MANILA – Former social secretary Ruby Tuason confirmed Thursday that she acted as go-between for Janet Lim Napoles, Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Atty. Gigi Reyes, the former chief of staff of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
Speaking for the first time before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, Tuason confirmed that she received about P40 million in commissions from alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles and had delivered millions more to Estrada and Reyes.
"It would be hypocritical of me to say that I was not motivated by commissions from Mrs. Napoles. I was. The mistake was grave and selfish. The decision haunts me with regret. My conscience can no longer take it," she said.
Napoles is accused of masterminding the alleged P10 billion pork barrel scam involving government officials and lawmakers. The scam saw priority development funds of lawmakers being used for ghost projects of fake non-government organizations set up by Napoles.
A Commission on Audit report earlier said some P2 billion in pork barrel funds were funneled to Napoles NGOs from 2007-2009.
Napoles, Tuason, Enrile, Estrada, Reyes and several others are among 38 individuals facing charges before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the scam.
Making the connection
In her testimony, Tuason said she delivered millions of pesos in kickbacks to Estrada and Reyes when she was still an agent of Napoles.
She said she twice delivered cash to Estrada in his 6th floor office in the Senate and once in his house in his Greenhills. One time, she also delivered P1 million in cash to Estrada at Zirkoh Comedy and Music Bar on Wilson Street in San Juan.
She also said Estrada sent her text messages about his PDAF, which could be funneled to the Napoles NGOs.
As for Enrile’s kickbacks, she said she delivered the money to Atty. Reyes and never directly to the senator.
Tuason said her husband was the first to introduce her to Napoles in 2004, saying the latter wanted to buy her house in Bel-Air Village. During their first conversation, Napoles said she was a supplier for government contracts and was very interested to meet Tuason’s politician-friends.
“She didn’t buy my house. She befriended me, invited me for lunch and showed me her office. She showed me her eskaparate (displays),” she said.
Tuason said Napoles was insistent that she be introduced to Senator Estrada. However, the senator was not interested after Tuason first called him.
Instead of being discouraged, Napoles said she would offer Estrada a 40% commission for every project that the senator recommended should pass through her NGO.
This offer would plant the seeds for Estrada to join Napoles in the scam.
How kickbacks were delivered
The first project that Estrada coursed through a Napoles NGO, with the help of Tuason, was worth P37.5 million.
The senator’s first commission for the project was P5.7 million.
Tuason said she first delivered the P5.7 million commission to Estrada’s house in Greenhills sometime in 2004-2005. However, the senator suddenly returned the money a week later without explaining why and the transaction with Napoles allegedly did not push through.
She also delivered kickbacks directly to Senator Estrada’s office after she again became an agent for Napoles in 2007. Her affidavit filed before the National Bureau of Investigation showed that she had delivered at least P9 million in commissions to Estrada from March 6, 2008 to October 28, 2008.
Tuason, however, said the amounts were bigger since she sometimes had problems carrying the heavy bag containing the money.
“I think I did it twice. I used a handcarry one time, yung may gulong…If the amount is small, if it is P1 million to P2 million kasya yun sa bag. It would fit in my big bag. At least twice. I only did 2008 because after that he went direct na. He didn’t pass through me anymore,” she said.
Tuason said she never used the main entrance since the Senate security might check her bag and see the money.
Instead, she said a staff member would escort her car going in to a garage near the driveway and she could be dropped off inside the Senate compound and pass through a separate entrance.
Tuason said the male staff member would always escort her in bringing the bag to Estrada’s office.
“Hindi ako nagbababa ng bag. Pinapakuha ko na sa kanya, meaning the guy. Then we would go off to the elevator and then go to the sixth floor in his office…Linalagay lang sa floor beside his desk (yung pera),’ she recalled.
Asked to look at photos of Senate employees who might have helped her inside Estrada's office, Tuason pointed to the photos of two people.
Senator Teofisto "TG" Guingona III, the Blue Ribbon Committee's chairman, said the first person is Alfredo Delos Reyes who is part of the security of Senator Estrada.
The second person was identified as a certain Tanny, also an aide of Estrada.
She also recalled delivering at least P1 million in cash to Estrada at a comedy bar in San Juan after the senator said he needed some money. “I was at that time with Mrs. Napoles and her husband and we dropped it off,” she said, adding that the money was delivered at Zirkoh Comedy Bar.
No more kickbacks
Tuason said she stopped being Napoles’ conduit after she finally got to introduce Estrada to Napoles at the wake of actor Rudy Fernandez in 2008.
She said that after they were introduced Estrada asked for Mrs. Napoles’ phone number, which she gave him.
“I didn’t ask why so anyway. I just gave it. I had no reason not to. I gave it and before I knew it…he was no longer doing business with me,” she said.
She also addressed Estrada’s claim that it was actress Lorna Tolentino who introduced him to Napoles.
She told the hearing: “It is possible that you introduce a person twice because the person doing the introduction is not aware that you have been introduced. As far as I know, I introduced him to Mrs. Napoles…I was not given the impression that they had met before.”
She also said the Estradas and the Napoleses seemed “close”, saying that the two families would be seen in parties together.
“I saw Mrs. Napoles in the party for Senator Estrada a few times. They seem to be close. Kasi kaibigan niya (Napoles) pati wife. They would be in the same table. One time, I saw them - the wife only and Mrs. Napoles - having dinner at the Polo Club. And also the birthday of Senator Estrada, she was there.”
The Enrile connection
As for Enrile, Tuason said she made the same offer of an introduction to Napoles through Atty. Gigi Reyes. Like Estrada, Reyes also turned down the invitation.
“Atty. Gigi Reyes did not want to meet with her. They just decided to make it pass through me and me, with Mrs. Napoles. That is how we started. The only time I got to introduce Napoles to Reyes was during the hearing of Jocjoc Bolante on the fertilizer scam,” she said.
Tuason affirmed her earlier statements that she delivered the Enrile kickbacks to restaurants such as Tsukiji, Mamou, Gourmand and L’Opera. She said Reyes would always pick up the money alone but that Senator Enrile would sometimes arrive to drink a cup of coffee after they were done.
“Senator Enrile never talked to me about his PDAF. We never talked about kickbacks. The only time was a couple of times like two times while we were having lunch, he would arrive, have coffee and leave or he would pick up Atty. Reyes,” she said.
As with the case of Estrada, Tuason said Napoles also stopped dealing with her after she was introduced to Reyes.
Tuason said she cannot say for sure if Senator Enrile knew about Reyes’ transactions with Napoles since he never mentioned anything about his PDAF.
“He never talked to me. He never mentioned the word PDAF to me. That’s the truth. Siguro ho. Sa dami ho nito siguro mayroon siyang inkling (about PDAF),” she said.
Estrada and Enrile have denied getting kickbacks from their PDAF. Estrada has also said Tuason is testifying against them so she can get off the hook from the graft and plunder cases.