MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile admitted meeting with socialite Ruby Tuason over lunch, but denied it was to receive kickbacks from her in the pork barrel scam.
Enrile said he sought a lunch meeting with the woman who is now pinning him down in the scam but said it was for a property transaction. He said the meeting happened sometime in “late 2006 or early 2007.”
“The only time I met her [was] in Mamou restaurant, a very crowded restaurant and it was not to discuss PDAF (pork barrel) or to receive a bribe but I was discussing with her a prospective property transaction, and that was about it. In fact, I was the one to arrange that one,” Enrile told reporters on Monday, February 10.
“Walang ‘binibigay sa aking pork barrel, kickback.” (She did not give me pork barrel or kickback.)
The senator said he asked his then chief of staff, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes – now accused of accepting commissions on his behalf – to facilitate the meeting.
“I brought her in that meeting and asked her to make the arrangement 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 it’s better that somebody is there to record the details of whatever was discussed,” he added.
The minority leader did not give details on the property deal. He also said Tuason has never been to his house.
Enrile referred to Tuason as a “casual acquaintance” whom he met during the presidency of his close ally, former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
“I met her a long time ago and, over the years, I have not seen her until when Erap (Estrada) became president, and I saw her in Malacañang. That was about it. When I returned to the Senate in 2004, I used to see her in the elevator.”
“Of course, knowing her, I knew her as Ruby Chan, I was greeting her. Then later on I found out that she was acting as a broker or buyer of property for someone,” he said.
It was the first time Enrile addressed the allegations of Tuason, who admitted to being a bagman for the senator and Senator Jinggoy Estrada in the scam.
After leaving the country in August, Tuason surfaced last Friday to corroborate the whistleblowers’ statements that Enrile and Estrada received kickbacks from alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. Tuason offered to testify, and the justice department considers her a “provisional state witness.”
Enrile, Estrada and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr face a plunder complaint for allegedly conniving with Napoles to funnel their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her fake NGOs in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks. Tuason is a co-accused in the case, and faces a separate plunder complaint for the P900 million Malampaya fund scam.
In her affidavit, Tuason said she personally delivered cash to Reyes representing Enrile’s cut. She said they met in restaurants in Taguig and Makati, and Enrile would sometimes join them when they were “almost done” with the transaction and they all had coffee afterward.
She also said she delivered bags of cash to the Senate for Estrada and Reyes, passing through the basement parking to avoid inspection.
Enrile: Gigi Reyes will not follow Tuason
Enrile said he was not aware of Tuason’s claim that she gave cash deliveries to Reyes.
“I don’t know because I don’t live with Mrs Reyes, I don’t live in her house.”
He said he never authorized Reyes to talk to Tuason about his PDAF.
Amid calls for the other accused to follow Tuason’s lead, Enrile said he was not worried that Reyes will also surface and implicate him.
“What will she say? I have faith in her honesty and integrity because she has been working for me for almost 25 years, and there has never been any occasion that she violated that degree of rectitude expected from a public servant,” Enrile said.
Yet he said that he is not in touch with Reyes. “I have no contact with her ever since she left the country.”
Reyes left the Philippines for Macau in August 2013, after the scam broke out.
‘Why should I be worried?’
Enrile said he will ask for a copy of Tuason’s affidavit. The statements of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that Tuason’s testimony was “slam dunk” evidence against the two senators did not bother Enrile.
“Ano ang slam dunk? Ewan ko ano ang slam dunk evidence. Titingnan natin kung ano ang slam dunk, and then we will study the affidavit and make a formal answer, a formal statement about it.” (What is slam dunk? I do not know what is slam dunk evidence? We will see.)
Enrile will continue to inhibit himself from the blue ribbon committee investigation, where Tuason is expected to testify on Thursday, February 13.
“You know this is a case, and I hope to handle it properly as a case. I’m going to face my accuser in the courtroom,” the senator said.
A legal luminary and former trial lawyer, Enrile also dismissed De Lima’s statements expressing confidence that Tuason’s testimony will pin down the two senators.
“We will see. You know, I have been in law practice for a long, long time. Nothing is sure. It depends upon the truth, human truth, whatever it is, and then you address that to the mind of a jury or a judge. And the standard of proof is much higher in criminal law than in civil cases.”
Enrile quipped, “Why should I be worried?” – Rappler.com
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