Tuason: Key witness or Trojan horse?
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – After 6 months of hiding, socialite Ruby Chan Tuason will tell the public for the first time how top lawmakers allegedly pocketed taxpayers’ money meant for infrastructure and development projects.
Tuason arrived at the Senate blue ribbon committee shortly past 9 am Thursday, February 13, after offering to testify against her close friends Senator Jinggoy Estrada and lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, who supposedly received kickbacks for Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
Tuason’s testimony is expected to help answer a question about her sudden turnaround: is she the key witness the government is touting her to be or a decoy that will weaken the prosecution’s case?
Senators will ask Tuason about her 15-page affidavit, which narrates how she got to know alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, her involvement in the multi-billion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, and her knowledge of the P900-million Malampaya fund controversy. (Read her affidavit below.)
Tuason faces two plunder complaints before the Ombudsman for the scandals. Napoles, Estrada, Enrile, and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr are her co-accused in the pork barrel scam, where the lawmakers’ PDAF ended up with Napoles’ fake non-governmental organizations, and the spoils distributed among the respondents. (READ: Pork Tales: A story of corruption)
When the scam broke out, she left the Philippines for the US in August 2013 and made a surprise return on February 7.
“I want to clear my name and conscience. I was deeply bothered when I found out that Janet Napoles was engaged in ghost transactions with the government involving the PDAF of Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile and the Malampaya Fund,” Tuason said in her affidavit.
The missing link?
In her sworn statement, Tuason said she personally delivered kickbacks to Estrada in Greenhills, San Juan, and at his Senate office. Reyes, Enrile’s former chief of staff and confidant, allegedly picked up cash from Tuason’s house in Dasmariñas Village in Makati City, or got this through their meetings in restaurants in Taguig and Makati.
Estrada could not and did not deny his closeness with Tuason. Besides being a social secretary of former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Tuason was also a contributor to the younger Estrada’s 2010 senatorial candidacy. She was married to the late Carlos "Butch" Tuason, a close friend of the former President and the cousin of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo. (READ: The secrets of Ruby Tuason)
With Tuason’s admissions and ties with the accused, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima hailed her statement as “slam dunk evidence.” After all, she is the first witness to provide testimonial evidence that Estrada and Enrile, through Reyes, received kickbacks from Napoles.
Tuason is also the first private individual, other than Napoles’ former-aides-turned whistleblowers, to implicate the high-ranking officials. Lawyers of Tuason and the whistleblowers said they corroborate each other’s statements.
In their affidavits, the whistleblowers led by Napoles’ cousin Benhur Luy said Tuason was a constant visitor to Napoles’ office, home, and even parties held at the Heritage Memorial Park, where Napoles’ mother was laid to rest.
Whistleblower Marina Sula said Napoles asked her to deliver cash to Tuason’s house in 2011. “I was certain that I was bringing along money because Madame Napoles gave a prior instruction saying, ‘Baby, dalhin mo ‘to kay Ma’am Ruby mo, mag-ingat kayo ha. Pera ito.” (Bring this to your Ma’am Ruby. Be careful. This is cash.)
Now considered a “provisional state witness,” Tuason said she decided to come forward not just to get immunity but also to spare her family.
“I do not want to be an embarrassment to my grandchildren and children. I am so ashamed of myself that I have to do something to correct what I have done. I do not want them to hate me when they grow up because they would be told by friends that their grandmother did something very wrong,” Tuason told the Inquirer.
Hearsay, defense ploy?
Yet both Estrada and some whistleblowers question Tuason’s motive and the contents of her affidavit.
Claiming he turned down Tuason’s request for financial help, Estrada dismissed her testimony as hearsay. He pointed out that she did not specify amounts, dates, and other details in her affidavit. He went as far as asking the Senate to release CCTV footage of her alleged visits to the chamber to debunk her testimony.
Enrile admitted meeting Tuason over lunch just once, saying it was for a property transaction and not PDAF. The two senators will again inhibit themselves from the hearing.
Stephen Cascolan, lawyer for some of the whistleblowers, asked why Tuason is surfacing only now.
“What were her true motivations? We can also ask who sent her here. Was this voluntary or part of a plan? Was she a part of the defense plan? Before she cooperated, we really didn’t know where she was coming from. So as of now, please bear with us if we have doubts,” Cascolan said on radio DZBB.
Benefit of the doubt
Senators though want to hear Tuason out. They said the committee’s 8th hearing on the pork barrel scam will be crucial in testing her credibility and the weight of her testimony.
“I expect that she will give additional explanations and details about her affidavit. It’s also possible the prosecution will withhold information as part of their strategy for the trial proper,” Senator Francis Escudero said.
Enrile critic Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is also keeping an open mind about Tuason’s affidavit.
“Let us remember that she supposedly knows a lot about these shady deals and characters but understandably at the moment, she may still have some hesitation to tell all against these very powerful people."
The committee will be all ears for this tell-all, and so will the public. – Rappler.com