Joker to Senate: End Binay hearings, revisit rules

Ayee Macaraig
Joker to Senate: End Binay hearings, revisit rules
Calling the Binay probe the longest in the Senate blue ribbon committee's history, former senator Joker Arroyo says the investigation has led to minimal results

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “The problem is that this proceeding has lasted too long already.”

Former Senator Joker Arroyo criticized the Senate hearings on the alleged corruption of the political dynasty of Vice President Jejomar Binay, questioning both the process and the outcome of the controversial inquiry.

The former chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee urged the Senate to revisit its rules a day after the panel cited Binay’s son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, in contempt for snubbing summons to appear in the investigation.

Arroyo weighed in on the senators’ debate on whether or not only two senators or a majority constitute a quorum. 

“Can 3 speak for the 20? It’s time the Senate revisit the Rules: has it been followed, violated or abused? This cannot go on unanswered or uncharted,” Arroyo said in a statement on Tuesday, January 27. 

A former representative of the Binays’ bailiwick of Makati, Arroyo implied that with the grave implications of a contempt order, the majority should decide on the detention of a witness.

“It cannot be overlooked that a detention order arising from a contempt citation is punitive, a deprivation of liberty. When that happens, the protection that one cannot be deprived of liberty without due process of law kicks in,” said Arroyo, who like Binay was a prominent human rights lawyer during the Marcos dictatorship.

Senators are split on the interpretation of the Senate rules on the quorum, delaying the arrest and detention of Mayor Binay. The Senate committee on rules will resolve the issue on Wednesday, January 28. 

Blue ribbon committee chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III and Binay’s critics cite the amendment of the rules in February 2013, stating that the committee chairman can cite a witness in contempt, with the approval of at least one member. Only Guingona, and senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Aquilino Pimentel III attended the meeting to hold Binay in contempt on Monday. 

Yet Binay’s allies led by Acting Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III believe that a majority should decide on contempt issues, as they did using the old Senate rules. 

Arroyo implied that the old rules should be upheld, saying Guingona acted “unilaterally” by issuing the contempt and detention order.

This is not the first time former Senator Arroyo criticized the investigation on Binay, calling the probe “one-sided” last year. 

The inquiry started with the supposed overpricing of the Makati City Hall II parking building but evolved to cover other issues. These include Binay’s supposed ownership of a lavish estate in Batangas, alleged kickbacks he received from infrastructure projects, and reported use of dummies to amass wealth as mayor of the country’s financial capital.

Binay rejects the probe as a tool of his political critics to derail his 2016 presidential bid. The presidential frontrunner refuses to face the investigation despite repeated invitations, and even backed out of a debate with fierce rival Trillanes. 

‘Longest blue ribbon hearings in history’

Arroyo questioned the length of the Senate probe. The investigation so far spanned 13 hearings and included two ocular visits since it began in August 2014. 

“[These are] the longest Blue Ribbon Committee hearings in [the committee’s] 60-year history. Yet the subcommittee thru the media announced that there would be 4 to 5 more hearings which would run until April and May 2015. That would be a 9-month hearing,” Arroyo said.

He cited committee rules that say reports on bills and resolutions must be completed and approved within 30 days from referral. 

Arroyo said not much came out of the hearings despite the 5-month investigation. 

“So far, no report, even partial, [has] been submitted. Only 3 out of the 20-member blue ribbon committee participate in the hearings. Three are detained, and 14 are indifferently being absent,” he said.

Having headed the blue ribbon committee from 2001 to 2008, Arroyo reminded his former colleagues that the panel only recommends findings to the Ombudsman or the justice department but “does not mete out the punishment.”

Binay critics: We’re protecting Senate

Senators Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetano though dismissed criticism of the contempt order, and the Senate probe. 

On the length of the hearing, Cayetano quipped: “Well, longest living corrupt official din ang iniimbestigahan eh. Thirty years of corruption ito eh. Paano mo iimbestigahan na dalawa, tatlong araw ito?” (Well, Vice President Binay is also the longest living corrupt official. This is 30 years of corruption. How can you investigate it in two or 3 days?)

Trillanes said the subcommittee handling the Binay probe is only “protecting the Senate.”

“They are trying to disrespect the institution and its rules. If we tolerate that, we tolerate everybody else and we can’t afford to do that,” Trillanes said, referring to Mayor Binay’s absence in all but one Senate hearing.

Cayetano said detaining Binay does not amount to imprisonment.

“Contempt is not a punishment. This is not a jail. This is the Senate. Mayor Binay has so much drama. He should just attend the hearing and answer whether or not there is an anomaly,” Cayetano said.

On Monday, a defiant Mayor Binay addressed his supporters outside the Makati City Hall, and said he will comply with the detention order, but will not participate in the inquiry “as a matter of principle.”

Trillanes said Mayor Binay should stop the “drama” and instead explain why the Makati buildings were “overpriced.”

“I believe these are the questions that he cannot answer that’s why they resort to theatrics like what’s happening now.” – with a report from Ayee Macaraig/ 

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