Beyond Makati: Senate’s Binay probe resumes

Bea Cupin
Will January 22 be the start of another annus horribilis (horrible year) for Vice President Jejomar Binay?
NEW YEAR, NEW PROBLEMS? Vice President Jejomar Binay braces for another year of corruption allegations and scandals. Rappler file photo

MANILA, Philippines – After a two-month hiatus, the Senate on Thursday, January 22 resumes its probe into allegations of corruption against Vice President Jejomar Binay.

On Thursday, Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee members Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Alan Peter Cayetano will once again lead an hours-long hearing to address allegations that Binay stole from the coffers of Makati during his almost 20-year stint as mayor of the country’s financial hub. 

The probe is the sole culprit behind Binay’s annus horribilis or horrible year that was 2014. In 12 hearings held over the course of 4 months, whistleblowers – a mix of former allies and long-time foes – have come forward to accuse the Vice President of fixing bids, accepting kickbacks, and accepting property in exchange for favors when he was mayor of Makati.

BETTER YEAR? Vice President Jejomar C. Binay attends the Mass at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Angeles City, Pampanga on December 30, 2014. File photo by the Office of the Vice President

Binay’s survey numbers – both in trust and approval ratings, and 2016 preferences polls – have dipped considerably since the probe began. The Vice President insists the Senate probe and the plunder cases filed against him are merely part of a ploy to ruin his chances of bagging the presidency in 2016. 

He has thus far denied all the allegations against him.

The January 22 hearing will once again feature the main whistleblower, former Makati vice mayor and erstwhile Binay ally Ernesto Mercado.

Also invited to the Thursday hearing are Binay’s son and incumbent Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr, suspended Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima, alleged Binay dummy businessman Antonio Tiu, and Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG) president and chief executive officer Darlene Berberabe.

The suspended PNP chief was reportedly invited to the hearing to provide an update on the investigation into the slay of former Makati city engineer Nelson Morales, who was gunned down by armed men in Albay on September 7, 2012. 

Mercado had mentioned the ill fate of Morales on several occasions in the Senate probe. (READ: Why Mercado surfaced to turn against Binay)

Morales was city engineer during Binay’s stint as Makati mayor, and chaired the United Nationalist Alliance in Albay for the 2013 polls. At the time, the Binay camp claimed that the murder might have been politically motivated.

Tiu, meanwhile, told Rappler he would be skipping the hearing since he is out of the country for official business.

Also invited are officials from the Commission on Audit, Department of Public Works and Highways, the city of Makati, the municipality of Rosario in Batangas, the Meriras Realty and Development Corporation, as well as construction firms and experts.

3-MAN PROBE.Senators Antonio Trillanes IV (seated, left), Senator Alan Peter Cayetano (standing, middle) and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III (seated, right) lead the Senate probe into corruption allegations against Binay. File photo by Mark Cristino/Rappler

Even worse 2015?

In previous interviews, senators have vowed to uncover even more of Binay’s alleged corruption. If they are to have their way, 2015, the lead-up to the 2016 presidential elections, will be just as bad as last year.

The corruption, his detractor said, extended to his family members – former Makati mayor and wife Dr. Elenita Binay, Mayor Binay, and Senator Nancy Binay.

Another daughter, Makati Representative Abigail Binay, allegedly benefitted from her father’s kickbacks as well. 

Although the probe was prompted by a plunder case over the alleged overpriced Makati City Building 2, it has since branched into other issues – from other allegedly overpriced buildings, undeclared foreign bank accounts, and a vast hacienda in Batangas allegedly owned by Binay through dummies. (PHOTOS: Binay and wife tour guests in ‘Hacienda Binay’)

The senators and whistleblowers seem to be keen on uncovering alleged anomalies beyond 2010, or after he was elected vice president.

Over the break, Trillanes made noise by accusing Binay of favoring certain contractors for Home Development Mutual Fund or the Pag-IBIG fund deals. Berberabe, however, has since clarified that they do not deal with or award contracts.

Binay is concurrently the chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

In a Wednesday, January 21 interview, Binay’s spokesman for political affairs lawyer Rico Quicho criticized Trillanes for making up stores.

Maski si Senator Trillanes ay umamin na wala naman po raw s’yang ebidensya. Sana naman po e maging responsable tayo. Itong institusyon po ng Pag-IBIG ay talagang pinaghihirapan po ng bawat kawani ng Pag-IBIG na mapaghusay ang serbisyo sa mga miyembro,” he said.

(Even Senator Trillanes admits he doesn’t have evidence. We hope he would be more responsible. Pag-IBIG works hard to provide good service to its members.)

No charges have been filed against Binay over allegedly anomalous Pag-IBIG deals.

'I'M INNOCENT.' Vice president Jejomar Binay says the probe and plunder cases are merely part of a ploy to ruin his chances in 2016. File photo by Jose Del/Rappler

No show, no way

Binay has been invited by the Senate to explain his side at least twice. Both invitations were snubbed by the vice president, whose camp tagged the subcommittee a “kangaroo court.”

They insist the proper venue to face the allegations should be the courts – in this case, anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

The Vice President isn’t the only Binay who has boycotted the subcommittee hearings.

Mayor Binay, who showed up during the subcommittee’s first hearing in August, has failed to appear before the Senate despite several subpoenas issued against him. Pimentel now wants Binay and 6 others cited for contempt, saying their reasons for skipping hearings are “unacceptable.”

Quicho downplayed Pimentel’s move, saying it was a strategy to “drum up interest” for the Thursday hearing.

Batid po natin na mukhang wala na pong may interes dito. Sapagkat talagang, para hong, kumbaga pagod na pagod na ho ‘yung mga kababayan natin na marinig ho ‘yung mga kasinungalingan (We know that people seem to have lost interest in the hearings. Because our countrymen are tired of hearing these lies),” the spokesman said in a different Wednesday interview.

Senator Binay has opted to skip the subcommittee hearings. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.