Now that she is back, it is best for Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, the former chief of staff of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, to tell everything she knows about the pork barrel scam, Sen. Miriam Santiago said on Sunday.
Reyes should also stop protecting Enrile because the senator has betrayed her by heaping the blame on her, Santiago added in a radio interview.
Reyes flew back to the country on Saturday after eight months of hiding abroad.
Santiago said Reyes would not gain anything from her decision to return especially now that the Ombudsman has recommended plunder and other graft related charges against her, Enrile, fellow senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr. and their staff.
She added that she suspects Malacanang had a hand in Reyes’ return. “I don’t think that she will reach the decision on her own,” Santiago said.
The senator added that there is nothing wrong for a leader of the country to convince a potential witness to help ferret out the truth in what is considered to be the country’s biggest corruption scandal.
She was referring to the multi-billion pork barrel scam that has dragged lawmakers and state agency officials.
The senators are charged with receiving millions of pesos in kickbacks for channeling portions of their pork barrel or priority development assistance fund (PDAF) to questionable non-government organizations (NGO) put up by Janet Lim Napoles.
Aside from the three senators, former and sitting congressmen were also named as respondents in a plunder complaint that the National Bureau of Investigation filed before the Office of the Ombudsman last year.
Santiago said Reyes has two options—to be state witness or fight the case on her own, which, according to the senator will be very difficult.
Reyes would be better off if she agreed to testify for the government, the senator told dzBB radio.
Her decision could start a chain reaction and help convince other staffers of senators who are also facing charges to tell everything they know about the pork barrel scam.
There is also no reason for Reyes to protect Enrile, because Enrile is now using her as a scapegoat and trying to heap all the blame on her, Santiago said.
In her official statement after leaving the country, Reyes said she is determined to clear herself of the “baseless” charges, “blatant lies” and “perjured” affidavits of witnesses.
According to her, the “worst blow” and betrayal was dealt by “no less than the camp of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile,” as she alleged that a certain lawyer Enrique dela Cruz had told media that she acted without Enrile’s blessing.
Aside from Reyes, Estrada’s Secretary Pauline Labayen and Revilla’s chief political staff Richard Cambe have also gone into hiding after the PDAF scandal broke out last year.
Santiago said she will ask the Senate blue ribbon committee to summon Reyes, whose testimony could be very crucial because she has direct knowledge about the scam and the only one who could show that it was Enrile who masterminded it.
She noted that the blue ribbon committee could still proceed with its PDAF inquiry even if its chairman, Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, has already released a copy of the committee’s partial report.
Santiago explained that the panel could come up with an addendum based on Reyes’ testimony.
Right now it is difficult to pin down Enrile because of lack of direct evidence, she said.
“That is why Gigi [Reyes] would be a big, almost immeasurable asset to the prosecution, because she’ll be testifying from her own personal knowledge including the veracity of the signature of Enrile,” Santiago added.
In a separate interview aired on dzBB, Estrada expressed confidence that Reyes will not take the cue from Ruby Tuason, who will testify to save herself from possible jail term.
Still vacationing in the United States, he said he knew Reyes for a very long time and that it is not in her character to pin anyone down to save her own skin.
“She’s a very intelligent and a kind lawyer and she is respected not only by me but also by others,” Estrada said of Reyes.
He added that Reyes is not like the other whistleblowers who were brought home by the government and made to come up with supposed testimony to implicate him and the other respondents.
Other lawmakers said Reyes’ return could boost the government’s case once she opens up.
Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, chairman of the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, the House counterpart of the Senate blue ribbon committee, said that if Reyes “will try to exculpate or protect herself, she has to point to somebody. Then Sen[ator]JPE [Enrile] will be adversely affected.”
House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna shared Rodriguez’s sentiments. “I believe that the other suspects are scared if they know that Miss Reyes has direct testimonial or documentary evidence of corruption against them and that Miss Reyes will spill the beans on them,” he said.
Tuason alleged in her counter-affidavit dated February 21 that it was through Reyes that the transactions with Enrile were made.
She said either Reyes or Jose Antonio Evangelista, another Enrile staff member, would inform her that a budget from the PDAF was available, after which Benhur Luy or Napoles would list projects with implementing agencies. The list would be given to Reyes, who in turn would endorse it to the Department of Budget and Management.
Tuason said she had received amounts from Napoles or Luy corresponding to Enrile’s kickbacks, “which she personally delivered to Reyes” and which represented 40 percent of the project.
Palace spokesman Herminio Coloma also on Sunday said he expects Reyes to testify against the main respondents in the plunder case.
Coloma added that it will be up to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to decide if Reyes can qualify as a state witness.
WITH REINA TOLENTINO AND JOEL M. SY EGCO