Ruby Tuason at the Senate hearing. Photo by Junny Roy for ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA - Former social secretary Ruby Tuason confirmed Thursday that she received P40 million in commissions from Janet Lim Napoles for acting as a "go-between" for the businesswoman and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile.
In her testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Tuason said she was usually tipped off by the senators if there was a release of pork barrel funds that could be used for a project. She would then inform Napoles, specifically JLN Corporation employee Benhur Luy, about the available money.
Asked how much she earned for her work with Napoles, she said: "P40 million."
She also said she is willing to sell her house just to return the money to the government.
"It's a very small price to pay," she said.
Napoles is accused of masterminding the pork barrel scam, which saw billions of pesos in lawmakers' priority development assistance funds being funneled to ghost projects of fake Napoles NGOs.
More than P2 billion in pork barrel went to Napoles NGOs from 2007-2009, according to the Commission on Audit.
Napoles, Tuason, Enrile and Estrada are among several individuals facing charges before the Office of the Ombudsman for their connection to the scam. Enrile and Estrada have denied the allegations, claiming that Tuason only wanted to save herself from the charges.
Both senators, however, admitted that they know Tuason. A former social secretary in Malacañang, Tuason once arranged state dinners and prepared gifts for VIP guests of President Joseph Estrada.
Tuason said she even risked death when she stayed in Malacañang after Estrada stepped down from office after the EDSA Dos revolt in 2001.
Tuason said she first met Napoles after the latter expressed interest in buying her house in 2004. That meeting led to Mrs. Napoles asking Tuason for an introduction to her politician-friends particularly Senator Estrada.
Estrada initially rebuffed Napoles' offer to meet up but allegedly changed his mind when the businesswoman offered 40% in commission for every PDAF project that passed through her NGOs. Tuason said the same deal was allegedly struck with Senator Enrile through his chief of staff, Gigi Reyes.
Tuason said the operation of the scam was the same for both senators: she would first get a text message from either Estrada or Enrile's staff, informing her that they had PDAF that they could allocate for specific projects.
She said Estrada would text her directly; in Enrile's case, it was Reyes or the senator's deputy chief of staff.
Tuason would then call the JLN Corporation of Mrs. Napoles and tell them about the money. The Napoles employees would then correspond with the senator's staff about how to use the money.
Tuason would then get a commission once the project pushes through. "It doesn't go through me anymore because I have no personality. I don't know anybody in these implementing agencies. I don't know anybody in the [Department of Budget and Management]. My work is between their office and the office of the senator," she said.
The former social secretary said she had a change of heart while she was in the US after the pork barrel scam was exposed last year.
"There was a church I found [in US] that was open 24 hours, and I just found myself going there every day. Talagang iyak na lang ako ng iyak. Hiyang-hiya ako sa sarili ko. Hindi ako makapaniwala of what I did. I felt so guilty," she said.
"And then my grandchildren would always call me [via] Skype, and they would always ask me 'When are you coming home?'"
She added: "I don't want to die with millions of Filipinos hating me. I don't want to die with my grandchildren being ashamed of me. So I felt I have to do something. I have to correct my mistake. And I cannot possibly right a wrong with another wrong."