PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd wants nothing less than a conviction for lawmakers and other individuals proven to have plundered public funds, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Thursday.
In a press briefing at Malacañang, Lacierda said the President expects the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its prosecutors to gather enough evidence to warrant a conviction.
“The role of the prosecution is to gather all evidence that would come up with, not
only a situation that would merit a probable cause for filing, but also to ensure a successful prosecution,” Lacierda said.
“That has always been the instruction of the President. It’s not enough that we file a case, it should merit a conviction,” he said.
Besides Ruby Tuason, who turned state witness against Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and others who allegedly pocketed huge kickbacks from pork barrel transactions, more witnesses will surface, President Aquino said Wednesday.
Lacierda said it was up to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to screen those who step forward to testify for the prosecution in the billion-peso scheme.
De Lima and her team “are the ones evaluating the evidence, so I would defer to them. If, for instance, Secretary Leila de Lima says ‘it’s a slam dunk evidence’, we would presume that there is basis for her to say that,” he said.
According to Lacierda, the testimonies of Tuason and other whistleblowers such as Benhur Luy will back up the documentary evidence, such as the Commission on Audit (COA) report, that the DOJ has gathered.
While Lacierda said he considered Tuason’s account of how she delivered millions to Estrada as credible, it would still have to be verified and assessed by the Justice Department and the Office of the Ombudsman.
“We can only go so far as to how the DOJ has evaluated the situation, and also by the fact that the testimony of Ruby Tuason is one based on personal experience. That is currently being evaluated by the DOJ, and I understand there was some clarifi[catory]—correct me if I’m wrong—there was a clarificatory hearing with the Ombudsman,” he said.
Lacierda said he is not in a position to identify who the new witnesses are.
“The President himself has not said anybody with specificity, so we don’t want to preempt him. But certainly, once they are willing to share information, it will be relayed to the Department of Justice for evaluation,” he said.
Lacierda said the Palace welcomes the proposal of Estrada for the Senate to also investigate senators with whom Tuason has had dealings in the past.
He said it is up to the Senate to heed Estrada’s call, stressing “the DOJ will just evaluate the evidence presented.”
Other than Estrada, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla and scores of former congressmen and government officials have been charged with plunder at the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the P10-billion priority development assistance fund scheme allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim-Napoles.
Estrada was unfazed by the President’s announcement that more witnesses will emerge, even if one of them could be his former secretary, Pauline Labayen.
Estrada on Thursday said Labayen will not do a Ruby Tuason. He admitted he has lost touch with his former secretary, who fled the country after the pork barrel scam was exposed.
“I’m very confident that my former secretary will not turn against me. Besides, she has nothing to do with this. She was also implicated by the whistleblowers but they don’t have proof,” he said.
The senator belittled Tuason’s testimony, saying it contained fabricated stories fed to her by the DOJ to make sure that it would fit the stories of the pork barrel scam witnesses.
While the President did not name the new witnesses, there were reports that one of them was Labayen.
Other likely witnesses mentioned were former Technology Resource Center (TRC) director general Dennis Cunanan, Rhodora Mendoza, former vice president for administration of the National Agri-Business Corp. (NAGCOR) and Victor Roman Cacal, former vice president of the National Agribusiness Corporation, a government-owned and controlled agency under the Department of Agriculture.
They are all respondents in the graft and corruption complaints filed by the DOJ before the Ombudsman last year in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam.
Private prosecutor Levito Baligod on Thursday confirmed that Cunanan applied to be considered a state witness.
Baligod said Cunanan will confirm the signatures of Revilla in the documents presented as evidence in the complaint.
“He makes validation calls on Revilla’s signatures and if the senator’s staff members are authorized to sign for him,” Baligod said.
Revilla denied he owned the signatures on the documents presented by witnesses before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
Cunanan’s application has yet to be acted upon by Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, who will make the recommendation to de Lima.
Baligod said Cunanan applied for the Witness Protection Program in March 2013, months before Luy and his companions exposed the pork barrel scam.
He said Cunanan knows more about the scam than other witnesses like Marina Sula and Merlina Sunas, former employees of Napoles.
“Cunanan’s affidavit is stronger compared to the weight of the evidence contained in the affidavits of these three whistleblowers,” Baligod said in an interview with radio dzBB.
He said Cunanan will detail the participation of some implementing agencies such as the TRC in the pork barrel misuse.
Cunanan will refute Revilla’s claims that he did not benefit from the scam, Baligod said.
Based on Cunanan’s affidavit, Baligod said there were instances when the former TRC official personally talked to Revilla to confirm pork-funded transactions.
He said Cunanan recalled that at one time, he was scolded by the senator because of the slow processing of his endorsement letters to allocate his pork barrel fund to Napoles’ fake NGOs.
“So what his (Cunanan) office did was to rush the processing of Revilla’s request the whole day and they even worked overnight on December 23,” Baligod said.
According to the COA report, at least 10 NGOs linked to Napoles received more than P2 billion in pork barrel releases from 2007 to 2010.
With Ritchie Horario