De Lima to grill Cunanan over kickback issue

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Friday, March 7, 2014

JUSTICE Secretary Leila de Lima has given new pork barrel scam witness Dennis Cunanan a chance to rectify himself on the issue of receiving nearly a million pesos as kickback from the illegal racket of businesswoman Janet Napoles.

In a chance interview on Friday, de Lima said Cunanan's explanation will guide the Department of Justice (DOJ) on what to do with his provisional coverage under the Witness Protection Program (WPP).

"It might affect (his WPP status if he admits receiving kickback). But I don't want to make a definitive action at this point until I hear Mr. Cunanan's side. He has to explain himself," she said.

Cunanan, Technology Resource Center (TRC) head on-leave, has consistently denied getting commission for processing the transfer of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocation of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. to Napoles’ fake non-government organizations (NGOs).

But main whistleblower Benhur Luy negated this claim on Thursday, as he recalled before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee that he saw Cunanan holding a paper bag containing P960,000 on his way out of the conference room of JLN Corporation’s office in Discovery Suites in Pasig City.

Luy said he prepared the money upon the instruction of Napoles, who owns JLN, and handed it over to senior employee Evelyn de Leon, president of Napoles-linked Philippine Social Development Foundation Inc. (PSDFI).

Should Cunanan decide to tell the public that he pocketed commissions, de Lima said this will not affect a person’s standing as state witness.

"But we cannot impose it (admit) on him. While we are evaluating his continuing status as provisional state witness, we have to give him that opportunity to explain," she said.

Ruby Tuason, also a prospective state witness, earlier admitted she received P40 million for serving as Napoles' agent in PDAF transactions. She vowed to return the money to the government.

Cunanan and Tuason are co-respondents in the plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman, which has the authority to endorse them as state witnesses once the cases reach the Sandiganbayan.

"That's why I don't blame the senators for raising the issue (kickback), which, more or less impacts also on his (Cunanan) credibility. But to be fair to Cunanan, we need to balance this with the value of his testimony (on the scam)," said de Lima, who was flanked by Luy and Cunanan during the four-hour Senate hearing.

Cunanan had said he was pressured by Estrada and Revilla over the phone not to delay the implementation of PDAF projects, which chose Napoles NGOs as recipients.

Enrile's former chief-of-staff Jessica "Gigi" Reyes, for her part, was allegedly authorized by the senator to sign for and follow-up his pork barrel projects at TRC, an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Cunanan also noticed that the memorandums of agreement (MOA) signed by the three senators, the Napoles NGO concerned and the TRC were similarly worded.

Estrada and Revilla called Cunanan a liar as both senators are set to deliver privilege speeches next week to further question the TRC executive’s credibility. (Sunnex)

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