Pork barrel scam: Inconsistencies in senators' counter-affidavits
MANILA, Philippines – After the Office of the Ombudsman granted pork barrel scam witness Ruby Tuason immunity from suit on Friday, May 2, we looked at counter-affidavits submitted by the 3 senators charged with plunder and reviewed references to her.
What did we find? Some inconsistencies – particularly in the counter-affidavits of Senators Juan Ponce-Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, two of the 3 who have been implicated in perhaps the country's biggest scandal involving lawmakers’ funds.
The 3 senators – Enrile, Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr – along with their respective staff, have been indicted for plunder before the Ombudsman. Essentially, the Ombudsman found probable cause to proceed with the case and junked their respective alibis.
The 3 filed their respective counter-affidavits in January this year, before Tuason broke her self-imposed exile in the US last February and applied for state witness status.
In her own affidavit, Tuason – who also handed over a P40-million manager’s check in the name of the Republic of the Philippines on Friday – said she personally delivered the share of Enrile thru Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, his former chief of staff. Tuason also said she and Reyes would meet at a coffee shop, and Enrile would later arrive to pick up Reyes.
In his counter-affidavit filed in January, however, Enrile described knowing Tuason only “casually, having met her while she was an appointments secretary in Malacañang during the time of President Joseph Estrada…” Enrile further said that he had “never been in any business or social relations with her.”
But after Tuason surfaced in February 2014, Enrile had a slight change in tenor, recalling he met with Tuason sometime in late 2006 or early 2007 to discuss a property transaction.
“The only time I met her (was) in Mamou Restaurant, and it was not to discuss PDAF or to receive a bribe but I was discussing with her a prospective property transaction, and that was about it. I was the one who arranged that one,” Enrile said. (READ: Enrile: Property, not pork, discussed with Tuason)
Like Enrile, Estrada also retracted his initial statement that he did not know Tuason in any capacity.
In his counter-affidavit submitted on January 22, 2014, Estrada argued that since the whistleblowers could not substantiate their claims with first-hand accounts, “the complaint attempts to tie me to the charges by invoking the supposed acts of others.”
He also said, “These people who have no connection to me are (i) Ruby Tuason, (ii) Matt and Lynn Ranillo and (iii) Juan Ng who supposedly received monies from Ms Napoles.”
Describing them further as “strangers to me,” Estrada stressed that he has “no connection to these people, these are not members of my official or personal staff.”
A few weeks later, Estrada revised his story, admitting, among others, that Tuason is a family friend who brought him sandwiches in his Senate office and that he called her up last year while she was in hiding in the US. (READ: Tuason delivered sandwiches, not cash)
In an earlier phone interview, Estrada also admitted knowing Juan Ng. He said that Ng and a certain “Johnny Ng” listed in his Statement of Contributions and Expenses for the May 2010 elections are one and “the same person.” Ng contributed P3 million to Estrada’s campaign during that election year. (READ: PDAF kickbacks: Napoles had favorites)
Ng supposedly got a total of P26 million from Napoles in Estrada’s behalf, a few days before the May 2010 polls.
In their respective counter-affidavits, the 3 senators denied any wrongdoing in the misuse of their pork barrel.
On major points, the 3 shared common defensive arguments:
- Collectively, they put the blame on the implementing agencies for the pork barrel scam for allowing the use of their pork barrel allocations to dubious non-governmental organizations.
- They do not have control over their pork barrel funds.
- They all cleared their staff of involvement in the scandal – Reyes (Enrile’s supposed paramour), and Jose Antonio Evangelista for Enrile; Pauline Labayen for Estrada, and Richard Cambe for Revilla.
- Their signatures in the documents were all forged by the whistleblowers who should be charged instead.
- The charge that they supposedly got kickbacks was all hearsay testimony.
The 3 senators argued that none of the whistleblowers, including the principal whistleblower Benhur Luy, was able to give a first-hand account that money actually exchanged hands since they relied on the say-so of Napoles, their former boss.
But where Luy failed, Tuason succeeded – she connected the dots, but only as far as Enrile and Estrada were concerned. Tuason testified that Enrile got his share of kickbacks from Reyes, while she personally delivered to Estrada his kickback share.
Points of divergence
While the 3 lawmakers’ defense converged in certain aspects, they differed, however, in their approach in their attempts to wash their hands off the corruption charges:
- Of the 3, only Enrile put the blame on Napoles and her staff for perpetrating the crime. “Since it was Napoles who had her web of connections in the executive branch, then it becomes clear that it was not me who ‘persuaded and influenced’ these agencies to contract the Napoles NGOs,” Enrile said.
- On the other hand, Revilla and Estrada avoided tagging Napoles, even as they tagged her former staff as the ones actually being behind the massive scam. Their silence on Napoles’ role in the scam spoke volumes, given that the two have publicly admitted knowing Napoles on a personal, and even friendly, basis.
- Only Estrada used Napoles’ testimony in the Senate in his defense. “Going to the source herself, during her sworn testimony before the Senate, Ms Napoles herself exculpates me from the suspicions and innuendos of the complaining witnesses,” Estrada argued. Luy, however, rebutted Napoles’ claim before the Senate that she was clueless about the participation of Revilla, Enrile, and Estrada.
- Instead of just defending himself, Revilla went on the offensive, filing a counter-charge against Luy and the other whistleblowers for allegedly forging his signatures. Luy had admitted preparing spurious documents to support their non-existent projects.
- Only Revilla submitted a certification that his signatures were forged, as evaluated by two handwriting experts. “Based on their separate examination and evaluation of the signatures in the documents, they confirmed that the signatures were neither signed by me nor by my staff, Cambe. In other words the PDAF documents are absolutely fictitious and simulated,” Revilla said.
- While published photos show both Estrada, Revilla, and Napoles attending private parties, only Revilla made reference to it. Revilla however said such parties have “no connection at all to the alleged modus operandi” and that attending a party or a social event “does not constitute a crime.”
- Estrada, for his part, admitted knowing Napoles, but argued such connection does not automatically indicate a conspiracy. “Connivance cannot be based simply on the fact that I personally know Napoles,” Estrada said.
- Only Estrada admitted endorsing NGOs that are linked to Napoles but insisted that this was merely recommendatory in nature. – Rappler.com