Binay whistleblower leaves for US
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The key whistleblower in the probe into allegations of corruption against Vice President Jejomar Binay has left the country but clarified he will be back soon.
In a Friday, November 21 interview on dzBB, former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado said he left for the United States on Tuesday, November 18. Earlier that day, Mercado had testified before the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee.
Mercado, who is under the government’s Witness Protection Program, said he asked permission from the justice department, the Ombudsman and the Senate before leaving.
The former Makati vice mayor will be in the US until November 30 to visit his family.
“Hindi po ako umalis para talikuran ang aking obligasyon. Kung kailangan na ako ay bumalik ng mas maaga ay gagawin ko,” Mercado was quoted as saying. (This trip doesn’t mean I’m turning back on my obligation. If I need to come back to the Philippines earlier than scheduled, I will.)
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima declined to comment on Mercado’s trip. “Under the WPP [Witness Protection Program] law, there’s a confidentiality provision and this is essentially because of security reasons,” she told reporters on Friday.
De Lima said that while they “discourage” witnesses from traveling, doing so is not disallowed under the WPP. “We aren’t jailers,” she added.
The subcommittee’s hearings are temporarily put on hold while the Senate deliberates on the 2015 budget. But Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said they will likely try to schedule one more hearing before Congress takes a break from December 20, 2014 to January 18, 2015.
During the 3-hour Tuesday hearing, Mercado disclosed that Binay supposedly owns at least 6 condominium units in Makati city buildings, allegedly given to him to speed up the processing of building requirements from city hall.
Binay was mayor of Makati from 1986 to 2010. In between term limits, his wife, Dr. Elenita Binay, took over the post. Binay’s only son Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr is the current city mayor.
Mercado is one of Binay’s former political allies who have since turned against him and are now leading the exposé on his allegedly corrupt ways. It was Mercado who said Binay got kickbacks from city projects, including the allegedly overpriced Makati City Building 2, which is the basis of plunder raps against the Vice President and his son. (READ: The Jojo Binay that Mercado knew)
The former vice mayor also admitted to “benefitting” from the same transaction.
In an interview with Rappler, lawyer Renato Bondal, another whistleblower in the probe, said Mercado’s had scheduled the US trip for a while and was only delayed because of the Senate probe.
“Dito siya magpapasko (He’s going to spend Christmas here),” Bondal added.
Mercado’s trip comes the same week the Binay camp asked the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Senate to do a lifestyle check on the former vice mayor, who is allegedly hiding “prime properties” in the Philippines and abroad through his wife, children, children-in-law, and siblings.
Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco, interim president of Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), challenged Mercado to surrender all his properties to the government.
“He admitted getting kickbacks. His wealth is the fruit of his corrupt ways. Kung hindi nya gagawin yan, gimik lang itong pag-donate nya ng kanyang lupa,” said Tiangco in a Thursday, November 20 statement. – with reports from Aries Rufo, Bea Cupin/Rappler.com