Ex-Erap aide wants to turn state witness

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(UPDATED) Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales says, 'We will study the evidence against her, what her role was, and if she will provide material evidence' in connection with the pork barrel scam

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The woman whose testimony could pin down two senators and one resigned chief of staff in the pork barrel scam, has reportedly asked authorities to admit her as state witness in exchange for her revelations.

Two different sources have independently confirmed that Ruby Tuason, former social secretary of former President Estrada, has asked to be discharged as an accused and instead be admitted as state witness in the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam case. One of the sources is privy to the case, while the other is a member of the legal profession.

An ABS-CBN report on Friday morning, February 7, said Tuason arrived in Manila at 3:40 a.m. on board Philippine Airlines flight PR 105 from San Francisco.

Tuason faces two plunder charges before the Ombudsman – one as active conduit in the abuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund of lawmakers, and the other relating to misuse of the P900-million Malampaya Fund which was coursed through the Department of Agrarian Reform.

She has also reportedly offered to return a portion of the kickbacks she received from the alleged pork barrel mastermind, Janet Lim Napoles, as part of her counter-offer.

Asked about Tuason’s reported wish, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales refused to comment. “Until I myself am certain about it, I am not going to put in a word,” Morales said.

Asked if Tuason can qualify as state witness, Morales was cautious and refused to give a categorical answer, only saying, “We will study the evidence against her, what her role was, and if she will provide material evidence.”

The Ombudsman is a member of the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGC) which has been reactivated following the exposé on the pork barrel scandal. The IAAGC is also composed of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Commission on Audit, the Civil Service Commission, the Department of Finance, the Office of the President, and the National Bureau of Investigation.

Absolute necessity

Under the Rules of Court, an accused may turn state witness provided certain elements are satisfied. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a former trial court judge, earlier said that among the requirements is that the accused “does not appear to be the most guilty.”

The testimony of the applicant should also be of “absolute necessity” and the testimony “can be substantially corroborated in its material points.”

Tuason has been tagged by whistleblowers in the pork barrel scam as conduit for senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce-Enrile, and his former chief of staff, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes.

As conduit, Tuason allegedly collected the rebates of Estrada, Enrile and Reyes in exchange for cornering the lawmakers’ pork barrel. Reyes, for her part, allegedly facilitated the transfer of Enrile’s PDAF to non-governmental organizations reportedly used as fronts by Napoles in the pork barrel scam. (READ: Erap’s ex-aide, Ruby Tuason, to testify?)

Delivered cash in person

Sources knowledgeable about the case said Tuason had already given her testimony to the DOJ. In it, she described how she met Napoles who started an unholy partnership with the lawmakers and their representatives.

In her affidavit, Tuason reportedly confirmed the testimonies of the whistleblowers, admitting she received the rebates of Estrada, Enrile and Reyes on their behalf, and collecting commissions for herself in the process.

She also detailed one instance when she personally delivered cash to Enrile and Reyes inside the Senate.

“She passed through the entrance exclusively for senators and went to Enrile’s office. Reyes was also there when she delivered the cash,” one of the sources who has seen the affidavit, said.

Estrada and Enrile have denied any participation in the scam, which also dragged dozens of legislators in both Houses of Congress into it. The two senators, along with Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, were among those charged for plunder before the Ombudsman.

The senators have claimed that their signatures were forged. They also took the Commission on Audit to task for not stopping the release of their pork barrel funds to the questionable NGOs linked to Napoles.

Returning funds

To buttress her application as state witness, Tuason has also reportedly offered to return P40 million to the government. It was not clear, however, if this was in connection with commissions from the pork barrel or the Malampaya Fund, where she allegedly got a windfall of P242 million.

It is also unclear who initiated the negotiations for Tuason to turn state witness, although Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said that her office had been putting pressure on the alleged conduits in the pork barrel scam. Tuason and Reyes left the country in the wake of the scandal.

One of the sources said Tuason, a widow, “was torn between preserving loyalty to her principals or her own freedom.” (READ: Jinggoy: Tuason won’t incriminate me)

But it was the pressure from her children that broke the camel’s back. – Rappler.com