MANILA, Philippines – It started out simple enough.
From a probe into an allegedly overpriced Makati City building, Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee hearings have since evolved into a virtual free-for-all where whistleblowers – former allies and long-time foes of Vice President Jejomar Binay alike – get the chance to expose the former Makati mayor’s supposedly corrupt ways.
Most, if not all hearings, are a mishmash of exposés ranging from how bids were rigged, kickbacks received and Binay’s wealth kept hidden. Though convened “in aid of legislation,” it’s no secret that the subcommittee hearings are politically charged.
Lost in transcription (since the hearings are typically 6 hours long)? Here’s a quick guide to what happened during the subcommittee’s Thursday, November 6, hearing:
Where in the world is Vice President Binay?
The short: He didn’t attend the November 6 hearing and instead flew off to Cebu to grant media interviews, visit a mine, and attend a Boy Scouts of the Philippines event.
The long: Unlike most hearings on Senate Resolution No. 826 on the “Alleged overpricing of the 11-story new Makati City Hall II Parking Building,” the Thursday hearing was initially convened by the Senate Blue Ribbon “mother committee,” a concession by committee chairman Senator Teofisto Guingona III.
Guingona issued the invite himself after the Binay camp hinted that it may entertain an invite from the “mother committee” which they reckon would be more fair.
Binay and his men, after all, have accused the subcommittee members – Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Antonio Trillanes IV – of having “pre-judged” the Vice President.
In a letter to Guingona, Binay said he initially wanted to attend the hearing (despite the qualms of his allies) but changed his mind because of how Trillanes and Cayetano treated his men in the past. (READ: Guingona on Binay snub: ‘Sayang’)
Pimentel, the subcommittee chairman, and Guingona both agreed it would be pointless to issue another invitation to the Vice President. Binay rejected an invite from the subcommittee once before. Besides, it’s not like Binay’s men want him to attend anyway.
But if you’re looking for a heated exchange between Binay and newfound-nemesis Trillanes, you won’t have to wait for long: the two are supposed to face each other in a one-on-one debate on November 27.
Guingona outvoted. The Vice President wasn’t there but his men – United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) interim president and Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco, as well as UNA interim secretary general Jose Virgilio Bautista – made sure their presence was felt.
The two met with Guingona and presented him a letter and affidavit from the Vice President. Binay also gave Tiangco and Bautista the authority to speak on his behalf during the November 6 hearing and in future hearings.
Guingona later told reporters he was willing to let the two speak but the rest of the committee was not. The Blue Ribbon chairman said he was “out-voted” by the other members of the subcommittee.
Pimentel later explained they voted this way to be consistent in not allowing spokesmen to speak on behalf of their principals. They wanted Binay himself to speak and Binay himself to answer the tough questions.
But Tiangco and Bautista did not let the subcommittee get in their way. They held an impromptu press conference in one of the empty Senate rooms where they accused the subcommittee of “abusing” its powers.
“What is Cayetano afraid of? That I can prove him wrong? And I will prove him wrong! Ang problema, duwag ‘yang si Cayetano,” exclaimed Bautista. (The problem is, Cayetano is a coward.)
Nothing but the Tiu-th. There was also one less person to grill during the November 6 hearing, after alleged Binay dummy Antonio Tiu skipped it, saying he had already filed his answers anyway.
Tiu had been the focus of the past two hearings, subjected to 6-hour long interrogations by the subcommittee. A day before the hearing, a normally stoic Tiu broke character and teared up as he chastised Cayetano for dragging his family into the issue. (READ: Tiu: Senators acting as ‘complainant, prosecutor, judge’)
Cayetano, during the hearing, said he did not want to dignify Tiu’s allegations but pointed out glaring holes in the businessman’s narrative.
The senator also revealed that the power bills in Tiu’s Rosario, Batangas property (tagged “Hacienda Binay” by whistleblowers) were still being paid by AgriFortuna Inc, which is owned by Laureano Gregorio Jr.
Gregorio sold the property to Tiu and is also one of the original incorporators of AgriFortuna, alongside Binay and his wife Elenita. The Binays have since divested from the company.
The senator also said he wanted Tiu to come to the next hearing. (READ: Can Antonio Tiu tell a lie?)
“Bahala siya (He can do what he wants),” said Tiu in a text message to Rappler.
Another ‘overpriced, chop-chop’ building. True to earlier pronouncements, the subcommittee on November 6 tackled another allegedly overpriced Makati structure: the Makati Science High School building.
Binay’s ally-turned-enemy lawyer Renato Bondal said the “modus” was the same as the Makati City Hall Building 2: a favored contractor, “ghost bidders,” and implementation in phases. (READ: Former official: Rigged bids in Makati under VP Binay, wife)
Bondal said the P1.333-billion ($29.59 million) building should have cost only P470 million ($10.43 million), citing the industry average based on the Davis Landon Shea Handbook 2013.
Two supposed bidders of the high school building told the Senate they did not actually place a bid for the project. The subcommittee will hold an ocular on the building as soon as their schedules permit.
Mercado’s secrets. The man who was once the most loyal to Binay has not run out of things to expose.
During the November 6 hearing, former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado revealed two things: At least one parcel of land within “Hacienda Binay” is actually under his name and that Binay has several foreign bank accounts dating back to the late 80s and late 90s.
The former Makati vice mayor claimed he was not aware the land was under his name until it was mentioned in a television report recently. He does recall, however, being asked by Binay many years back to sign a deed of sale. He signed the document not knowing what it was for.
Mercado claimed it was Binay who paid for the land.
Although his second presentation was not admitted into the subcommittee’s records, Mercado made a show when he revealed Binay kept millions of pesos in time deposit, savings, and investment accounts in Hong Kong-based banks.
Mercado pointed out that these accounts were not declared in the Vice President’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) during his time as Makati mayor.
Pimentel also said he would not allow any more presentations or documents in connection with any alleged SALN misdeclarations unless a senator files a resolution to include the Vice President’s SALN in the probe.
This didn’t seem to bother Trillanes, who appeared to get what he wanted in the end. “What is important for me is makita ito, na (to show that) as early as the 80s may propensity [si Binay] to accumulate ill-gotten wealth,” Trillanes told Rappler after the hearing.
The next subcommittee hearing is scheduled on November 17. – Rappler.com