Miriam: Binay reelection argument ‘ludicrous’

Ayee Macaraig

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Miriam: Binay reelection argument ‘ludicrous’
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says public officials like Mayor Binay should not be automatically absolved of crimes by their mere reelection

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago branded as “ludicrous” the argument of Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay that his reelection absolves him of liability over the supposedly overpriced Makati City Hall parking building.

Santiago filed a bill to make public officials liable for crimes they committed in past terms. The senator filed the bill on Thursday, March 26, in response to the pronouncements of the son of Vice President Jejomar Binay over his suspension.

The former trial court judge and constitutional expert criticized Mayor Binay’s defense that the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion in suspending him because the alleged anomalies were committed when he was not yet mayor of the city, and during his first term as mayor prior to his reelection in 2013. 

“That is a cross-eyed simplification of the problem. The first qualification for a public office should be honesty or integrity. It is wrong to equate the reelection of a public official to condonation of his past criminal offenses,” Santiago said in a statement on Friday.

Senate bill 2716 amends the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act to make an elected official liable for any wrongdoing committed during a previous term even if he or she was reelected.

In her explanatory note, Santiago questioned the so-called doctrine of condonation, which she said “provides a blanket defense for elected officials to evade liability just by securing a reelection considering that the term of a local elective official is only 3 years.”

“The simple act of reelection alone cannot be taken to condone an elective official’s previous illegal acts since to do so would run counter to the State’s duty to maintain honesty and integrity in public office, and to keep officers accountable to the public. It also collides with the character of public office as a public trust,” she said.

Santiago said that the doctrine of condonation was first cited in the 1959 case of Pascual v Provincial Board of Nueva Ecija, which Binay’s lawyers are invoking.   

The doctrine was reiterated in the 2010 case of Salumbides v Ombudsman, a move Santiago described as “very disturbing.”

“There is a need to evaluate this doctrine in light of the express Constitutional mandate that public office is a public trust. Those who betray such trust by being dishonest, inefficient, and corrupt fail to meet the stringent standards found in the Constitution and must be removed,” Santiago said.

The Ombudsman issued a 6-month preventive suspension without pay against Binay on March 10 for the administrative cases of grave misconduct, dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the service in connection with the allegedly overpriced building.

In asking the Court of Appeals for a temporary restraining order (TRO), Binay cited the 1992 Supreme Court ruling in Aguinaldo v Santos reiterating previous decisions that the reelection of a public official effectively absolves him or her of previous acts.

Binay said that the alleged overpricing in the first and second phases of the project occurred when his father was still mayor of the city. The third and fourth phases were done during his first term in 2010 to 2013.

To Santiago, Binay’s explanation undermines the accountability of government officials.

“Any public official will feel free to commit any crime, including plunder, and thus winning reelection, if it automatically means that his previous crimes are condoned,” she said.

‘Ombudsman order valid’        

This is the second time Santiago expressed a legal opinion contrary to Binay’s.

Binay’s suspension caused confusion at the Makati city government as the Court of Appeals issued a TRO on the suspension after Vice Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña Jr took an oath as acting mayor. Both Binay and Peña claim leadership over the city. (READ: SC partly to blame for confusion on Binay’s suspension)

Binay asked the Court of Appeals to cite the Ombudsman, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government in contempt for defying the TRO.

Santiago said on Wednesday that the Ombudsman’s suspension order was valid.

“The Ombudsman can order the immediate suspension of a sitting mayor, who is not allowed to plead that he needs time to file a motion for reconsideration,” she said.

Citing the 2008 case of Gobenciong v Court of Appeals, Santiago said there is no legal basis for the argument that the immediate implementation of preventive suspension denies due process.

“In fact, the Supreme Court added that since preventive suspension is not a penalty for an administrative offense, preventive suspension can be imposed without prior hearing,” Santiago said.

The Ombudsman already elevated the case to the Supreme Court, asking it to stop the implementation of the TRO on Binay’s suspension.

The Binays claim that the suspension was a political attack as the Vice President seeks the presidency in 2016. The Binays have ruled the country’s financial capital Makati for over two decades. 

Yet the Office of the Ombudsman said the case filed in July 2014 underwent proper investigation, and was not done “in due haste.” 

The case is also the subject of a Senate inquiry that started in September 2014, along with other alleged anomalies of the Binay political dynasty. – Rappler.com


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