MANILA, Philippines – Senator Jinggoy Estrada admitted to many of middleman-turned-whistleblower Ruby Tuason’s statements, confirming he had met with her in his office in the Senate, that he called her up after the scam was exposed last year, and that he mingled with alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
But he said her allegation that he worked directly with Napoles is a “total lie”
In his cramped Senate office, Estrada held a last-minute press conference on Thursday, February 13, after the Senate blue ribbon committee heard Tuason’s testimony about her knowledge of and involvement in the multi-billion pork barrel scam wherein Napoles allegedly connived with lawmakers to channel their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her bogus non-governmental organizations in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
Before he faced the media, Estrada laid back on his chair, his eyes on his television as he monitored the news. He smoked a few sticks of cigarettes.
Estrada denied ever receiving bags of money from Tuason, which she said she personally delivered to him in his office at the Senate and at his home in Greenhills, San Juan. (READ: I brought heavy bags of cash to Jinggoy)
“I have said it before and I am saying it again, I have not asked nor received any kickbacks or commissions from Mrs. Tuason. Again, I reiterate my request to the Senate leadership to check and immediately make public the CCTV footages wherein Mrs. Tuason allegedly delivered money to me in the basement parking of this building,” he said on Thursday, February 13.
“As to her testimony that I directly dealt with Mrs. Janet Napoles regarding my PDAF, that is a total lie. I never had any dealings with Mrs. Napoles, either directly or indirectly regarding my PDAF,” he added.
While Estrada denied any close ties with Napoles, during the interview, Estrada slipped and called Janet, “Jenny,” but quickly corrected himself. “I never asked for Jenny… Janet’s phone number [from Tuason],” he said.
Sandwich, not cash
In her testimony, Tuason said she delivered kickbacks worth millions of pesos in bags to Estrada in 2004 and 2008. Twice in 2008, she said she went to the Senate to deliver the cash to him herself.
Tuason said she often passed through the basement to avoid the metal detectors out front, and was met by Estrada’s staff members who escorted her to Estrada’s office. She said she did not know the names of his staff but said she could identify them if she saw their photos.
Tuason then pointed to two staff members from the Senate yearbook, who were later identified by the Senate as Alfredo de los Reyes and a certain “Tani.” Estrada admitted the two worked for him. (READ: Tuason tags another ex-aide of senators in scam)
He said De los Reyes was his personal driver, while Tani was a member of his security team.
“Two of the members of my staff were mentioned during the hearing. I have said in my previous interviews that I send either my driver or my security to assist Mrs. Tuason in bringing the snacks to my office. Let me stress that no money or kickback was ever delivered to me by Mrs. Tuason in my residence or in my Senate office or in any other venue and at any time,” he said.
“And if ever my staff will be invited by the committee, I will not prevent them from appearing.”
Estrada also said he had Tuason escorted to help her carry food which she often brought for him for merienda. He said they had one-on-one time but insisted she brought him sandwiches, not bags of cash.
Estrada also questioned the accuracy of Tuason’s testimony.
He scoffed at Tuason’s appearance at the Senate hearing, saying she “crumbled” during her testimony.
“It is quite obvious from Mrs. Tuason’s body language and her replies from the questions propounded on her as well as the information shared to the committee that she had no recollection of events on her own,” he said.
“As seen on live national television, she [had] to confer with Benhur Luy and constantly referred to her affidavit and other papers to answer the questions from the senators. If she is really telling the truth, why can’t she recall such instances from her own memory and not rely from written statement? Mrs. Tuason is merely being fed all these information.”
Estrada also doubted Tuason’s statements that she came back because of an all-consuming guilt that was amplified when she saw the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Estrada said Tuason was an “aristocrat” with no genuine regard for the poor.
Instead, he said he thinks the reason Tuason is coming clean is because he didn’t help her out when she asked for money.
At the hearing, Tuason said Estrada called her up when she fled to the United States after the exposé. She said she asked Estrada for help and support in finding a lawyer but never asked for cash. Estrada did not deny the call, but insisted she asked him for money.
The senator said he thinks this was what triggered Tuason’s anger, which caused her to testify against him.
“Don’t use the people of Yolanda as an excuse,” he said, addressing Tuason. “Start helping the poor.”
Guingona’s ‘offensive foul’
Despite what he called a useless testimony, however, Estrada said he has no plans to file legal charges against his “Tita Ruby,” who was the social secretary of his father, former President Joseph Estrada.
Estrada also hit his fellow senator TG Guingona, who chairs the blue ribbon committee, for his alleged bias and remarks, even before Tuason started her testimony.
Guingona used basketball metaphors to praise Tuason’s testimony, called it a “3-point shot” and a “buzzer beater” before she even delivered her testimony. Estrada lashed back, calling Guingona’s handling of the hearing an “offensive foul.”
“He already judged and accepted the statement of Mrs. Tuason even if there was no basis or evidence aside from her word. He swayed his fellow senators just to be able to shoot or score some point in his early politicking,” he said. – Rappler.com