Senator Miriam Santiago effectively destroyed today what is likely to be a key and critical defense posture of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and others against accusations that they stole billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money in the so-called PDAF scam, allegedly led by businesswoman Janet Napoles.

Deny all accusations and demand the production of hard evidence to support accusations of malpractice – this is the likely legal strategy that Enrile, Estrada and other suspected scammers will use as the latest whistleblower, Ruby Tuason, gamely revealed what she knows about the scam during the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing today, February 13.

“For the first time, someone has testified that PDAF kickback money has been given to some senators. So, Tuason’s testimony is very, very important in this regard as it strongly supports the plunder charges against some senators and others implicated in the PDAF scam. Her testimony is just like a three-point shot [in basketball],” said committee chairman TG Guingona as he underscored the vital contribution of Tuason in the government’s bid to prosecute all those who pocketed taxpayers’ money in the PDAF scam.

The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), worth tens of billions of pesos a year, is intended to help the poorest of the poor across the country via a wide array of poverty alleviation and infrastructure projects. However, Napoles former employees and Commission on Audit (COA) reports have disclosed widespread abuses by scores of the country’s most senior and famous senators and congressmen, including senators Enrile, Estrada, Bong Revilla, Bongbong Marcos, Lito Lapid and Gregorio Honasan. Errant lawmakers, according to the whistleblowers and COA reports, earmarked their PDAF allocations, worth tens of millions, to fake or non-existent NGOs set up by Napoles who, in turn, gave the politicians up to 40% of the cost of the public projects representing kickbacks.

Both Estrada and Enrile denied last week Tuason’s accusation that she personally handed PDAF kickbacks to the son of the former president and to Gigi Reyes, Enrile’s former chief of staff and rumored lover who fled the Philippines late last year.

In today’s Senate hearing, Santiago said mere denials of innocence against accusations of malpractice won’t suffice. This is especially so if there’s a competent eyewitness, like Tuason, former social secretary of Joseph Estrada when he was president, who could attest under oath personally witnessing a crime being committed, she added.

The feisty senator, a former trial judge before becoming senator, backed up her statement by citing several Supreme Court decisions.

She stressed that courts should give more weight to the testimony of an eyewitness — as long as the eyesight and all other physical faculties of that witness are working well – than a mere denial of an accused. The Supreme Court is the country’s highest court. This means judges in all lower courts, including the Ombudsman presumably, will take into account Supreme Court decisions in resolving high-profile and even less prominent cases where the accused will question the validity of evidences so as to escape being jailed — just like Enrile, Estrada and others are likely to do.

A justice department official said the Ombudsman is still evaluating the plunder charges filed against Enrile, Estrada and 36 others, including Napoles. He estimates that it might take a few more months before the Ombudsman can decide whether or not evidences are sufficient to proceed with the prosecution of all the accused.

In the meantime, attention is riveted on prospects of more whistleblowers, like Tuason, coming out from the cold and revealing what they know about the PDAF and other big-time corruption in government. The name of Dennis Cunanan, head of government-run Technology Resource Center, has been mentioned in media reports today as a potential new whistleblower.

As many people await the next episode in this riveting Pinoy tele novella, hopes are rising that big-time corrupt politicians will eventually be prosecuted under the law – even if they hire some of the country’s best lawyers.
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