MANILA, Philippines – After conducting 5 hearings on the alleged overpricing of a local government building in Makati City, a subcommittee of the Senate has finally sent an invitation to the man at the center of the controversy: Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The invite was sent on Tuesday, September 11, the same day the 5th hearing on the Makati City Hall Building 2 concluded. In a text message to Rappler, Binay’s spokesman for political affairs, Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla Jr, said the invite was received the same day.
The letter was only made available to media on Monday, September 15.
The building is the basis of a plunder complaint filed against the Vice President and his son, incumbent Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay. It’s also at the center of a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee probe chaired by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, a former ally of Binay.
The building, alleged by critics to be overpriced by P2 billion, was constructed over several years spanning the terms of the older Binay and his as mayor of the country’s richest city.
The Vice President is being invited to the next hearing scheduled for September 25. In a previous interview with reporters, Pimentel said Binay would be given the entire hearing to air his side of the story.
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Mayor Binay attended the first hearing but skipped subsequent ones. The younger Binay is supposed to be subpoenaed to the September 25 hearing as well.
The Vice President was supposed to address all accusations against him in a special event Monday, September 15. He postponed this, however, to fly to attend to constituents in the typhoon-ravaged provinces of Cagayan and Isabela in his mother’s home region.
Remulla, in a statement, said the Vice President would address the accusations at an “appropriate time” sometime this week.
Binay will decide on whether to accept or reject the invite “after the address,” Remulla told Rappler in a text message.
It is unusual for the Senate to invite a vice president to its hearings.
Former Vice President Noli de Castro in 2010 was summoned by the Senate to hearings on the alleged irregularities in the deal between the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-ibig) and private developer Globe Asiatique Realty Corporation, but only months after his term ended.
Binay, already Vice President then, was also invited to the same hearing, but only in his capacity as chairman of the Pag-ibig fund.
From cakes to kickbacks
So far, various allegations of corruption have been hurdled by political foes and former city employees at the Binay family.
Lawyer Renato Bondal, who filed the plunder case against the Binays, told the Senate that the Binays overpriced not only the new building but other government structures as well.
He said Senator Nancy Binay, the daughter of the Vice President, earned from the overpriced cakes the city government gives to its senior citizens.
Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, a former ally of the Binays, said the Vice President, when he was mayor, got a 13% kickback from city projects. Mercado alleged that Binay’s kickbacks were split into 3: for the Binay family, for his own use, and for his campaign funds.
The former vice mayor also told the Senate that Binay raised over P1 billion to fund his 2010 campaign for vice president, son Junjun Binay’s mayoralty bid, and daughter Abigail Binay’s congressional re-election bid. Mercado ran and lost to the younger Binay.
The Binays have decried the probe as politically motivated and have criticized the way senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter Cayetano have interrogated resource persons so far.
The two senators, who belong to the Nationalista Party, have both expressed interest in seeking higher office and could be either challenging Binay or his running mate in 2016.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who has also expressed a desire to run for president in 2016, previously said Binay would lose a “golden opportunity” to air his side should he decide to snub the Senate invite.
Pimentel earlier said the subcommittee would pen a draft resolution once the hearing wraps up, with or without Binay’s appearance.
Support for Binay
On Monday, Makati residents – from city government employees to residents – rallied support for the former Makati mayor and the incumbent mayor.
The city’s scholars, senior citizens and employees gathered in various venues to give testimonies on how the Binays helped city residents. According to a release from the Makati city government, the Binays’ all wore black as a show of support.
The Binays have held key positions in Makati for over 3 decades. Jejomar Binay began his political career in 1986 when then president Cory Aquino appointed him office-in-charge of the city. From then until 2010, Binay was mayor of city except from 1998 to 2001, when his wife Dr. Elenita Binay took over. – Rappler.com
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