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Government should review state witness status of Ruby Tuason

Ed JavierWhile we were closely monitoring the news about the Resorts World Manila attack that killed 38 persons, detained lawyer Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, quietly asked the Sandiganbayan to grant her bail for the plunder charges related to the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam. 

Reyes, the chief of staff of former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, in a motion for bail, has asked the Sandiganbayan to grant her bail especially because there is no strong evidence against her in her alleged involvement in the scheme of pilfering kickbacks from the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Reyes cited her constitutional right to be granted bail if there is no strong evidence against her. Reyes, has been detained in a Taguig jail since 2014, after being implicated in the former senator’s alleged misuse of his PDAF.

If the Third Division of the Sandiganbayan will grant Reyes’ motion, this will be another major setback to goverment’s anti-corruption efforts involving PDAF funds.

It will be recalled that during the administration of former President Noynoy Aquino, the office of the Ombudsman granted Ruby Tuason, the former social secretary of former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, immunity in exchange for her testimony against Reyes. Recently, the illegal detention case against alleged PDAF scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles was dismissed by the Court of Appeals.

Whisteblowers have named Tuason as the intermediary to some of the senators being implicated in the scam. The records of Benhur Luy, another trusted aide of Napoles, show that Tuason received millions from the Napoles firm, JLN Corporation.

If goverment really want to get a complete picture of what really transpired, Tuason should help prosecutors to get to the bottom of this massive sting operation involving public funds and not just save her neck. If she will not cooperate, her status as a state witness should be removed and she should be subjected to contempt and criminal prosecution.

We also agree with legal experts who continue to question the rationale behind the granting of immunity to Tuason. Tuason earler testified against Reyes and returned P40 million from alleged kickbacks derived from lawmakers PDAF projects.

“This sets a bad precedent since the money plunderers are offering to return to government may just be miniscule compared to amount of public funds involved in the scam,” one lawyer explained to this writer.

According to Sec. 9 of Republic Act 6981 (Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act), a witness admitted into the program, shall testify, the judicial or quasi-judicial body, shall assure a speedy hearing or trial and shall endeavor to finish said proceeding within three months from the filing of the case.

It has been two years since Tuason was admitted to the Witness Protection Program and we have not seen any person involved in the scam convicted.

The question is: Where is Ruby Tuason now? Is she in hiding? Are there serious threats to her life? If so, then the state should provide her with ample protection so she can continue to testify against Reyes and all others involved in the PDAF scam.

Tuason’s testimony against Reyes and other legislators linked to the scam will be vital in our continuing search for the truth.

It pains us to think that the simple, unlettered folks in the agricultural sector living a hand-to-mouth existence were exploited to the hilt by devious individuals in their grand design to enrich themselves.

What about the poorest of the poor who should have benefited from pork barrel funds stolen from public coffers? The farmers and fisherfolk in far-flung provinces are the rightful beneficiaries of these government funds, not crooked politicans and government functionaries.

If the Napoleses, Reyes’ and Tuason’s of this world ever hope for the public to grant them mercy, they must first show some remorse and confess everything they know about the pork barrel scam. They should admit to their wrongdoing and be willing to be held accountable for what they have done.

Frankly, the behavior of thieves caught stealing vast sums of money from the government is getting a tad predictable: They perform a ‘perp walk’ before the media, get sick in jail, are brought to court in a wheelchair, and seek medical arrest in a high-end hospital in air-conditioned comfort.

But the poor individual caught stealing a chocolate bar is immediately thrown into jail and made to wait for years and years before his case is even heard in the proper court. Even when it comes to crime, the rich are different from you and me.

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