MANILA, Philippines – The alleged mastermind of the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam was fond of celebrities, and often bugged her friends to introduce her to influential people.
But once Janet Lim Napoles personally met the people she needed, the middlemen were all but forgotten. (READ: Madame Jenny: Woman in the eye of the storm)
This was how whistleblower and government witness Ruby Tuason described Napoles and her dealings with the so-called pork barrel queen. Tuason said she met Napoles in 2004 when her ex-husband, Butch Tuason, introduced Napoles as a potential buyer of her Bel-Air home.
Tuason, who served as the social secretary of former president Joseph Estrada, became Napoles' "go-between" to Sen Jinggoy Estrada, who agreed to funnel his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to her bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in exchange for hefty kickbacks. (READ: I brought heavy bags of cash to Jinggoy)
Tuason said she also got 5% commission by being his agent, "less withholding tax."
"I didn't know the 'withholding' was Napoles," she said, clarifying the money did not go to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) but to Napoles' pockets. Tuason estimated her total earnings from her commissions at P40 million, which she vowed to return to government.
Tuason said after she introduced Napoles to Estrada at the wake of actor Rudy Fernandez in 2008, she was no longer contacted or used as a middleman. Napoles and Estrada, she said, started working directly with each other.
"That's her style," Tuason said.
'She's something else'
Since then, Tuason said Napoles and Estrada got "close." She narrated seeing them together, citing a dinner at Polo Club and a party they all attended, wherein she saw the two mingling.
"I went out there (to the smoking area), I saw them, they were having fun there. That's where she would stay," Tuason recalled. "That's when I was able to confirm na diretso na sila (they dealt with each other directly)."
The socialite painted a picture of a greedy Napoles who tried to earn as much money from the scam as possible.
"Sometimes she would really not give [me] the commission because she said nalugi siya (she was shortchanged), but how would i know if it's lugi?," Tuason said, adding Napoles often made those claims "just so she would't give all of it."
"She is something else," Tuason added.
Tuason also narrated a time in 2011 – 3 years since she last played the role of Estrada's agent – when Napoles' personal assistant-turned-whistleblower Benhur Luy came to her house, asking her for money.
"[Napoles] was trying to collect from me. She had already paid me and the senator then she would say it didn't push through," she said.
Luy corroborated Tuason's story.
"Madame's instruction was to tell [Tuason] that the transaction did not happen so she needed to return the money," Luy said. "So I told Ma'am Ruby, P45 million [project] of the Department of Agriculture didn't push through."
Tuason, he said, did not believe her, adding "the time in between was so long when they hadn't talked." Luy said he realized Tuason was no longer working as an agent for Estrada at that point.
"She said, 'Benhur ayoko na. Ayoko na ng ganyan' (I don't want to do that anymore)," Luy said.
He said he no longer insisted to get the money from Tuason because he "knew the project went through."
"That's what happens with Madame. When kaaway niya na, papalabas niya na hindi na natuloy (when she no longer likes you, she will make it seem like past projects did not go through)," he said.
Tuason and Reyes
Tuason said this was the same thing that happened with Napoles and Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. She said she served as a go-between of Enrile and Napoles "around 2004 or early 2005."
Tuason said she often met with Enrile's chief of staff Gigi Reyes at restaurants in Makati and Fort, Taguig City, adding she sometimes gave the money to the driver of Reyes, or would give it to her at the restaurant. Tuason said she does not remember the amount she delivered to Reyes.
She also admitted, "Senator Enrile never talked to me about his PDAF, his kickbacks, he never talked to me about anything."
Tuason said Enrile joined them "a couple of times" for coffee, or sometimes he would pick up Reyes after dinner.
But after she introduced Reyes to Napoles sometime in 2008, "again, diretso na (they worked directly)."
Napoles loved celebrities
Tuason also said Napoles was fond of actors and meeting them, so much so that at Fernandez's wake, Napoles prepared some food at her mother's crypt in Taguig, which was across the site of Fernandez's wake.
"She catered at her mom's so that the actors would pass there. She'd offer them food. Via Mare pa," she said referring to an expensive restaurant.
One of the actors Napoles knew was Mat Ranillo. Ranillo was close to Pauline Labayen, a staff member of Estrada.
It was Ranillo who allegedly introduced Napoles to Labayen. Luy said Napoles offered Ranillo a commission, and even gave him an SUV. Eventually, Napoles and Ranillo had a falling out, and Napoles started dealing directly with Labayen.
"They had a problem because Madame wanted to get rid of Sir Matt so she could go straight to Ma'am Pauline," Luy said.
Napoles then filed a civil case against Ranillo, over his failure to pay for the vehicle she had given him.
As evidence, Ranillo submitted vouchers from Napoles to the court, that recorded the kickbacks Ranillo received from Napoles. The vouchers were all signed, which Luy said made Napoles nervous.
"She ordered us to make new vouchers to make it seem that Ranillo's were not official and made up," he said.
Eventually, Ranillo and Napoles settled the case and the civil dispute was forgotten. The Department of Justice said it would start probing Ranillo and his involvement in the scam. - Rappler.com