MANILA - Justice Secretary Leila De Lima debunked Senator Jinggoy Estrada's claims that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is bent on pinning down only him, Senators Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile in the "pork barrel" scam cases.
De Lima denied there was such instruction from her, nor from Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, the undersecretary-in-charge of the buildup and filing of cases against those allegedly involved in the siphoning of billions of public funds into bogus foundations linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
The justice chief stressed that neither the DOJ, nor its investigative arm, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), coached the PDAF scam whistleblowers and witnesses on their respective testimonies.
"Absolutely untrue, hindi talaga yan totoo. Wala kaming ganyang instruction. Lahat ng ginagawa ni USec Justiniano as USec-in-charge [of the PDAF scam probe and case buildup], alam ko lahat yan and that's all with my blessings. He will not do anything and he will not say anything na hindi kini-clear sa akin."
"I will never make such an instruction, because, in the first place, we don't coach our witnesses. Hindi ho totoo na rini-recruit namin ang mga witnesses na yan; sila ang nag-approach sa amin, it's not the other way around," De Lima said in a chance interview with reporters on Thursday.
De Lima challenged Estrada to name his "unimpeachable" source/sources who reportedly relayed the information to the senator.
"May I challenge Sen Jinggoy to disclose who are those unimpeachable sources, kasi hindi nga totoo yun. Kung mayroon mang source or sources, nagsisinungaling yung source or sources na yan."
"Dapat fair naman sila. That's foul. Magaling scriptwriter nila; we can give credit to them. Magandang pakinggan, magandang panoorin, lalo na maayos naman delivery nila ng kanilang privilege speech. But we do not deserve this," De Lima said.
Moves by those implicated in the scam to discredit the witnesses had already been anticipated by the DOJ and NBI, but the justice chief said the DOJ should be spared from these attacks especially since the witnesses had undergone a strict vetting process.
"We already anticipated this, pero sana naman huwag anu-ano na lang sinasabi nila sa DOJ: sloppy, mga ganyan. How can he (Estrada) say na sloppy, na hasty kami doon. Hindi ba I told you already na si [Technology Resource Center Director General on-leave] Dennis Cunanan, even before we filed the first batch [of PDAF scam cases], nag-apply na siya but we took time to assess his proferred testimony?
"Vinet din namin yan. Although ang focus namin is on the credibility of their story, the credibility of what they're saying doon sa pinaka-crux ng issue. Ano pinaka-crux ng issue? Doon sa PDAF scam, involvement ng mga lawmakers, involvement ng mga senators, tumanggap ng kickbacks, yung pinadaan sa Napols NGOs.
"Doon naka-sentro ang pag-assess namin ng credibility," De Lima said.
She pointed out that it is up to the Office of the Ombudsman, where the PDAF scam cases were filed, and the Sandiganbayan, which will try these cases in the event the Ombudsman finds probable cause against respondents, to weigh the credibility of respondents-turned-state-witness-applicants Ruby Tuason and Dennis Cunanan who are now under provisional coverage of the DOJ's Witness Protection Program (WPP).
DISTORTIONS; HALF-TRUTHS, HALF-LIES
Reacting to Estrada's claims that Tuason and Cunanan lied on their respective testimonies, De Lima said the senator has engaged in "some distortions," and "muddled the factual issues."
"Yung tungkol sa CCTV, para bang pinapalabas niya na hindi totoo yung sinasabi ni Mrs Tuason, naghahanap siya ng duffle bag. Hindi ba hindi naman yun ang kumpletong CCTV [footage]? Siya na nga ang nagsasabi na wala na yung CCTV [footage] doon sa [Senate] basement."
"And then walang sinasabi si Mrs Tuason na all the time duffle bag ang dala dala niya [to deliver kickbacks]; kinlarify na yun na isang beses lang duffle bag ang dala niya, if P1 million or P2 million, kasya na sa bag... it does not follow na because there were a few footage of the CCTV na walang dalang duffle bag hindi ibig sabihin nagsinungaling na si Mrs Tuason sa punto na yan. That's also muddling the factual issues, that's also engaging in half-truths or half-lies,"she said.
She also denied according Tuason special treatment in allowing her to leave the country, stressing that though Tuason is with the WPP, she cannot be deprived of her right to travel.
"Another example, kay Dennis Cunanan naman he (Estrada) keeps on harping naman na mansion daw yung bahay (Cunanan's residence) daw yung bahay na yun. Nakita nyo ba itsura ng bahay? Siguro bungalow yun, but to categorize that as a mansion -- it's a little bit of an exaggeration. Kung mansion yun, ano na yung ano nila, palasyo na bahay nila?" De Lima said.
Cunanan, along with his lawyers, met with De Lima at the DOJ on Wednesday to explain himself regarding the conflict in his and primary whistleblower Benhur Luy's testimonies.
Cunanan claimed he did not receive kickbacks in connection with the scam, while Luy has testified that he did.
De Lima, however, refused to divulge details about the meeting with Cunanan, and the WPP's next step regarding the issue.
De Lima assured the public that the cases against those charged for the PDAF scam remain strong and evidence against them is "more than the probable cause threshold.