Poe on Cunanan: Who needs weak witness?

Angela Casauay
Spotting inconsistencies in the TRC chief's testimony, the senator says: 'The last thing we would like is for another witness to poke holes on the testimony of other star witnesses'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “The last thing we would like is for another witness to poke holes on the testimony of other star witnesses.”

In the 10th Senate blue ribbon hearing on the pork barrel scam Thursday, March 6, Senator Grace Poe cautioned the justice department over admitting Technology Resource Center Director General Dennis Cunanan as a state witness in the biggest corruption case in the country’s recent history.

Poe was primarily concerned that Cunanan’s blanket denial that he did not benefit from the multi-billion-peso scam contradicts the detailed testimony of star whistleblower and only state witness Benhur Luy that the TRC chief possibly received a bagful of cash from alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

The senator also retorted a number of times whenever Cunanan claimed almost total innocence about how deals involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers worked.

Cunanan is a co-respondent of Napoles, senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, and several other congressmen and government agency heads in a plunder complaint filed by the justice department before the Sandiganbayan. They are accused of siphoning off billions in lawmakers’ PDAF, with the lawmakers endorsing to agencies the fake NGOs of Napoles as beneficiaries of funds – giving commissions to everybody along the way.

Cash in a paper bag

“Mayroong dahilan kung bakit gusto kong sabihing salungat, dahil hindi matandaan ni Mr Cunanan kung siya ay pumunta doon sa Discovery. Pangalawa, sinasabi niya na hindi totoo ‘yung iba na sinasabi mo (Benhur),” Poe said. (There’s a reason why I’m saying [the testimonies are] contradicting because Mr Cunanan could not remember whether he went to Discovery. Secondly, he’s saying some of your claims are not true.)

In his affidavit, Luy said Cunanan was among the head of implementing agencies who received kickbacks from the pork barrel scam, while Cunanan insisted his involvement in the release of funds was “ministerial” in his capacity as then deputy director general. 

During the hearing, Cunanan could not make a categorical statement on whether he indeed visited Napoles’ office in Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Cunanan said: Nire-recollect nga po namin ang situation. Most likely na may chance na may once na part ng inspection na ginagawa namin sa mga institution na nag-iimplement [ng PDAF-funded projects]. (I am recollecting the situation. Most likely, there’s a chance I did that as part of the inspections we do for institutions that implement the PDAF-funded projects.)

Poe asked: So hindi kayo sigurado, ‘maari’ sabi mo? Hindi mo matandaan ang pagpunta sa JLN? So ano ang nangyari sa pera na sinasabi ni Benhur Luy na naibigay daw dapat sa inyo, hindi ‘nyo natanggap ‘yun? (So you are not sure, ‘maybe’, you said? You can’t remember visiting JLN? So what happened to the money that Benhur Luy said was given to you, you didn’t receive it?)

Cunanan said: Your honor, hindi po (no).

Answering questions from Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, however, Luy recounted an incident when he was asked by Napoles to prepare P960,000 for Cunanan, who was scheduled to visit the Napoles’ Discovery Suites office. 

Luy said he saw Cunanan but did not personally talk to him. Luy handed the money in a paper bag to Napoles and his co-employee, Evelyn de Leon, who dealt with the TRC head. 

Asked whether he saw Cunanan receive the money, Luy said: “After po [ng meeting], ‘yung paper bag, nakita ko po siya bitbit niya.” (After the meeting, I saw him carrying the paper bag.) 

Watch Poe question Cunanan on his statements.

Unaware of illegal PDAF transactions?

Senators implicated in the pork barrel scam have maintained that the responsibility to verify the legitimacy of NGOs fell on the hands of implementing agencies such as the TRC. 

Cunanan said there was a presumption of regularity on the part of implementing agencies and his office did not have the capacity to determine whether the PDAF transactions were bogus.

Wala po kaming kapasidad at that time na malaman kung anomalous ang isang transaction. Hindi tulad ngayon. Ngayon, we have to extra carefully check all the transactions,” he said. 

(We didn’t have the capacity at that time to determine whether transactions were anomalous. Not like now. Now, we have to carefully check all the transactions.)

Poe, however, noted that Cunanan could not claim innocence regarding PDAF dealings since he once served as the staff member of a former leader of the House of Representatives. 

“With all due respect sir, iyan ang claim mo na merong presumption of regularity lalong lalo na kung bago ka sa gobyerno, maaring mayroon kang presumption of regularity pero ang haba na ng pinanggalingan mo, ikaw ay nagtrabaho na rin sa tanggapan ng Speaker ng Kongreso,” Poe said. 

(With all due respect sir, your claim that there is a presumption regularity, especially if you’re new in government, maybe there’s a presumption of regularity but with your extensive background, you also worked in the office of the House Speaker.)

Compared with Ruby Tuason

Poe asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was also present at the hearing, to scrutinize Cunanan’s testimony more closely in the face of contradictions. 

“The last thing we would like – and I think the people don’t deserve this – is for another witness to poke holes on the testimony of other star witnesses,” Poe said. 

Poe compared Cunanan to another provisional state witness Ruby Tuason, who has admitted to her culpability and offered to return the money she earned from the PDAF scam.

Hindi ko sinasabi na perpekto ang testimonya ng iba, pero may pag-amin na malinaw at may boluntaryong pagsasauli. Sana naman, may kasabihan nga, ‘wag tayo sanang mapuwing sa sarili nating alikabok or tamaan ng sarili nating kidlat,” Poe said. 

(I’m not saying the other witnesses’ testimonies are perfect, but there is a clear admission and voluntary forfeiture. I hope, as the saying goes, we don’t hurt our eyes by our own dust motes or get hit by our own lightning.)

De Lima, however, defended the justice department’s decision to accept Cunanan as a provisional state witness. She said “forfeiture is not a precondition for one turning state witness.”

Besides, it is up to the Ombudsman to decide whether Cunanan would be accepted as state witness, she said.

“Ang pananaw po namin dito, naniniwala ba kami sa istorya nila? (Our view is, do we believe their story?) Of course we can’t guarantee 100% because we’re not yet the court,” she said. “As investigators, more or less we know how to gague if the story is credible or plausible.”

Cunanan’s background

Cunanan’s credibility was further questioned when senators brought up inaccuracies in his stated educational background and his lifestyle.

Poe asked Cunanan why his profile on the TRC website made no mention of the fact that he graduated from Lacson College. His profile says he was a “graduate of Executive Leadership Development of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government,” a month-long course. 

Cunanan entered the University of the Philippines as an undergraduate student but failed to finish his degree after exceeding the maximum years of residency allowed. 

Cunanan said he had nothing to do with the profile. “Your honor, when we updated our website, it was our team in the office who created that. I am just hearing that now, otherwise, I could have called their attention,” Cunanan said. 

Newsbreak earlier reported that Cunanan was forced to resign from the Commission on Higher Education after it was discovered that he had not disclosed that he didn’t finish college. He was transferred by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the Technology and Livelihood Resource Center, now TRC.

Earlier, ABS-CBN reported Cunanan resides in an executive village in Quezon City and used a government service car on which he placed a private plate. Cunanan told the Senate committee that the house belonged to his brother. 

Despite this, Poe said she still finds it hard to believe Cunanan could afford to live in such a house given his salary of P63,000 a month. Poe also said she did not believe Cunanan’s claim that his monthly electric bill only reached P10,000 a month. 

Cunanan, however said, they used economy savers for their appliances and made conscious efforts to save power. 

‘Tell all’

Poe urged Cunanan to tell all, especially since he will already be immune from criminal prosecution once he becomes state witness. 

But Cunanan is adamant that he did not receive any money from PDAF. 

Early in the hearing, Cunanan said, answering questions from Senator Francis Escudero: “Sa konsensiya ko po at sa konsensiya ng pamilya ko, mahirap pong umamin nang hindi totoo.” (In my conscience and my family’s conscience, it is hard to admit to something untrue.)

In a press conference Thursday, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said she still found Cunanan as a credible witness despite his inconsistencies. 

“What muddles the issue is he’s trying to prove he’s innocent, but in my judge’s mind, it’s possible a witness may be false on some aspects of his testimony but might be credited with truth-telling in the major aspects of his testimony. In other words telling not the whole truth. That does not cancel his entire testimony,” she said. Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.