MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Jinggoy Estrada rejected yesterday suggestions for him to take a leave of absence amid the pork barrel fund controversy.
“Why should I take a leave? I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Estrada maintained that he did not misuse his pork barrel funds nor had he authorized any of his staff or even socialite Ruby Tuason to collect kickbacks on his behalf for approved projects using his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
Tuason is a former social secretary of the senator’s father, ex-President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Senator Estrada blasted Tuason’s testimony during the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing last Thursday, noting inconsistencies in her statements as well as the attempts to evade questions pertaining to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and his former chief of staff Gigi Reyes.
Estrada, Enrile and Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. have been charged with plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged misuse of their PDAF that was released to bogus non-government organizations headed by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. Napoles was also a co-accused in the plunder cases.
Under oath, Tuason testified that she personally delivered kickbacks to Estrada in his office in the Senate and at his house in San Juan City.
During those visits, Tuason said two of the senators’ aides would assist her to pass the strict Senate security personnel assigned at the Senate building’s basement parking area.
Estrada vehemently denied the allegations that he received money from Tuason, adding that she merely brought snacks and trays of sandwiches, some of which he (Estrada) had shared with other senators.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV shared the view that Estrada should be given due process and that there is no reason for him to temporary leave the Senate because of the brouhaha.
“I would not advise that yet because we have due process. We have presumption of innocence. And besides, the accused is an elected official. You cannot just take back their mandate. Let’s just wait for the decision of the Sandiganbayan,” he said.
Sought for comment, Blue Ribbon panel chairman Senator Teofisto Guingona III said it would be up to Estrada to decide how he will deal with calls for him to take a leave of absence in view of Tuason’s latest revelation.
“That’s for Sen. Estrada to address. I think I should not be the one to say that,” Guingona said in a press briefing after Thursday’s Senate hearing.
Mayor Estrada claimed that Tuason is loyal only to commissions on business transactions dating back to her stint as palace social secretary.
Estrada said he was hurt after Tuason even dragged his wife, former senator Luisa Ejercito, into the pork barrel scam.
“She is just like Clarissa Ocampo, who was paid to testify against me. Look at Ocampo now, she was rewarded with a Chinese restaurant in Alabang in exchange for her testimony against me,” Estrada said.
Ocampo, a former bank executive, had testified against then President Estrada during his plunder case.
Estrada said even in catering services, Tuason demanded commissions during his presidency.
“All her testimony was rehearsed. She was even using her dead sibling and her husband just to get the sympathy of the people,” Estrada said.
“Tuason is a paid witness,” Estrada added.
Estrada said his wife would be the last person to be engaged in corruption.
“My wife is a very religious person… She was teary-eyed yesterday when she heard her name being mentioned,” Estrada said.
Mayor Estrada said the mastermind in Tuason’s decision to come out in the open to link his son, Senator Estrada in the pork barrel scam, is concentrating on “trial by publicity.”
Sen. Estrada will celebrate his 51st birthday on Monday against a backdrop of the pork barrel controversy, but without much help from Tuason who had previously organized some of his parties.
Instead of a grand birthday party, Estrada plans to host lunch for colleagues and staff at his Senate office on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Enrile also turned 90 yesterday, Valentine’s Day.
Estrada said he would miss Tuason as party organizer.
He recalled that Tuason helped with preparations for his 50th birthday celebration last year at the Manila Hotel.
Tuason usually organized parties for him and others within their political and social circles, the senator said.
As social secretary of former President Estrada, the senator noted that Tuason was well versed in the social graces.
“That’s why she would also bring snacks,” he said.
“At times, I phone her and tell her, Tita Ruby, please come here and bring some merienda,” Estrada said, recalling his conversations with Tuason, who was a family friend and also a member of the MARE Foundation which was led by his mother.
During his last birthday celebration, Estrada recalled Tuason helped prepare the seating arrangements.
“Of course, she will not do that now,” said Estrada.
The senator said he was even surprised when Tuason solicited some gifts, cash included, from patrons, which he learned much later after the birthday celebration.
“You’d be surprised, she even got a cut (commission) out of the cash gift from one patron,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Jejomar Binay said yesterday that no amount of disagreement could break his friendship with Mayor Estrada after a recent disagreement of the two allies over the redevelopment of the Central Market in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Binay, who along with Estrada and Enrile founded the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) that brought Binay to the vice presidency, downplayed a recent news report suggesting that he and Estrada are likely to part ways due to disagreement over the Central Market project. With Jose Rodel Clapano