De Lima: Binay should welcome NBI probe with open arms
MANILA, Philippines – If Vice President Jejomar Binay has nothing to hide, he shouldn’t be worried by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)’s probe into allegations that he and his family have amassed ill-gotten wealth.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima made the statement in Friday, October 17, as he lashed back at Binay who had criticized her “unusual interest” in probing allegations of corruption against him and his family.
“If there is nothing to hide, the investigation should be welcomed with open arms, and not questioned at every turn for irrelevant reasons,” De Lima told a crowd of government lawyers at the closing ceremony of the 5th MCLE Accredited National Convention of Public Attorneys.
De Lima added, “Rather than question the department’s jurisdiction and priorities, the VP should instead directly confront the allegations on the systemic corruption of Makati’s procurement system.”
The DOJ chief said they "had hoped this would be welcome to the VP since he believes he could no longer rely on the impartiality of the [Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee] investigation."
But instead, she said, Binay "seems to have taken our declaration as an affront to his office and his status as an impeachable officer." (READ: Binay ‘begged’ Aquino to stop Senate probe – Palace source)
At the opening ceremony of the same convention on October 14, Binay openly criticized allies of President Benigno Aquino III, including De Lima for showing interest in his investigation when there are other cases that need her attention.
The Vice President and his family are under intense scrutiny after former allies, testifying at a Senate inquiry on the alleged overpriced Makati building, accused them of bid rigging, kickbacks from projects, and ownership of undeclared properties and business, including a vast “hacienda” in Batangas, through dummies.
The Binays have criticized the Senate probe, dismissing it as merely a ploy to drag down the Vice President’s chances in the 2016 presidential probe and to move forward the political aspirations of others.
De Lima said in previous interviews that the testimonies and documents presented before the Senate probe could be used in the DOJ and NBI probe.
De Lima 'atribida'
Binay’s spokesmen, meanwhile, accused De Lima of using the investigation to further her own political plans.
In a statement, United Nationalist Alliance interim president Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco called the NBI probe “a fishing expedition in aid of publicity.”
“De Lima is probably thinking, why let the current senator-inquisitors Cayetano and Trillanes, who are milking the free media coverage to advance their political ambitions, have all the media mileage?” he said, referring to Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter Cayetano.
De Lima has so far been coy about supposed plans to run in 2016. Cayetano and Trillanes, who’ve led the probe against Binay, have also expressed openness to seeking higher office in 2016. (READ: Cayetano eyes 2016 presidency, forms team)
“We would have expected better behavior from any regular lawyer, let alone the Secretary of Justice. Is it really that important to her to get into Mar Roxas' senatorial ticket in 2016?" added Tiangco.
Another UNA official, interim secretary general Jose Virgilio Bautista also called De Lima out for butting in issues that, he said, should not concern her.
In the same statement, Bautista called De Lima “atribida” for being “an over-eager political wanna-be bureaucrat with no jurisdiction to investigate the Vice President.”
De Lima rebuffed this accusation, pointing out that the DOJ has investigated “a former president, 3 sitting senators, several congressmen, and executive officials and is investigating more.”
“Why would the DOJ now shy away from another investigation of another case of alleged corruption and plunder? If the DOJ does refrain from investigating now, would it not constitute a case of special treatment or even dereliction of duty?” she said.
She also chided the Vice President’s spokesmen, who should only be worried about clearing their principal of allegations of corruption. “If they are not able to do that, they should not take out their frustration on the DOJ. They should not tell us how to do our job."
‘Not about politics’
De Lima reiterated that the DOJ is only bent on the pursuit of the truth.
“I see that the allegations of Mercado and the other whistleblowers are serious so why should we stop ourselves from ferreting out the truth? That’s all we’re after,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
De Lima clarified that the results of the NBI investigation will be forwarded to the Ombudsman, which is already handling the plunder cases against the Binays.
She also likened the Binay probe to the investigation into the so-called “pork barrel scam,” which, she said, is not politically-motivated.
“When we’re investigating, it’s not about politics. That’s what UNA said when we started the PDAF investigation…because they’re from the opposition. It’s not our fault that there are accusations against them and that we found evidence proving what whistleblowers said,” she added.
The DOJ and NBI probe into the pork barrel scam has led the arrest of several Binay allies – Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr.
Since the probe began, Binay has suffered a dip in surveys. He still, however, remains the most trusted public official, and leads potential 2016 presidential candidates in independent polls. (READ: Binay will wallop Aquino in 2016 – survey) – Rappler.com