Tuason granted immunity

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Friday, May 2, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- The Office of the Ombudsman granted immunity to socialite Ruby Tuason in exchange for her testimony in the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam.

Assistant Ombudsman Asyrman Rafanan, in a press conference on Friday, said an immunity agreement has been forged between Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Tuason in exchange for undertaking to "testify on her personal knowledge" against alleged pork-barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

Tuason will also testify against certain lawmakers who supposedly earned kickbacks after their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel ended up in fake non-government organizations (NGO) of Napoles.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, however, said Tuason's immunity only covers PDAF-related cases.

Tuason is also facing plunder charges for the alleged misuse of proceeds from the Malampaya natural gas facility. She allegedly took more than P200 million for a still unidentified principal, according to the complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) last October.

"She (Tuason) has no immunity from the Malampaya case since it is still under evaluation," De Lima told reporters.

Like the PDAF scam, the supposed illegal diversion of P900 million in Malampaya fund involves Napoles's fake NGOs as implementers of ghost projects.

Tuason's co-respondents in that case include former President now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, among other individuals.

As a provisional state-witness, Tuason is expected to produce documents in her possession on the details of the alleged misuse of the PDAF by the lawmakers she personally knew.

"The testimony of Tuason was found necessary in determining the truth of the acts committed," Rafanan said.

Rafanan refused to disclose the entire provisions of the deal but noted that Tuason's status as a provisional state witness is still subject to the terms and conditions in the immunity agreement and can be revoked again if she failed to comply with any of the provisions stated in her agreement with Morales and De Lima.

The assistant ombudsman also noted that the former social welfare undersecretary during the Estrada administration also returned the full amount of P40-million derived from questioned transactions involving lawmakers' PDAF, though he clarified that Tuason's move to return huge amount to the government was not a major consideration in the decision.

"The P40 million was admitted by Tuason herself and computed by her own statement of having received five percent [commission]," Rafanan said.

He noted that Tuason handed over a manager's check "in the name of the Republic of the Philippines" to Morales and De Lima.

Last month, Morales indicted Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., and Juan Ponce Enrile for allegedly channeling hundreds of millions of pesos of their PDAF allocations to fake NGOs allegedly created and controlled by Napoles for the implementation of ghost projects.

Estrada, Enrile and Revilla allegedly pocketed public funds through kickbacks and or commissions in the amounts of more than P172 million, P242 million and P183 million, respectively.

Rafanan said the Ombudsman's decisions on the motions for reconsideration of pork barrel scam personalities indicted for plunder will be released as soon as possible.

But Senator Estrada belittled on Friday the immunity granted to Tuason, whom he described as a "very weak" witness.

He said Tuason concocted her own story just to be able to pin him down in connection with the PDAF scam.

He said he is not anymore surprised by the recent development but remain confident that he will be able to defend himself in court at the right time.

Malacanang, meanwhile, is hoping that Tuason would disclose everything she is aware of regarding the PDAF scam.

"We hope that with such immunity, Ms. Tuason can reveal the whole truth, thus, aiding in the people's quest for justice," said Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. (With Camille P. Balagtas/SDR/Sunnex)

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