Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada called Ruby Tuason a liar, saying that she delivered food, not money, to his office.
Estrada also lashed out at Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, for the manner in which he handled the hearing on Thursday. He said Guingona showed that he would rather accept baseless allegations against his fellow lawmakers just to gain political advantage.
“I consider that handling of the hearing as an offensive foul because he gave more weight on the testimony of Mrs. Tuason despite the absence of basis and evidence aside from her own words,” he told reporters after the hearing.
Estrada maintained that he never asked for nor received any kickbacks or commissions from Tuason. He also reiterated his request to the Senate leadership to immediately make public the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footages showing Tuason allegedly delivering money to him.
According to the senator, it is obvious from the body language and the replies of Tuason that she has no recollection of events. He said Tuason had to confer with Benhur Luy and constantly referred to her affidavit and other papers to answer questions from the senators.
“If she is really telling the truth why can’t she recall such instances from her own memory and not rely on written statements?” Estrada asked. He said Tuason is merely being fed information.
“Undoubtedly a person that desperate would say anything and do everything to avoid going to jail which to her is worse than death,” the senator pointed out.
Guingona showed Tuason a Senate memorabilia containing pictures of the staff of all senators so that she can identify the persons who she said fetched her when she made the cash deliveries to Estrada. Tuason managed to identify Alfred de los Reyes, a member of Estrada’s security.
The Senate panel then moved to have de los Reyes invited to the next hearing.
Estrada gave assurances that he will not prevent any of his staff from attending the hearing.
“I said in my interviews that I sent either my driver or my security to assist Mrs. Tuason in bringing the snacks to my office. Let me stress that no money or kickback was ever delivered to me in my residence or in my Senate office or in any other venue,” the senator said.
Malacañang on Thursday welcomed the testimony of Tuason.
In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said Tuason’s statements “amplified” the information in her affidavit.
“We hope that this development will shed more light in the people’s quest for truth and justice.”
According to him, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has affirmed her agency’s position regarding the provisional admission of Tuason to the Witness Protection Program.
However, he said the Ombudsman is still evaluating “the credibility of Tuason and other witnesses who may be similarly situated.”
Coloma however said the Palace will leave it to the Senate to evaluate the credibility of Tuason’s testimony.
At the House, Reps. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list and Marcy Teodoro of Marikina believe that Tuason’s testimony would lead to a strong case against Estrada and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.
“It has the same value as Benhur Luy’s and the others because there is no direct testimony that she handed him the money. It is different in the case of Senator Jinggoy [Estrada] because she has direct personal knowledge. She is a credible witness,” Tugna, a lawyer, told reporters.
“The testimony of Tuason is very damaging to Senator Jinggoy because it reinforces the fact that Tuason did deliver money to the senator. As such, senator Estrada should disprove the allegations of Tuason, considering that she was a very close ally and employee of the Estrada family,” Teodoro, also a lawyer, said.
Tuason, Estrada and Enrile are among the 38 individuals charged with plunder and other graft-related charges at the Office of the Ombudsman.
WITH CATHERINE VALENTE