Still all hype
New witness, new hype. Certainly not on the same level as “slam-dunk,” which was how Justice Secretary Leila de Lima characterized the testimony of confessed bagwoman Ruby Tuason. But De Lima’s appraisal of the merit of Technology Resource Center (TRC) head Dennis Cunanan’s turnaround from one of the pork-barrel accused to the latest state witness is as solid and categorical. Cunanan qualifies as a state witness, she said, because his account is “plausible and credible.”
Maybe. The way things have been going, however, it’s much more plausible to assume that Cunanan’s testimony will go the way of the rest of the whistle-blowers’ accounts so far—litigated in the airwaves, dissected and anatomized by anyone equipped with a modem to unload on social media, used as a pawn in turf intramurals in the Senate, and yet untested in the one battleground that matters: the courts.
Tuason, who implicated Sen. Jinggoy Estrada directly in the fund mess by saying she delivered money personally from Janet Lim-Napoles to the senator in his office, was suddenly vague and forgetful when it came to pinning down Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, going only so far as fingering Enrile’s former chief of staff, Gigi Reyes. The testimony that Sen. Teofisto Guingona III had hailed as a “three-point buzzer-beater,” echoing the Department of Justice’s breathless description of it as the nail in the coffin that would finally and indubitably tie Enrile et al. to the plunder of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), turned out to be, as this paper pointed out, underwhelming and inadequate.
Once again, hype over substance. The justice department presumably spent a good enough time poring over Tuason’s account before she was accepted into the Witness Protection Program. And yet, from the quality of the testimony she gave at the Senate blue ribbon committee, too many loose ends remain unaccounted for, questions that not only can potentially weaken the overall case against the PDAF accused, but also, in the eyes of a wary public, provide further ballast to Estrada’s accusation that the issue is a mere demolition job by Malacañang against the opposition.
Comes now Cunanan, whose testimony the DOJ is touting as “very, very valuable.” Cunanan, who is on leave as TRC’s director general, has submitted a 36-page sworn statement that, in De Lima’s words, “flatly denied and debunked” the strenuous denials issued by Enrile, Estrada and Sen. Bong Revilla about their involvement in the pork barrel scam. The senators funneled their PDAF allocations to the TRC from 2007 to early 2009 to fund a host of phantom NGOs set up by Napoles. The TRC, in effect, was used as an implementing agency to launder the money that would eventually be divvied up between the senators and Napoles, said Cunanan. The amount involved is huge—some P600 million—an amount that more or less corresponded with the records submitted by principal witness Benhur Luy to the DOJ, which said that the TRC received P539 million from lawmakers from 2007 to early 2009.
Cunanan also provided more explosive details. Revilla allegedly once called him up and insisted on the release of a check meant for a Napoles NGO. “It was Dec. 23 and we did not do anything else and my staff had to work overtime because of the pressure from Revilla to release the money for the Napoles NGO before the Christmas break.” As for the lawmakers’ uniform contention that their signatures on the PDAF paper trail were forged, Cunanan said that couldn’t be, because he personally called the senators involved to verify the authorization they issued for their PDAF allocations.
For all these efforts, however, Cunanan maintains that he never got any kickbacks, either from Napoles—even if he was a signatory in some of the checks that ended up in her organizations—or from the senators with whom, under duress or not, he was colluding in the theft of public funds. Tuason’s testimony included the admission that she pocketed a commission from every transaction she arranged between Napoles and the implicated senators. It was only “the dictate of delicadeza (decency) that drove me to go on leave and to make a good example to my coworkers in the government,” said Cunanan.
Cunanan may be sincere, the sudden reappearance of his conscience genuine. But his testimony, seemingly corroborative at this point, has to undergo proper scrutiny—and that can only happen if the PDAF cases are finally lodged in court. So far, no dice. Four more witnesses are set to surface after Cunanan and Tuason, we’re told.
So when will all the hype stop and the actual prosecution begin?
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