TRC chief wants to become state witness

Posted at 02/20/14 5:48 PM

Dennis Cunanan. Photo from http://www.trc.dost.gov.ph

MANILA (UPDATED) - Dennis Cunanan, another respondent in the pork barrel scam case, has applied to become a state witness, a lawyer of the pork scam whistle-blowers said Thursday.

Lawyer Levito Baligod confirmed that Cunanan, general manager of the Technology Resource Center (TRC), had applied to become state witness last year but his application was stalled in the office of Justice Underscretary Jose Justiniano.

"Cunanan was one of my early resources persons even before Benhur Luy came forward. I was talking to him and [former National Agribusiness Corporation vice-president] Rhoda Mendoza around March 2013," he told ABS-CBNnews.com.

Baligod said Cunanan confirmed that he talked to Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and other legislators when he was first designated officer-in-charge of the TRC. Cunanan made the calls to validate the senator's signatures on letters endorsing the non-government organizations of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, Baligod said.

"He makes validation calls on Revilla's signatures and if the senator's staff members are authorized to sign for him. Kasi may mga memorandum of agreement na hindi legislator kundi chief of staff (ang pumipirma)," he said.

Revilla validated signatures

What stood out about Cunanan's calls to Revilla, according to Baligod,was that the senator would confirm his signatures and then get angry with the TRC head for the delay in release of his pork barrel funds.

"Na-highlight yung kay Senator Revilla kasi bakit daw ang bagal-bagal. He (Cunanan) even said that they worked the whole day of December 23, I don't know what year, that they went overtime para ma-process yung PDAF ni Senator Revilla," he said.

Revilla is one of 38 people facing plunder, malversation, bribery and other charges before the Office of the Ombudsman for their alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam of Janet Lim Napoles.

The scam involved the funneling of lawmakers' priority development assistance funds (PDAF) to dubious non-government organizations set up by Mrs. Napoles.

The Commission on Audit earlier said 10 NGOs linked to Napoles received P2.157 billion in PDAF from 2007-2009.

Revilla earlier denied signing endorsement letters that allocated P503.69 million of his pork barrel to eight questionable NGOs from 2007 to 2009. He also accused whistle-blower Benhur Luy of forging his signatures.

The senator has filed a plunder complaint against Cunanan as well as other officials of state firms linked to the Napoles scam. The other respondents in the complaint filed by Revilla include Alan Javellana, former president of the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor); Gondelina Amata, president of the National Livelihood Development Corp., and Salvador Salacup, former president of the ZNAC Rubber Estate Corp.

Weight of testimony

In the interview, Baligod said Cunanan's statements carry evidentiary weight since he himself processed the endorsements of Senator Revilla and even talked to the lawmaker.

He also said Cunanan's statement would add to the chain of evidence in the case.

"Depende kasi sa depensa nila. Si Senator Jinggoy Estrada at si Senator Juan Ponce Enrile sinasabi hindi sila tumanggap ng kickbacks kaya relevant yung sinabi ni Ruby Tuason. Pero yung kay Bong Revilla, sinasabi niya wala siyang nalalaman. Hindi niya alam nangyayari sa PDAF," he said.

"Siya (Cunanan) yung tumatawag to validate tapos sasabihin sa kanya ni Revilla: 'Oo, pirma ko yan.' Kilala naman niya ang boses ni Senator Revilla," he added.

He also said Revilla's aide, Richard Cambe, would sometimes go to Cunanan's office.

Baligod said he does not know if Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was referring to Cunanan when she said that another pork scam respondent was willing to turn state witness.

He said there are other pork scam respondents who have indicated willingness to turn state witness "pero we choose yung may relevance."

"Wala rin e. The evidence of the whistle-blowers is sufficient for the finding of probable cause by the Ombudsman and the issuance of a warrant of arrest by the Sandiganbayan," he said.

Baligod said Cunanan is in Manila. Cunanan went on indefinite leave of absence from the TRC last September after he and his agency were linked to the pork barrel scam.

DOJ delay

As early as September, Cunanan wanted to enter the witness protection program.

But his application was supposedly put on hold at the office of Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano.

"Nung una, ipinakita affidavit ni Dennis, ang sabi okay na. Tapos kulang pa daw sabi ni Usec. Justiniano. Sa aking pananaw, nakita ko sa testimonya ng ibang whistleblowers -- sula et al, kinumpara bigat ng sasabihin ni Dennis, mas matimbang ito. Kaya hindi ako makakita ng rason kung bakit di pa sya na-admit," Baligod said.
Justiniano allegedly wanted Cunanan to return P5 million -- money that Cunanan denies he got from the scam.

"Assuming na may tinanggap sya, he is not in any obligation to return kasi kasama yan sa benefits ng isang witness. Immunity from criminal and civil liability," Baligod said.

He said Cunanan's move to blacklist the Napoles NGOs proves he did not benefit from the anomaly.
Justiniano has so far refused to comment.

For Baligod, Cunanan's testimony is vital to the pork barrel case. - with a report from Anthony Taberna, ABS-CBN News; ANC