Jinggoy to Senate: Release CCTV of Tuason visits
MANILA, Philippines – “You are free to show the CCTV kung saan nandito si Mrs Tuason. Wala akong 'tinatago dahil ako ay masyado nang dinudurog.” (You are free to show CCTV of Mrs Tuason’s visits here. I am hiding nothing because I am already so crushed in this issue.)
Senator Jinggoy Estrada asked the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to release the CCTV of the visits of socialite Ruby Tuason, who, in the latest twist in the pork barrel scandal, claimed to have personally delivered bags of cash to Estrada at the Senate.
Estrada made a manifestation on the Senate floor on Monday, February 10, asking Senate President Franklin Drilon to order the release of the video. A visibly irritated Estrada again flatly denied Tuason’s accusations that he received kickbacks from his own Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that were funneled to fake organizations.
The senator though could not respond to Drilon’s questions about the possible dates of Tuason’s visits.
“I really do not know. I do not have any idea when was the last time she appeared or she went to my office or went to the Senate building. [I want] to just clear the coast because I am not guilty. She did not deliver any money to me in my residence, most specifically here in the Senate, especially through the basement parking," Estrada said.
He added: “I am being tried by publicity here. We are being tried by publicity here. I have nothing to hide.”
In her affidavit that was leaked to the media, Tuason said, “I personally delivered all the shares of Sen Jinggoy Estrada and when I delivered in his office at the Senate I was instructed to pass through the entrance to the senator’s parking space so that my bag containing the money will not be opened.”
Drilon granted Estrada’s request but said it will take time to look for the video because he could not give dates.
Estrada then challenged the Senate blue ribbon committee to ask Tuason during its hearing on Thursday, February 13, when exactly she visited the Senate.
Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III replied, “We take cognizance of the manifestation of Senator Estrada and we will ask that in the hearing on Thursday.”
Quoting Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Jose Balajadia Jr, Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the Senate keeps tapes of the CCTV for 10 years. Yet the chamber does not have facial recognition software so the process will take time.
Estrada made his request 3 days after Tuason surfaced and admitted to being a bagman for the senator and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile in the scam.
After leaving the country in August, Tuason returned to Manila from California 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.” Rappler first reported about Tuason's plan to testify.
Enrile, Estrada and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr face a plunder complaint for allegedly endorsing Napoles' fake non-governmental organizations to receive their PDAF coursed through implementing agencies in exchange for millions of pesos in kickbacks.
Tuason is their co-accused in the case. She faces a separate plunder complaint for the P900 million Malampaya fund scam.
Estrada admitted he was close to the woman she calls “Tita Ruby,” a former social secretary of his father, ex-President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada. Tuason was even a campaign contributor to Jinggoy's 2010 senatorial campaign. (READ: The secrets of Ruby Tuason)
Asked about Tuason’s statement that it was painful for her to speak against her close friends, Estrada said, “Eh 'di mas masakit ang ginawa niya sa amin.” (What she did to us is more painful.)
Estrada reiterated that he never authorized Tuason to deal with his PDAF. He said there are more lawmakers that the socialite was close to. He speculated on her motives for coming out against him.
“You view it in a larger picture. There are many players here who want the case to stop with us. There are many higher-ups who do not want to be implicated that’s why we are the sacrificial lamb,” he told reporters.
He again belittled Justice Secretary Leila de Lima's statement that Tuason's testimony was "slam dunk evidence."
“Kung si Dagul ang mag-slam dunk, siguradong mintis. Pag maliit na player, I don’t consider it as a slam dunk.” (If it’s Dagul who is doing a slam dunk, that’s sure to miss. If it’s a small player, I don’t consider it a slam dunk.)
The senator said he will not attend the Thursday hearing because it will be a “losing proposition” for him if Tuason lies but he is unable to cite her in contempt lest people accuse him of bullying her.
He retorted that his colleagues will surely grandstand again.
Does Tuason have documents?
Despite the continued absence of Estrada and his co-accused in the hearing, the blue ribbon committee is determined to question Tuason about her affidavit.
Guingona said Tuason will be the lone witness in the Thursday hearing, with senators wanting to ask her many questions.
Senator Francis Escudero, a lawyer, said one of his questions is whether or not Tuason has documentary evidence to back up her claims. He said Tuason’s ties to some of the accused give credence to her testimony but he will reserve judgment until he reads her affidavit and hears her speak.
“I expect her to testify on her affidavit, whatever information she gave to the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman. There is no prejudgment here because the investigation is ongoing. I just do not know if her testimonial evidence includes documentary evidence,” Escudero said.
Tuason has said that transactions had no receipts and were done several times in cold cash.
Escudero said there were two scenarios for Tuason: for the Ombudsman to enter into a deal with her and no longer file a case against her before the Sandiganbayan, or for the Ombudsman to file a case against her and ask the court to declare her a state witness and discharge her as an accused.
Guingona said the Senate is open to summoning personalities Tuason will mention, like Jesus “Jess” Santos, the lawyer of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. Tuason has named Santos as a bagman in the Malampaya fund scam. The socialite was married to Arroyo’s late cousin, Butch Tuason.
Estrada’s half-brother, Senator JV Ejercito, said he will ask Tuason whether she was forced to testify or make her testimony under duress. The opposition senator echoed his brother’s call for the administration to also run after its allies involved in the scam.
Ejercito said that he can maintain his independence in the hearing despite his family’s ties to Tuason. Ejercito and Estrada have had a sibling rivalry for years.
“I hope they understand that aside from my responsibility to my family, I cannot turn my back on my heavier responsibility to those who voted me into office. When the time comes, that has more weight for me,” Ejercito said.
Asked if he was also close to Tuason, Ejercito said, “Kilala ko siya, pero 'di kami close kasi socialite 'yun eh. Ako, pantsinelas lang eh.” (I know her, but we are not close because she’s well-heeled and I am just one with ordinary people.) – Rappler.com