Estrada aide invited to Senate ‘pork’ probe

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Friday, February 7, 2014

MANILA (3rd Update) -- Ruby Tuason, the new government witness in the multibillion peso pork barrel and Malampaya fund scams, is expected to testify against her former boss, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, at the continuation of Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on February 13.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III, Blue Ribbon committee chair, said Tuazon will be asked to attend the hearing to shed light on many issues concerning the alleged misuse of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of some lawmakers.

"Her testimony is very vital," Guingona said.

Tuason arrived in Manila around 3:40 a.m. Friday on board Philippine Airlines flight PR-105 from San Francisco and was immediately admitted to the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Lawyer Dennis Manalo said Tuason was offered to turn state witness.

Estrada, who earlier downplayed the possible testimony of Tuason, said that a friend has told him that his former aide will testify against him after the senator refused to give in to Tuason's request for help when she was in the United States.

"She has been under a lot of pressure. She felt bad that I wasn't able to help her in America. I could not help her because I too face legal suit. I learned she was fetched in America. More or less I know that she will be used against me," Estrada told reporters in Filipino.

"She can testify as long as she wants. I can fight it out in court," the senator added.

Tuason sneaked out of the country before Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged pork barrel scam architect, surrendered to President Benigno Aquino III.

Tuason, who served as social secretary of then President Joseph Estrada, is Senator Estrada's co-accused in the plunder case filed before the Office of the Ombudsman over the scam. Pork barrel scam whistleblower Marina Sula pointed to Tuason as the conduit between Napoles and the senator.

For the years 2006 and 2007, Tuason allegedly acted as Napoles' conduit to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, doing the same task she did for Estrada. Reportedly, Tuason was the one receiving rebates from Napoles transactions intended for Estrada and Enrile.

Benhur Luy, another whistleblower in the pork scam, said Tuason supposedly got P1.5 million in commissions for a P37.5 million pork barrel allocation of Estrada and P4.2 million for supposed rebates in Estrada's pork barrel downloaded to the Department of Agriculture.

Reports said Tuason is under pressure from family members to turn herself in. The Court of Appeals freeze order on her bank accounts was also another factor that led her to consider telling all about the scam.

Tuason is seen as a key link that could pin down Estrada and Enrile in the case. While documents show that the senators funnelled their pork barrel funds to Napoles' fake non-governmental organizations.

Besides the pork barrel scam, Tuason faces a separate plunder complaint over the Malampaya fund scam, where she supposedly got the biggest commissions amounting to P242 million.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said that Tuason received the money on behalf of a "mysterious principal."

In a statement sent to reporters, Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano urged Tuason to tell all in the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing set next week.

Tuason, however, has yet to confirm whether she will attend the hearing in relation to the PDAF scam.

"I urge Ruby Tuason to tread on the side of truth and bare all that she knows at the Blue Ribbon hearing. Now is her opportunity to face her accusers – the people – and she should speak the truth," Cayetano said.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago meanwhile wrote to Blue Ribbon committee chairperson Guingona reserving her right to question Tuason.

"She should testify on charges of alleged plunder now pending with the Ombudsman, against herself, as well as certain senators. Should you approve this proposal, I would also like to reserve my interpellation for Ms. Tuason," Santiago's letter to Guingona said.

Santiago also sought a definite time slot at 11 a.m. for her interpellation.

"I continue to suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, and I have to limit my excursion outside of my home," she said.

Santiago also previously questioned Napoles when she was summoned by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

Tuason was married to the late Butch Tuason, a cousin of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and a close friend of former President and now Manila Mayor Estrada.

Aside from working for the former President, Tuason supported the 1998 candidacy of the elder Estrada. The woman described as a "refined, well-heeled, and well-connected" socialite was also a campaign contributor when Senator Estrada ran for his second Senate term in 2010. She gave a donation of P2 million.

Earlier, Senator Estrada said the charges leveled against him are not supported by hard facts and evidence, but merely by bare allegations of second hand information, hearsay, malicious suspicion, and speculations.

Estrada's defense, like Enrile's and Senator Ramon Revilla Jr.'s, relies heavily on the claim that the whistleblowers forged their signatures in the pork barrel documents. He blames the Commission on Audit and the implementing agencies for failing to warn against the fake NGOs.

"Witnesses for the complainant confessed under oath in one of the Senate inquiries of their extensive falsification of documents and forgery of signatures," Estrada said.

Earlier, lawyer Levi Baligod, counsel for whistleblowers in the pork barrel scam, said Tuason's testimony "can be enough to pin down the three," referring to Estrada, Enrile, and lawyer Jessica Lucilla "Gigi" Reyes, Enrile's controversial former chief of staff. (Camille P. Balagtas/Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

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