De Lima slams Jinggoy for 'barking up the wrong tree'
MANILA, Philippines – The word war continues.
Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday, March 13, said Senator Jinggoy Estrada is "barking up the wrong tree" when he claimed that he and the two other senators facing plunder complaints in relation to the pork barrel scam are being tried by publicity.
She also defended the Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano – whom the senator was apparently referring to in his speech – from allegations that he is tasked to recruit and coach witnesses who will pin down the 3 opposition senators.
The publicity is "not brought about by the DOJ, but the very nature of the subject matter," De Lima said, adding that "a stonewall of silence on the part of government will ultimately be a disservice to the national and public interest."
Senators Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, and Juan Ponce Enrile are facing plunder complaints before the Ombudsman for allegedly receiving kickbacks from channeling their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs served in paper as PDAF beneficiaries and project implementors.
On Wednesday, Estrada delivered a privilege speech tagging as "amateurish and sloppy" the case build-up on the scam. Citing documented information, the senator cast doubt on the character and credibility of DOJ's witnesses against the senators. (READ: FULL TEXT: Jinggoy on 'polluted' witnesses Cunanan, Tuason)
De Lima said it was the Senate blue ribbon committee – which summoned DOJ witnesses to testify – that brought the investigation "before the bar of public opinion." The Senate is conducting its probe into the scam in aid of legislation. Hearings are televised and streamed live online.
The probe, she said, "is unraveling as expected."
'Witnessses are not coached'
De Lima challenged Estrada to name his sources when the senator said in his privilege speech that a DOJ undersecretary is pressuring witnesses to pin him, Revilla Jr, and Enrile down.
Estrada on Thursday dropped hints on the identity of the DOJ undersecretary, calling the DOJ official "Usec Mustache" or "Usec Daniel Smith."
Undersecretary Justiniano was known as the lawyer for US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith in the Subic rape case. He was also a private prosecutor in the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona before being appointed to the DOJ.
In his interview with radio DWIZ, Estrada rejected De Lima’s call for him to name his sources, saying they will be under fire. “Hayaan mo sila mag-isip kung sino,” he said. (Let them think who it is.)
De Lima denied Estrada's allegation that witnesses in the PDAF scam are being coached to the extent that their testimonies are manipulated to benefit the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
"The DOJ and the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) have no say on the political personalities the whistleblowers and government witnesses implicate in their testimonies," De Lima said.
Estrada, Revilla Jr, and Enrile are all members of the opposition.
Tuason, Cunanan aren't polluted
Tuason's testimony tagged the 3 senators as recipients of kickbacks from the multi-million-peso pork barrel scam, while Cunanan's testimony tagged them as having authorized the release of funds to the fake NGOs.
Both Tuason and Cunanan, however, fell short directly linking Enrile to the scam. His former chief of staff Gigi Reyes, they said, made the transactions on his behalf.
Estrada on Wednesday zeroed in on the lifestyle of the two provisional state witnesses to discredit them.
He said Tuason has several properties and a business funded by commissions from scams, including proceeds from the Malampaya gas operations that Office of the President had the discretion to release to agencies. Cunanan, he said, had frequent leisure travels abroad.
On Thursday, Estrada added that he forgot to mention in his speech the other properties of potential state witness Ruby Tuason.
“I think she has a house in San Francisco, Oakland, California. She also has a property in Las Vegas, and she has another property in Palawan,” he said. – with reports from Ayee Macaraig/Rappler.com