andaya to release Malampaya funds to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to help victims of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

That P900-million fund would eventually be funnelled through Napoles-run non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a scheme similar to the pork barrel scam, where public funds were siphoned through fake NGOs tapped for ghost projects.

Andaya maintained his innocence.

“From my standpoint, I’m in a good position, I’m in a position where minds are calm and I can explain what happened because in my case, I was ordered to release. That’s it, to be accused of what happened downstairs, which…the people in my department have no dealings whatsoever, it’s beyond their control, we should be able to explain that this time,” Andaya said in a media interview after the hearing.

On Thursday night, February 22, President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants to hold accountable everyone responsible for the misuse of the Malampaya funds.

The Commission on Audit said that a total of P38 billion was misused from 2004 to 2012, and recommended an immediate investigation. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian had called for a Senate inquiry, but it had yet to scheduled.

“Sure. It gives us an opportunity to show that not everyone was involved in it,” Andaya said.

Andaya added that this is “the time to clarify it, to see the truth,” but he also filed Omnibus Motions for Bill of Particulars and to Defer Arraignment before the Third Division. Due to those motions, he was also not arraigned on Friday, with a new schedule on April 13. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.