MANILA, Philippines – Senator Francis Escudero dismissed criticism that the justice department’s decision to accept Dennis Cunanan as a potential state witness is a sign that its pork barrel scam case is weak.
Escudero said the director general-on-leave of the state firm Technology Resource Center (TRC) provided information that builds on the whistleblowers’ testimonies and can strengthen the case against the senators implicated in the controversy.
The TRC was among the implementing agencies that cornered the biggest chunk of pork barrel funds allegedly funneled to fake non-governmental organizations of scam mastermind Janet Napoles. The other agencies were the National Agribusiness Corp (Nabcor) and ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp (ZREC).
“This is the first time a government official from the TRC came forward. No one from ZREC, NABCOR, DA, DAR came forward before. This is the first time a government official said a senator called him or he called the senator to confirm [the transaction] so the testimony of [Cunanan] has a unique standing on that matter,” Escudero said in Filipino on radio DZBB on Sunday, February 23.
The senator is a member of the Senate blue ribbon committee, which is investigating the scam.
Escudero said Cunanan’s affidavit addresses the response of senators implicated in the scam that their signatures were forged, and that they did not endorse Napoles NGOs.
“The testimony serves to strengthen or tighten the case but it doesn’t mean the case was weak in the first place. [Its purpose] is as a response, rebuttal or rejoinder to the statements of some of the accused,” he added.
In his affidavit submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Cunanan said he personally called Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, and lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes to verify signatures and endorsement letters relating to pork barrel funds. Reyes was the chief of staff of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
Cunanan even cited an instance where Revilla supposedly “pressured” his agency to expedite the release of funds.
Yet Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon said Friday that the justice department’s decision to accept Cunanan as a “provisional state witness” showed that its case against his client was weak.
“Realizing how weak their case is against the senator, they have again resorted to fabricated testimonies that cannot be substantiated by any credible evidence,” Bodegon said. “Is it that easy to escape liability in three plunder cases? Just say you received a phone call and that’s it?”
Bodegon added that like the whistleblowers, Cunanan is among the most guilty and was part of “the syndicate that sourced, handled and pocketed the funds.”
As for Estrada, the senator denied knowing and talking to Cunanan.
While he saw the value of Cunanan’s testimony, Escudero said it is the Ombudsman’s decision whether or not to drop him from the list of accused.
Cunanan, Revilla, Estrada, Enrile and Napoles face a plunder complaint over the scam. The Ombudsman is conducting preliminary investigation into the case.
The DOJ’s decision to accept Cunanan’s testimony comes after it declared socialite Ruby Tuason a “provisional state witness” for offering to testify against Estrada and Reyes in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
‘Cunanan should face Senate’
Escudero also supported the resolution of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago calling on the blue ribbon committee to summon Cunanan to its investigation.
“The difference with Cunanan talking to the DOJ and Ombudsman is the public does not hear it. The opportunity for the public to hear him is through a Senate hearing,” Escudero said.
Senator Bam Aquino agreed. “The value of his testimony is for the DOJ and the Ombudsman to decide on but like many Filipinos, I do want to hear his testimony,” Aquino said in a text message to Rappler.
Escudero also said that his colleagues also want to invite Tuason again to answer more questions on the scam. Tuason first faced the panel last February 13.
Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III has yet to respond to queries on whether or not his panel will summon Cunanan and invite Tuason again.
Like Tuason’s testimony, Cunanan’s sworn statements divided players in the case.
Stephen Cascolan, lawyer for some of the whistleblowers, did not welcome Cunanan’s testimony, saying the TRC chief refused to admit receiving kickbacks from the scam.
Principal whistleblower Benhur Luy said Cunanan was one of the officials who received rebates from Napoles.
Cunanan though said that former TRC Director General Alan Ortiz bypassed him in all pork barrel scam matters when he was deputy director general of the agency from 2004 to 2010.
He said he only found out about the extent of the transactions involved when he headed the TRC in 2010.
Cunanan went on leave after he and the TRC were implicated in the scam last year. The TRC is under the Department of Science and Technology. – Rappler.com
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