Malacañang on Friday said whistle-blower Ruby Tuason, who has been granted state witness status by the Office of the Ombudsman, should now reveal everything she knows about the pork barrel scam and the people involved in it.
“We note the grant of immunity by the Ombudsman to Ms. Tuason, which is allowed pursuant to the Ombudsman law. We hope that with such immunity, Ms. Tuason can reveal the whole truth, thus, aiding in the people’s quest for justice,” presidential spokesman Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told The Manila Times in a text message.
Tuason returned to the country earlier in 2014. After testifying before the Senate, she went back to the United States to raise the P40 million that she promised to return.
After more than a month in the US, Tuason returned to Manila on April 8 almost unnoticed. According to her lawyer, Tuason sold her properties.
Earlier on Friday, Tuason went to the Ombudsman’s office and handed over a manager’s check to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales in the presence of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
The Office of the Ombudsman announced later that Tuason has returned to the government P40 million, representing the amount of kickbacks she said she received from transactions involving the priority development assistance fund (PDAF) or pork barrel of lawmakers.
In an agreement reached with Morales, Tuason was granted immunity from criminal prosecution in the PDAF cases in return for her testimony on the illegal transactions and her willingness to produce documents in her possession bearing details of such dealings, Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan told a press conference.
Under the agreement, the immunity granted to Tuason will be revoked if she fails to live up to its terms.
Aside from losing immunity from criminal prosecution, she will also be reinstated as an accused in the case, without prejudice to her possible prosecution for other offenses such as perjury or false testimony, Rafanan said.
Others accused in the PDAF scam case who are seeking immunity are Technology and Resource Center Director Dennis Cunanan, Rhodora Mendoza and Victor Cacal.
Rafanan said Tuason’s return of the P40 million is not the key in securing her immunity.
“The [Ombudman’s] Special Panel of Investigators has evaluated several factors such as her testimonies on her personal knowledge of the case, she has not been convicted of any offense, she has a direct knowledge of the transactions, all of which dovetailed to the previous information filed here. It is not really all about the returning of such amount of money,” he added.
Rafanan said the P40 million will be turned over to the National Treasury.
Tuason claimed she got P40 million in kickbacks for facilitating PDAF transactions with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles’ fake non-government organizations.
The now detained Napoles is tagged as the mastermind of the pork barrel scam.
Rafanan said the amount is consistent with Tuason’s earlier testimony that she got around five percent of those kickbacks allegedly cornered by Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.
“She voluntarily offered to return the P40 million. The Office [of the Ombudsman]cannot reject that offer,” he pointed out.
Tuason had told the Senate blue ribbon committee that she personally handed about P200 million to Estrada in the senator’s office, as well as in other venues.
The Office of the Ombudsman has approved the filing of plunder charges against Estrada, fellow Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile, as well as Napoles and Jessica “Gigi” Reyes.
Reyes is a former aide of Enrile.
When sought for comment also on Friday, Estrada said he was not surprised with the Ombudsman’s decision to grant Tuason immunity.
“At the onset, I expected that Mrs. Ruby Tuason will be granted immunity although she was included as one of the accused by the DOJ [Department of Justice] and the National Bureau of Investigation [NBI],” he told ANC in an interview.
Estrada said Tuason, who is also believed to have played a major role in the Malampaya fund scam, was only included in the graft complaint filed by the NBI last year with the Ombudsman to give the PDAF inquiry a semblance of fairness.
“But we all know that this is already a done deal and the only real targets of this persecution from the very beginning are the three senators,” Estrada said referring to himself, Enrile and Revilla.
Tuason failed to provide the blue ribbon committee with crucial details like the dates and the amount of cash she allegedly delivered to Estrada.
Still, Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, committee chairman, accepted the testimony and even hailed it as a “three point shoot and a buzzer beater, winning shot.”
Estrada has consistently denied that he asked or received any “kickbacks or commission” from Tuason and even challenged the Senate leadership to produce the closed-circuit television footage showing Tuason delivering money to him.
With Jefferson Antiporda