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Editorial

Not enough

/ 12:17 AM February 14, 2014

The appearance of potential state’s witness Ruby Tuason at the hearing yesterday (Thursday) of the Senate blue ribbon committee can be described in one word: underwhelming. She began the hearing, the eighth that the committee has conducted to investigate the so-called pork barrel scam, surrounded by a waiting public’s highest expectations. She left it, some five hours later, attended by more questions than answers.

This is not to say that her testimony was without value. There can be no arguing with the factual part of the committee chair’s closing remarks; Sen. TG Guingona was right to call attention to the fact that Tuason was the first person to claim that she had personally delivered kickbacks from the pork barrel scam to a sitting senator. None of the whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy had the direct access to or the full trust of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada that Tuason had. What’s more, Tuason provided information about the turnover of the pork barrel commissions to Estrada that was verifiable—that is, capable of being tested.

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This is essential testimony—made more trustworthy because, contrary to a nervous Estrada’s worst fears, Tuason did not once attempt to “demonize” him.

And yet, the entirety of Tuason’s testimony was inadequate. It did not deserve Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s effusive term, that it constituted “slam-dunk evidence,” or Guingona’s even more elaborate basketball metaphor, that it was a three-point “buzzer-beater” and “winning shot.” We don’t say this because Tuason failed to directly implicate Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile; as we have written in this space before, summaries of Tuason’s affidavit already showed that the money trail stopped with Gigi Reyes, Enrile’s chief of staff.

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The reason we found Tuason’s testimony inadequate was her constant recourse to general statements, whether about the money she delivered or about her recollection of the circumstances of delivery. Indeed, at one point, Sen. Sonny Trillanes admonished Tuason about her testimony’s lack of detail. “General statements are not allowed,” he said. “We cannot accept statements like that.”

Tuason could not remember exactly how much cash she brought to Estrada right in the Senate; it was only after prodding that she suggested a figure of P8-10 million. She could not remember the dates of the “couple of times” she said she delivered Estrada’s commission from the pork barrel allocation in the Senate. She acknowledged, under questioning, that “vouchers” accompanied the bags of money that were brought to her by the staff of businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged scam mastermind, for delivery to either Reyes or Estrada; she could not remember, however, how much each delivery was worth.

On several occasions, Tuason said she would return the commissions she herself had earned as a “go-between” (her term). Asked to say how much she had earned in all, she offered a round figure of P40 million (and, in perhaps the rawest part of the hearing, said she would have to sell her own house, her only piece of real property, to raise the money). Only Sen. Bam Aquino seized on this piece of information to estimate the total amount of pork barrel funds she had brokered; if P40 million represents the 5-percent commission she received, more or less, then she must have been partially responsible for diverting some P800 million in pork barrel funds.

But no one asked the logical follow-up question: How much of this P800 million that Tuason was partly responsible for end up with Reyes and Estrada? Surely it must have been much more than the P40 million she had earned. If the report that the senators took as much as 40 percent of any pork barrel diversion is accurate, then as much as P320 million in pork barrel funds must have gone to Reyes and Estrada. But it seems Tuason can clearly remember only P9 million given to Estrada in 2008.

Like we said, inadequate.

Trillanes advised Tuason to “focus”—that is, to remember as much detail as she can. It is good advice. Tuason’s admission that she participated in acts of corruption goes against her own self-interest, and because it does so, carries real legal weight. But it is not enough.

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TAGS: blue ribbon committee, Editorial, pork barrel scam, Ruby Tuason, senate probe
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