Pork barrel lawyers, whistleblowers wary of Cunanan
MANILA, Philippines – He is one of the major reasons why pork barrel whistleblower Benhur Luy split with his counsel, Levito Baligod.
Now, outgoing Technology and Resource Center chief Dennis Cunanan is being regarded more as a liability than an asset in the ongoing pork barrel case.
On Friday, lawyers for the whistleblowers met with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in an effort to put their act together following Cunanan’s appearance before the Senate blue ribbon committee the day before.
“Among others, like expanding the benefits under the Witness Protection Program, we also talked about Cunanan’s testimony and the contradiction it presented with regards to Luy’s testimony,” one of the lawyers said.
The lawyers also sought to impress on De Lima that other witnesses aside from Luy are also wary of Cunanan, who maintained that he did not receive any kickback from alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Luy had said that Napoles instructed him to prepare P960,000 when Cunanan visited the JLN Corp office at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas one time. He told Senate probers that Cunanan left the office carrying the bag containing the money.
Cunanan has denied receiving any kickback.
"Kung meron ako (kickback), bakit 'di ko gagawin ngayon (return it now)? Ang daling gawin. Sa konsensya ko, mahirap umamin ng 'di totoo," Cunanan said during the Senate hearing. (If I got kickbacks, why won't I turn them over now? It's so easy to do. In my conscience, it's so hard to admit something that is not true.)
The conflicting statements raise the spectacle of one witness and one “provisional” witness having conflicting versions of a story.
Baligod said Cunanan’s testimony directly links Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada to the scam. Cunanan said he talked to both senators over the phone, with the two even admonishing him for supposedly "delaying" the release of their pork barrel funds for the Napoles NGOs.
Lawyers for the whistleblowers said Cunanan’s testimony on Thursday achieved the contrary: he weakened instead of strengthened the pork barrel case.
In denying he was an active participant, Cunanan said his actions showing he sought to blacklist NGOs linked to Napoles from TRC transactions prove he did not benefit from the scam.
But during the hearing, when asked by Senator Grace Poe if he had visited the JLN Corp office, Cunanan said he was unsure, but likely could have in the process of inspection.
Whistleblowers watching the Senate proceedings on television quickly reacted, pointing out that none of the NGOs linked to Napoles had addresses identical to that of the JLN Corp office. “Why would he inspect an office not indicated in the NGO papers? What was his purpose there?” one of the lawyers asked.
One of the lawyers, analyzing Cunanan’s testimony, pointed out the following:
- His testimony, while providing a piece of the pork barrel puzzle, does not prove there was plunder committed by the lawmakers
- Cunanan did not offer anything new to the pork barrel chain of evidence, since what he brought up can be corroborated by the official documents
- In the pork barrel case, the crime was the commission of the kickback and Cunanan’s testimony was silent on this one
While Cunanan claimed that Revilla and Estrada followed up the release of their pork barrel funds to the non-governmental organizations used as fronts by Napoles in her kickback-in-exchange-for-pork barrel scheme, “that is not a crime under the Plunder Law,” the lawyer pointed out. “Where is the crime there? Where is the irregularity?”
The fact that the senators handpicked the recipient NGOs as Cunanan stressed, does not also prove that money changed hands.
Cunanan also did not put anything new on the table when he testified to the authenticity of the lawmakers' signatures.
“There is presumption of regularity in the documents and it is up to the defense to say prove otherwise. It is not the function of the prosecution,” the lawyer said.
Compared to another "provisional" witness Ruby Tuason, Cunanan’s testimony did not say whether any kickbacks were received by the senators. “In other words, his testimony has no value,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer said Cunanan had been knocking on the doors of the Department of Justice to be accepted as state witness as early as September last year and his refusal to admit that he got kickbacks from Napoles had been the bone of contention.
Reports surfaced earlier that Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano wanted Cunanan to return around P5 million in ill-gotten wealth. – Rappler.com