DOJ urged: Ask witnesses to return kickbacks first

By Aie Balagtas See, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 23 2014 12:49 PM | Updated as of Feb 23 2014 08:49 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- A lawyer for the second batch of whistle-blowers in the pork barrel fund scam appealed to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to require aspiring witnesses to return all the money they received from the scam before they are accepted as state witnesses.

“We trust the judgment of the DOJ on matters of case build-up, but we hope the witnesses will be required to disclose the actual amount they received from the scam and they be required to return the people’s money even before they are admitted (as witness) provisionally,” lawyer Stephen Cascolan said.

Cascolan, counsel for whistle-blowers Marina Sula, Monette Briones and Arlene Baltazar, said stealing becomes easy when one could testify later.

Cascolan gave the statement on the heels of the DOJ’s pronouncement that Technology Resource Center (TRC) director Dennis Cunanan is a potential witness in the pork barrel scam.

The TRC was allegedly used by suspected pork barrel scam operator Janet Lim-Napoles and some lawmakers to siphon off millions of pesos in pork barrel funds.

Cunanan, as head of TRC, was charged along with 38 others, including Senators Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, last year.

Cascolan said he does not welcome Cunanan as witness since the TRC chief refused to admit that he received kickbacks from the scam.

This was unlike his clients and the first batch of whistle-blowers like Benhur Luy, Gertrudes Luy and Helen Suñas, who all admitted to participating in Napoles’ scheme, he said. All six worked for Napoles.

Even Ruby Tuason, the former social secretary of former President Joseph Estrada, admitted to receiving P40 million in kickbacks.

Tuason, who is also a respondent in the case, allegedly used to deliver the money for Estrada and Enrile.

Cascolan said Tuason promised to return the money she gained from the scam.

Cascolan added Cunanan “did not cooperate” before the first batch of plunder charges were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Last October, Cunanan surfaced at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to express his willingness to testify in the scam. He was already a respondent in the case then.

Cunanan denied involvement in the scam and claimed he had blacklisted dubious NGOs from transacting with TRC even before the NBI started its probe on the anomaly.

Earlier this year, Cunanan again landed on the front pages after submitting an affidavit to the DOJ detailing what he allegedly knew about the scam. This came days after Tuason surfaced.

Mind your own clients

At the same time, Cascolan also reminded fellow lawyer Levito Baligod that he is not the secretary of justice and thus has no right to admit or ease out any of the witnesses in the case.

Cascolan was reacting to a TV interview where Baligod, lawyer for the first batch of whistle-blowers, said Cunanan’s testimony has more weight than that of Cascolan’s clients.

“I saw the affidavits of other whistle-blowers like Monette Briones, Marina Sula and Arlene Baltazar. If you will compare them with Cunanan’s, the latter’s affidavit is weightier,” Baligod said in an interview with GMA-7.

Cascolan advised Baligod to just focus on the legal work that his clients need instead of meddling in the job of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

He reminded Baligod that the criminal cases that stemmed from the pork scam investigation are not a political exercise.

“This is a people’s case, not a political exercise. He should focus on turning over to the Department of Justice and (the Office of the) Ombudsman all material evidence so both agencies can finally complete its work,” he added.

Baligod, lawyer of principal whistle-blower Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas, said Cunanan could testify to the authenticity of Revilla’s signatures on the endorsement documents that supposedly channeled his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to the NGOs of Napoles.

He added Revilla personally called Cunanan and even reprimanded the TRC chief once.

“Dennis will refute Bong Revilla’s claim that he had nothing to do with the implementation of PDAF-funded projects,” Baligod said in Filipino.

“Mr. Dennis Cunanan had cited instances when Sen. Revilla himself had confirmed signing endorsement letters favoring NGOs of Napoles,” Baligod said on GMA-7.