Estrada: Guingona ‘prejudging’ pork probe

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Monday, February 17, 2014

MANILA – "Is it right for a chairman of the committee to judge the outcome of any committee hearing?"

This was the complaint raised by Senator Jinggoy Estrada during Monday's session of the Senate as he took a swipe at Blue Ribbon committee chairman Senator Teofisto Guingona III. 

Last week, Guingona referred to the testimony of potential state witness Ruby Tuason as a "three-point buzzer-beater shot." Tuason was then testifying before the Guingona-led committee where she revealed that she personally delivered kickbacks to Estrada. 

"I feel so hurt by the parting statements made by the chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee. If he chooses that battle, I will give him that battle. Magkakasama tayo ditong lahat pero para husgahan ako na ako ay guilty, hindi po ako papayag dun dahil wala akong kasalanan sa taumbayan," Estrada said. 

The government has accused the senator of plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman for his alleged role in the misuse of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). 

"If he has already prejudged the trial that I am guilty, what's the reason to call for another hearing?" Estrada said. 

Estrada said that if Guingona has reason to believe that the former is guilty of plunder, then he should file a complaint before the Senate ethics committee. 

Guingona was absent in Monday's session. 

Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who himself had criticized Vice President Jejomar Binay for "scaring" possible witnesses, said they are put in a difficult situation because there are no hard and fast rule in conducting committee hearings. 

"Let me just put on record that we understand each and every member of the Senate those who feel that they have to do their job, like Senator Guingona...He (Estrada) could not take personally my interviews," Cayetano said. 

Meanwhile, the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage requested by Estrada is no longer available, according to the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

Estrada had previously requested the Senate security to release the video footage of the alleged visits of Tuason to disprove the potential state witness' claim that she delivered handbags of money to the senator. 

Senate sergeant-at-arms Jose Balajadia Jr. said video footage captured inside the Senate premises until the year 2010 were only stored for 30 days because they were using VHS tapes then. 

In 2011, digital video recorders (DVRs) were already used. 

Tuason however claimed she only had transactions with Estrada until 2008. Estrada had earlier denied this, saying Tuason only delivered food to his Senate office.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima meanwhile said Tuason's admission into the Witness Protection Program (WPP) was a "tactical decision" to further pin down lawmakers involved in corruption.

"Ang pag-admit na dapat gawing state witness ang whoever is really a matter of tactical decision. It constitutes a waiver or relinquishment of the State's authority or power to prosecute someone who is otherwise liable or otherwise culpable," she told reporters.

De Lima said Tuason's testimony has value added to the evidence gathered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

She also disagreed with the view of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV that Tuason could be used to sabotage the case for failing to link Senator Juan Ponce Enrile directly to the scam.

Tuason earlier said Enrile's former chief-of-staff Jessica "Gigi" Reyes received kickbacks on behalf of the lawmaker.

"I think these are far out suspicions," de Lima said. (Sunnex)

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