Enrile did 'layering' in dealing with Tuason – lawyer
MANILA, Philippines – The testimony of self-confessed pork barrel bagman Ruby Tuason was hailed as "slam dunk evidence" against senators implicated in the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam, the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history.
There were expectations Tuason could draw a direct link between senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Ramon Revilla Jr to alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
But in her testimony before the Senate blue ribbon committee in February, Tuason could directly link only Estrada to the scam. She said she never dealt with Enrile directly, but only with his then chief of staff, lawyer Jessica Lucila "Gigi" Reyes.
Were critics correct that Tuason was covering up for Enrile? Her lawyer Dennis Manalo told Rappler on Thursday, March 20, that the two senators simply chose different strategies in dealing with Tuason.
'Different strokes for different folks'
While Estrada dealt with Tuason directly, Enrile chose a more careful approach – "layering," or passing the money through different people and complex transactions to obscure the origin.
"My explanation here is that it's different strokes for different folks," Manalo said on #TalkThursday with Rappler investigative editor Chay Hofileña. "Senator Estrada chose to deal directly with Mrs Tuason by receiving the money himself. With regard to Senator Enrile, he decided to use the hierarchy in his office."
Manalo added, "He wanted to use what is called in criminal litigation as layering – you would not be directly receiving money from a conduit, you will ask another person to do it for you."
But he admitted this also puts the burden on the prosecution to establish the link between Enrile and Reyes, whom Tuason said received kickbacks on the senator's behalf.
In her testimony, Tuason said she could "only presume" Enrile knew about the transactions. Tuason recalled how Enrile would sometimes join her meetings with Reyes for coffee, although the senator supposedly did not stay long and would remain silent during the meetings.
But Manalo said there is enough evidence to establish the connection between the senator and his former chief of staff – a connection only bolstered, he said, by the recent revelation by Enrile's wife that the relationship between the two goes beyond the professional.
JPE and Gigi
In a television interview, Enrile's wife Cristina revealed her husband had an affair with Reyes. The senator dismissed the claims as the "suspicions of a wife." But Manalo said the revelation "adds a little more meat" to the theory that Reyes was Enrile's conduit in the scam.
Echoing Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Manalo said Enrile's mere presence at informal meetings is enough to cast doubt on the senator's claims that he was not aware of Reyes' supposed dealings in the scam.
He said: "According to Mrs Tuason, Senator Enrile appeared in a very private moment which is having lunch and coffee in a restaurant. This is no longer an official meeting, this now becomes a personal meeting. What would Senator Enrile be doing in that kind of moment or activity? And Mrs Tuason was clear in her testimony that that meeting was precisely to deliver money."
Although some senators said Tuason's testimony is strong enough to incriminate Estrada and Enrile, the two senators downplayed the weight of her testimony.
Manalo said he coordinated with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to coordinate with the other whistleblowers in the scam. Former Napoles employees, including star witness Benhur Luy, earlier gave statements implicating the senators in the corruption scandal.
Manalo said his client's testimony is consistent with those of the other witnesses.
"It's important on my part to check and double check the factual aspects of my client’s testimony," Manalo said. "I have to determine whether my client’s statement will stand up not only against public scrutiny, but also in the eyes of the law."
Manalo also said that aside from providing direct and personal knowledge on money deliveries to the senators, Tuason also corroborates whistleblowers' statements that Napoles was the mastermind of the scam.
"What is being overlooked most of the time is she provides direct testimony on the personal delivery of funds by Janet Napoles to her," Manalo said. "That is a very crucial piece of evidence against Mrs Napoles, because it establishes that she is the source of the kickbacks or commissions."
In return for being accepted as a provisional state witness, Tuason promised to return to government the P40 million she earned in kickbacks.
Tuason left the country for Los Angeles, California, on March 2, supposedly to secure funds for the return of the promised amount. Manalo earlier said Tuason is negotiating with "people who are interested in buying [her] property" in the Philippines.
But in a privilege speech on March 12, Estrada insinuated Tuason will transfer her properties abroad to protect her wealth. He also said her house in Dasmariñas Village in Makati City, supposedly financed with kickbacks from the scam, is worth more than enough to finance the P40 million she promised to return.
He also accused Tuason of undervaluing the property, saying it cost P100 million and not P45 million. Manalo though downplayed Estrada's accusation, saying it was not related to Tuason's testimony linking them to the scam.
Asked if Estrada's claims affect Tuason's credibility – and the weight of her testimony – Manalo said a witness' credibility does not wholly depend on how spotless he or she is.
"Whenever you try to magnify a person or look at a person under the microscope, you will always see the imperfections. If you will say that we will only accept witnesses who look pretty and handsome under the microscope, then no one will pass as witnesses because nobody looks pretty or handsome under the microscope," he said.
Instead, Manalo said the proper approach would be to probe the possible shortcomings related to the topic of the testimony.
"If we're talking about the delivery of money, the attack on the person’s credibility must be on the falsity of that delivery, not on any other aspect of her life like the alleged undervaluing of the sale of her property."
When will it end?
As the Senate, the NBI, and the DOJ continue their investigation into the scam, Manalo offered an optimistic assessment of how long it will take before answers come to light.
"The fastest is 3 years," Manalo said. "It will take some time because of the 'truckload of evidence,'" he added, quoting Senator Revilla, who in an earlier privilege speech dismissed the supposed evidence against him by bringing in a toy truck as a prop.
Manalo said that once the case goes to trial, the case may move faster once the unnecessary details are eliminated, leaving only what he calls the "choice cuts, the meat of the testimony."
But he admitted the legal process is also susceptible to political influence, a scenario which he said could also affect the pork barrel scam case. He cited the trial of former President Joseph Estrada, who was convicted of plunder but given a presidential pardon almost immediately after conviction.
But Manalo said that just as political influence can affect the case, so can public opinion.
"One thing I can probably say where we could find comfort is that the political process is first and foremost determined by the electorate," he said. "The people who wield power in determining the political process are the ones voted by the people. So it's up to the people." – Rappler.com