‘She wants to save her neck, skin’

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 8, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Allegations raised by a former trusted aide of his father linking him to the pork barrel scam were without evidence and intended “to save her neck, skin and her properties,” Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said yesterday, referring to Ruby Tuason who returned to the country to offer herself as state witness.

“I know this fight will be long and hard but I have faith in the end the truth will prevail. And I will be vindicated,” Estrada said.

His father Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, for whom Tuason had served as social secretary, said he is confident his senator-son can defend himself.

Tuason was also part of MARE, a foundation led by former senator Loi Ejercito, the senator’s mother.

The younger Estrada is facing plunder charges along with Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. in connection with the pork barrel scam allegedly perpetrated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Tuason, in her affidavit, said she had delivered kickbacks from pork-funded projects to Estrada and Enrile.

The Senate minority leader has yet to issue a statement on Tuason’s allegations.

Estrada said he believes the government had to tap Tuason because the testimonies of main whistle-blower Benhur Luy were weak.

“They have a weak case against us, they really have to gather more pieces of evidence. They needed to have the alleged direct testimony of Tuason to bolster their case against us,” he said.

Estrada said he couldn’t recall any misunderstanding with Tuason. But he said she may have resented his not being able to grant her request for financial assistance while hiding in the US in October.

“She did not tell me why she needed the money. But I assumed it is for the case or to sustain her stay in America. But I told her I don’t have money anymore because we are now both facing charges,” he said.

“I have been told that her return is to execute an affidavit to implicate me in this ongoing PDAF scandal,” the senator said.

“If it is true that Mrs. Tuason will execute such affidavit, I can only surmise that the tremendous pressure brought upon her has finally take its toll,” he added.

Tuason submitted a sworn affidavit yesterday to the Office of the Ombudsman.

“I hope she will not fabricate stories. The truth will set you free,” he said. 

Estrada lamented being “at the receiving end of the relentless persecution against those allegedly involved in the PDAF controversy.”

PDAF stands for Priority Development Assistance Fund, the official name of the congressional pork barrel.

“What is being portrayed against me is far from the truth,” he said in a phone patch interview.

The senator admitted having developed a friendship with Tuason but that he had never authorized her to make transactions on his behalf, particularly those involving his PDAF.

“Lastly, Mrs. Tuason has had no role with respect to the PDAF allocation of my office, whatsoever. In view of these facts, it will be a complete surprise if there is anything that Mrs. Tuason can say to implicate me in the charge of plunder or graft and corruption,” Estrada said.

Estrada reiterated he had never received money from Tuason or from Napoles, stressing that “any statement to the contrary is false.” 

A former lawyer of former first gentleman Mike Arroyo also denied claims by Tuason that he had picked up kickbacks from her home for an unidentified principal.

Lawyer Jess Santos said he does not know, and has never even met or seen, Tuason.

“I don’t know who Ruby Tuason is. I do not know these people accusing me,” he swore.

“So how can I know where her home is when I never knew who she is,” Santos said.

“I never even knew that there was a Malampaya fund. Records will show that I was never involved in that fund and was never connected with anybody being linked to the scam,” Santos said.

“I’m ready to face God and any other forum to prove that I’m not that person. These are all falsehoods and lies,” Santos told The STAR. He said there are many people with names similar to his.

“My name is Jesus Santos. Some call me Hesus, some call me Jess,” he said.

Santos called on Tuason and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to immediately rectify reports that he was the Jess Santos who had supposedly picked up kickbacks from Tuason’s home.

“This outrageous lie has subjected me and my family to undue psychological and emotional torture, especially considering the fact that no evidence was presented against me by Tuason,” he said in a statement.

“I hope they will have the conscience not to further malign me,” Santos added. 

In her affidavit executed last Tuesday at the consular office in San Francisco, California, Tuason alleged she had witnessed the delivery of kickbacks to the house of her late brother for an “undisclosed principal.”

“She mentioned the name of an individual who was picking up the money from their house. And that can lead us to Jess Santos,” De Lima told reporters in a press conference, reading from Tuason’s affidavit.

“You all know who Jess Santos is,” she said.

De Lima said Tuason’s statement is “a very important development.”

“Who is that undisclosed principal? There is already a name mentioned in the affidavit, so we will pursue this. Finally, we have an idea who is the so-called principal,” she stressed.

De Lima refused to discuss further details, saying the matter is undergoing fact-finding investigation in the Office of the Ombudsman.

Arroyo’s lawyer and spokesman Ferdinand Topacio, for his part, accused De Lima of insinuating the former first gentleman was involved in the Malampaya fund misuse. “What’s this? Guilt by insinuation?”

Arroyo, meanwhile, told The STAR, {Is there no end to this vindictive persecution? This is too much.”

He said the last time he saw Tuason was in 2008 at the wake of her divorced husband Carlos “Butch” Tuason, his cousin.

Topacio said De Lima’s statement “smacks of extreme irresponsibility and lack of ethics, logic and common human decency.” Edu Punay, Dino Balabo, Paolo Romero


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