Nancy Binay to ask DOJ: Why is Ernesto Mercado at casinos?

Mara Cepeda
Nancy Binay to ask DOJ: Why is Ernesto Mercado at casinos?
(UPDATED) The senator says she herself saw the ex-Makati vice mayor leaving a casino, and wants a clarification from the DOJ

PAMPANGA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senator Nancy Binay plans to write a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ask why former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, supposedly under the Witness Protection Program (WPP), was seen leaving casinos in Clark over the weekend.

“Tomorrow, susulat ako sa DOJ to clarify kasi ‘di ba narinig niyo ‘yung mga reklamo dun sa programs ng WPP na kulang ‘yung pondo for the other witnesses, tapos makikita mo na may isa na sakop ng WPP na sinasamahan [ng bodyguards] sa loob ng casino at hindi lang ito ‘yung first time,” the senator told reporters in an ambush interview on Sunday, March 6, in Macabebe, Pampanga.

(Tomorrow, I will write to the DOJ to seek clarifications. You hear about complaints that the WPP lacks funds for other witnesses, then you’ll see someone under the WPP being accompanied [by bodyguards] inside a casino. This isn’t the first time either.) 

Senator Binay said she saw Mercado emerge from the casino of the hotel where she and her family were about to check in past 3 pm on Saturday. 

Yesterday afternoon, nandun lang ako sa may lobby tapos binulungan ako ng husband ko na, ‘O si Ernesto Mercado, palabas ng casino,’” she said. 

(Yesterday afternoon, I was just in the lobby when my husband whispered, “There’s Ernesto Mercado, on his way out of the casino.”)

The senator said she did not want to make a scene in the lobby, so she and her husband just decided to proceed to the elevator.

That was when she reportedly saw Mercado leaving the hotel, the name of which she refused to reveal, with around 7 to 10 bodyguards. 

Mercado was a former vice mayor of Makati, where the senator’s father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, was mayor for 21 years. 

Mercado had a falling out with the Binay family when the Vice President decided to field his son Junjun for mayor in the 2010 elections instead of Mercado. Junjun, now dismissed, beat Mercado in the 2010 polls.

Mercado was also a key witness during the yearlong Senate probe on the corruption allegations against Vice President Binay.

Mercado said he and the Vice President received kickbacks in various city government projects. He was placed under the WPP in September 2014.

CLARIFICATION. Senator Nancy Binay plans to write a letter to the Department of Justice regarding ex-Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado's 'casino visits.' Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

Two casinos in one day? 

Another known ally of Binay claimed he saw Mercado leave another casino on Saturday evening. 

Former Candaba, Pampanga mayor Jerry Pelayo said he briefly talked to Mercado at the Widus Casino and Hotel at around 9:30 pm on Saturday. 

Pelayo said he came from a meeting at the hotel’s coffee shop when he saw Mercado in the lobby.

Kinausap niya ko. Sabi niya, ‘Pano ‘yan? Talo na ko.’ Sabi ko, ‘E ‘di uwi ka na,’” said Pelayo, also a staunch supporter of former President and reelectionist Pampanga Second District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

(He talked to me and said, “What am I going to do? I lost.” So I told him, “Then go home.”) 

Puwede niyo ‘kong i-quote diyan kasi totoo naman e,” Pelayo added.

(You can quote me on that because it’s the truth.)

ANOTHER SIGHTING. Former Candaba, Pampanga mayor Jerry Pelayo says he also saw Ernesto Mercado at the Widus Casino and Hotel. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

According to Senator Binay, Mercado allegedly lost more than P50,000 on Saturday.

On Monday, Mercado was seen attending an International Women’s Day celebration sponsored by the Liberal Party (LP) in Makati Coliseum.Mercado’s daughter Karla is running for vice mayor under the LP.

Sought for comment, Senator Binay said Mercado may have graced the event to “replenish” his gambling money.

He needs to be replenished. Baka kaya nasa Makati Coliseum kasi kailangang magpa-replenish. Di ba natalo siya noong Sabado? Kaya magpakitang gilas muna siya doon,” Senator Binay told reporters.

(He needs to be replenished. Maybe that’s why he was in the Makati Coliseum. He lost last Saturday, right? Perhaps he needs to show his presence there.) 

“’Yun ang dapat tanungin tapos yung anak niya, tumatakbo din ngayon sa Makati mayor under Liberal Party. So ang pondo ba na pangcasino galing sa LP, since yung anak nya ay tumatakbo under LP?” she added.

(That’s what needs to be asked, then his daughter his running for vice mayor in Makati under the Liberal Party. So is the LP giving him the money for his gambling activities since his daughter is running under LP?)

Mercado declined to give a comment on the matter.

“I would like to give them a dose of their own medicine. I will only comment on the issue if the Vice President will also answer the allegations that he received kickbacks from all infrastructure projects in Makati, then I will answer. We can do it together. We can answer the allegations together,” he told the Inquirer.

Not a secret

This is not the first time that the spotlight has centered on Mercado’s gambling activities.

At the beginning of the Senate investigation on the Vice President in 2014, a Makati city hall official said Mercado is not a credible witness because he is a gambler.  

Ako aaminin ko sa inyo, prangka akong tao. Nagsasabong ako, nagbi-breed ako ng manok, nagdidiversion ako pagminsan-minsan. ‘Di ko itatanggi. Casino? Once in a while. ‘Di naman porque nagpupunta sa casino, nagsusugal eh. Madalas kumakain lang ako sa restaurant. At sinasabi nagigipit ako at nagpapagamit, kanino?” Mercado fired back then.

(I’m a frank person, I’ll admit it. I go to cock fights, I breed chickens. It’s a hobby. I won’t deny it. Casino? Once in a while, but just because you go to a casino, it doesn’t mean you’re gambling. I often eat at restaurants only. They’re telling me I’m in need of money and that I’m being used. Being used by whom?) 

At the end of the Senate probe on his political rival, Mercado asked that the WPP be improved because whistleblowers face a number of risks, including death threats and failure to support their families. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.