De Lima: Tuason has no immunity yet in Malampaya scam

Buena Bernal

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De Lima: Tuason has no immunity yet in Malampaya scam
Ruby Tuason's immunity from prosecution covers only criminal charges in relation to the PDAF scam
ONLY PDAF. Pork barrel scam whistleblower Ruby Tuason turns over a manager's check worth P40 million to the government in the presence of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. De Lima says her immunity only covers the PDAF scam. Photo handout from the Office of the Ombudsman

MANILA, Philippines – Any liability socialite-turned-witness Ruby Tuason may have in the cases resulting from the probe on the Malampaya fund scam will not be covered by her immunity from criminal prosecution.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima said Friday, May 2, that Tuason’s immunity only covers criminal charges in relation to the multi-million-peso diversion of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to bogus projects of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) associated with Janet Lim Napoles.

Wala pa siyang immunity sa Malampaya kasi ie-evaluate din ‘yun… Kasi iba naman iyang mga kaso na iyan,” De Lima said. (She doesn’t have immunity in the Malampaya cases, because that will still be evaluated … because those are different cases.) 

The Malampaya fund consists of proceeds from the natural gas operation off the shores of Palawan. Contested until now before the Supreme Court for the sharing scheme between the national and local governments, it became a huge discretionary fund of the Office of the President under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Portions of it were released to agencies whose works were totally unrelated to energy development, and were siphoned off to the Napoles NGOs.

The cases on the Malampaya fund scam have yet to be filed before the Sandiganbayan, pending evaluation of the Ombudsman. 

Tuason is a respondent in two plunder cases filed by the DOJ with the Ombudsman: one over the misuse of senators’ PDAF; another, over the scheme to divert the Malampaya fund to fake NGOs.

According to De Lima, Tuason mentioned in her affidavit a person who collected commissions from the energy fund. De Lima earlier said this person “would lead you to Jess Santos,” the trusted lawyer of then First Gentleman Jose Miguel Tuason Arroyo.

The Ombudsman on Friday granted Tuason prosecutorial immunity in the PDAF scam, after she returned the P40 million (around US$898,574*) she allegedly acquired as conduit for Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s transactions with Napoles. Tuason issued a check payable to the Republic of the Philippines. The money will go directly to the national treasury.

Tuason’s testimony, regarded as “slam dunk” evidence by the DOJ, implicates Senators Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile as recipients of kickbacks from the PDAF scam. Tuason said the latter received his share through his former chief of staff lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, now back in the country to face her charges.

(Read below Tuason’s affidavit submitted to the Ombudsman)

Meeting with whistleblowers

Earlier in the day, De Lima met with whistleblowers in the PDAF scam cases – an event she said was “very cordial.”

Stephen Cascolan, one of the lawyers for the whistleblowers, said they fully support the continuing efforts of the DOJ to validate the testimony of Napoles. 

Napoles submitted to the DOJ her first sworn statement detailing what she knew of the PDAF scam during a closed-door meeting at her hospital room on April 21. The DOJ team has since returned for a follow-up session with Napoles to validate and get more of her testimony, following her surgery.

Raji Mendoza, lawyer of principal whistleblower Benhur Luy, said they will be cooperating in the validation of Napoles’ testimony and the DOJ’s quest for truth

De Lima earlier said there is no conflict so far between the testimony of Napoles and the whistleblowers. She added that there might be details about the scam only known to Napoles, making her testimony crucial in putting together the bigger picture. 

Other state witness applicants

Authorities are still evaluating the testimonies of Napoles and Technology Resource Center director general Dennis Cunanan. 

Napoles’ testimony has yet to be completed, since her initial session with the DOJ did not cover everything she knows of the scam. The DOJ is keen on acquiring Napoles’ full testimony in writing

Prior to her initial meeting with the DOJ, Napoles was seen as the brains behind the scam. She has since denied this. 

Cunanan’s testimony was already submitted to the Ombudsman for evaluation. 

Provisional state witness Cunanan implicated Senators Enrile, Estrada, and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr in his testimony

Unlike Tuason, Cunanan refused to admit any involvement in the PDAF scam, saying he did his best to vet the PDAF-funded projects coursed through TRC

Cunanan denied receiving kickbacks, following public outcry that he had to return money he gained from the scam.

Cunanan even said he is willing to go through a lifestyle check to have his claim validated, challenging Estrada, Enrile, and Revilla to do the same–

*US$1 = P44.5150 

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