Benhur Luy's credibility under scrutiny in PDAF scam hearing

MANILA, Philippines – Pork barrel scam star witness Benhur Luy took the stand on Tuesday, August 1, where he was grilled by a defense lawyer who questioned his credibility.

The Sandiganbayan 1st Division resumed the graft trial for former Cagayan de Oro City representative Constantino Jaraula, who allegedly received P20.8 million in kickbacks from his pork barrel funneled through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) run by alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.

One of Jaraula's co-accused is Dennis Cunanan, former head of one of the implementing agencies, the now-abolished Technology Resource Center (TRC). Cunanan's lawyer Froilan Clerigo asked Luy a barrage of questions that prosecutors tried to repeatedly block for being repetitive.

Clerigo's cross-examination of Luy revolved around his hard drive, fake names that he signed for, and his alleged direct dealings with a staff member of detained former senator Jinggoy Estrada, Paulyn Labayen.

Napoles' lawyer Dennis Buenaventura, who was also at the hearing, believes it was an attempt to show that Luy is not a credible witness.

"All the while that was what we have been trying to do since Day 1. Very smooth ang questioning (The questioning was very smooth)," Buenaventura told Rappler.

Cross-examination

Clerigo quizzed Luy on the technical details of his hard drive, whether he was using a read-only file – and whether he knew what that meant – and whether he knows that a computer can tell when a hard drive was accessed last. (READ: Luy: Limit defense's access to my PDAF scam files)

The lawyer then tried to establish a trail of people who got their hands on the hard drive: Luy's childhood friend Flor who he supposedly told "that's important to me" before he was allegedly held against his will, and lawyer Levito Baligod who showed the contents of the hard drive during an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Luy's hard drive supposedly contains all crucial records of transactions, but defense lawyers tried to block it from being admitted as evidence. It was pre-marked in 2014 on the prosecution argument that it had been authenticated by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Clerigo then proceeded to scrutinize Luy's personal wealth that he admitted reached P5 million at one point. When the controversy broke out, Luy said all that was left was P800,000, which Napoles – already furious with him at the time – took from his account and deposited to the account of JLN Corporation.

"Because you had no other source of income, all of these money came from PDAF, yes?" Clerigo asked, to which Luy said yes.

The Napoles camp had earlier tried to use Luy's wealth to help their case, saying it was Luy who benefitted from the scam and not Napoles.

Connection to Paulyn Labayen

Lead Prosecutor Joefferson Toribio had tried to block Clerigo's questioning when the lawyer started to ask Luy about his connection to Estrada's staff member Labayen.

Toribio said Labayen is not a co-accused in Jaraula's charges and the questioning was irrelevant.

Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg told Clerigo that he had only two more questions to connect Labayen to the charges, but Clerigo said it "was not his intention" to relate her to the case.

At that point, Clerigo spoke softly and reporters sitting at the back only heard "I would rather not..." before his voice trailed off.

Nevertheless, he was allowed to continue asking his questions. He was able to establish that Luy earned P150,000 commission from Labayen who asked for his help in transacting with an NGO.

It was this transaction that supposedly angered Napoles. Luy said that when his boss found out, she said, "Ikulong na 'yan (Detain him)!"

"Why did you hide this from Napoles?" Clerigo asked.

Luy claimed that because Labayen, Estrada, and Napoles were already talking to each other, he had assumed his boss knew of the transaction.

Fake names

Clerigo also discussed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents of NGOs connected to Napoles, for which they supposedly used fake names and photos.

Luy admitted to signing the papers as the fictitious individuals.

Clerigo said some of the names were that of Luy's former classmates.

"Did you not feel like you were betraying them?" Clerigo asked, but Toribio again blocked the question because "it has already been asked and answered."

Econg also told Clerigo to only ask questions which are not "repetitions."

By the end of the hearing, Clerigo had not asked a single question related to his client, Dennis Cunanan.

The questioning can be seen as an attempt to hit Luy's credibility, especially since the serious illegal detention case he previously filed against Napoles ended with an acquittal by the Court of Appeals (CA) last May.

The acquittal, according to Buenaventura, would prove Luy is a liar and would therefore cast a cloud of doubt over his testimonies in the pork barrel scam.

Buenaventura believes this is the start of the disintegration of the government's case against his client, and in effect, the other co-accused.

Estrada had also said Luy's credibility in the pork barrel scam would be "discredited" by the outcome of the serious illegal detention case.

Luy is set to undergo further cross-examination in the Jaraula case on August 15 and 29. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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