MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The fiercest critics of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile tried but failed to get socialite Ruby Tuason to directly pin him to the pork barrel scam.
Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Alan Peter Cayetano asked Tuason about Enrile’s knowledge of the kickbacks she gave his resigned chief of staff Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, but the potential state witness was unsure.
While Tuason testified that she personally gave bags of cash to Senator Jinggoy Estrada, she only went as far as saying that Reyes received kickbacks on Enrile’s behalf.
Enrile, who turns 90 years old on Friday, February14, could not be directly linked to any active participation in the pork barrel scam, as Tuason said she never got to talk with him about his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or his kickbacks.
“He never talked to me about his PDAF or his kickbacks,” Tuason said of Enrile.
“I can only presume Senator Enrile knows the transactions with Attorney Gigi,” Tuason told Trillanes.
Trillanes pressed Tuason to implicate Enrile, saying he was convinced she was not telling the whole truth. “Medyo kulang ho eh (Your testimony is lacking). You’re a smart, sophisticated woman. I know you know more than this but I understand your hesitation [to tell all].”
While he praised Tuason for spilling the beans on her principals, Trillanes observed that Tuason’s affidavit lacked details to complete the entire picture.
The senator, an avowed arch-enemy of Enrile, asked whether Enrile or Reyes knew how much in kickbacks were being handed to them for every delivery, or whether they were fully aware that these were kickbacks from the pork barrel.
“Those details are missing…try to recall as much as you can from all these transactions,” Trillanes said.
Trillanes asked her, “Alam ba ni Senator Enrile ang mga transaksyon ninyo kay Gigi?” (Does Senator Enrile know about your transactions with Gigi?)
Tuason responded, “Sa dami ho nito, siguro meron siyang inkling.” (With the numerous transactions, he might have had an inkling.)
Trillanes said, “Inkling? That’s what I’m saying. I admire your courage [for testifying] but you are already here.”
Tuason though said that Reyes had many “powers” in her office. “Because she is authorized. There is an [authorization] letter for her.”
Trillanes eventually said that Tuason’s presumption that Enrile knew of the transactions was “good enough.”
Only a real estate transaction
In her testimony before the Senate blue ribbon committee on Thursday, February 13, Tuason affirmed her affidavit that she personally delivered cash to Reyes at the Senate and in restaurants in Makati and Taguig, supposedly representing Enrile’s commissions from scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Napoles, Tuason, Enrile, Estrada, and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr face a plunder complaint for allegedly conniving to transfer pork barrel funds to fake Napoles’ non-governmental organizations in exchange for commissions.
Tuason said she met with Enrile only twice, when he picked up Reyes after their restaurant meetings and they would all have coffee after.
Enrile himself said on Monday that he indeed met Tuason once, but they talked about a possible real estate transaction, not his PDAF. (READ: Enrile: Property, not pork, discussed with Tuason)
Napoles, Reyes, and the fertilizer fund scam
Tuason narrated that she and Reyes had been friends even before the socialite met Napoles in 2004. She said Reyes initially did not want to transact with Napoles.
“There was a Senate hearing on the fertilizer fund scam and [then Agriculture Undersecretary] Joc-Joc Bolante. Mrs Napoles was afraid to be called. She didn’t stop bugging me until I introduced her to Gigi Reyes so she can explain her side,” Tuason said.
Tuason narrated that Reyes and Napoles eventually became good friends, and Enrile and Reyes allegedly dealt directly with the mastermind. She said she got commissions of 1.5% to 5% as a “go-between” during the time she was part of the transactions.
“Ganoon si Mrs Napoles. When she can take out the middle person, diretso na siya.”(That’s how Mrs Napoles is. When she can take out the middle person, she would go directly to the person.)
Principal whistle blower Benhur Luy’s ledger showed Tuason receiving kickbacks at least a dozen times from 2006 to 2008, the last batch of which amounted to P20 million. (In Luy’s ledger, the original go-between appeared to be her late husband, Carlos “Butch” Tuason, who received a total of P3 million for Enrile’s PDAF way back in 2004).
Enrile-Reyes relationship ‘common knowledge’
Cayetano also tried to get Tuason to incriminate Enrile, this time using his rumored affair with Reyes. “Isn’t it that the relationship of Attorney Gigi and Senator Enrile is common knowledge? She talked about it openly, that she would go to his house, have lunch there.”
The majority leader tried to use Reyes’ lifestyle to pin down Enrile. He even asked Tuason about the designer bags that Reyes had, and her 50th birthday bash.
Principal whistleblower Benhur Luy said, “Alam ko si Mrs Napoles nagbayad ng party na ‘yun.” (I know Mrs Napoles paid for that party.)
Cayetano remarked, “Quite lavish.”
Tuason though still did not confirm if Enrile was in on the scheme. Cayetano echoed Trillanes that Tuason has to give more details in her testimony.
While their colleagues were not totally convinced by Tuason’s testimony, Santiago and Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said she was a credible witness. (READ: Tuason perfect state witness – Miriam)
Santiago said Enrile’s guilt was shown in his silence when he picked up Reyes during the meetings, adding that it implied consent.
No direct link to Enrile
Guingona conceded that Tuason’s testimony did not show a direct link to Enrile.
“In my opinion, it just clearly establishes the link to the chief of staff, Gigi Reyes. She didn’t say anything to the effect that Senator Enrile knew about it. She even said they did not talk about it.”
Guingona though said there is circumstantial evidence of Enrile’s involvement. “Bear in mind that events and testimonies are still unfolding and this is not going to be the last hearing.”
Like Santiago, Guingona called Tuason’s testimony strong even if she admitted she had no record of the transactions. She said the whistleblowers corroborated her account.
“It’s not he said, she said. It’s a positive assertion corroborated by several witnesses and that makes it highly credible. It can stand alone. The strongest piece, mode of evidence is testimony because it’s the person herself who is saying ‘I personally gave the money,’” Guingona said.
Asked about Tuason’s failure to recall specific amounts and dates, Guingona said, “This is not an exercise in memory. This is an exercise in finding out the truth.”
“What is clear is she distinctly remembers handing over money. Of course, she doesn’t remember how much. Of course, she doesn’t remember the dates. She might be a robot if she remembers everything.” – with Aries Rufo/Rappler.com