Binay ‘begged’ Aquino to stop Senate probe

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay “begged” President Benigno Aquino III to stop the Senate hearings on the alleged overpriced Makati building, a Palace source privy to the meeting told Rappler.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Palace source said that contrary to reports and Binay's statements that the two officials are closer than ever after the meeting, all is not well between the two top officials, as evidenced by the outcome of the October 14 meeting.

The source said the Vice President, who reportedly sought out the meeting, “begged the President to intervene to stop the Senate hearings” on the Makati building that has exposed alleged corrupt practices of the Vice President and members of his family. (READ: Binay's 'dear friend' got P1.3B contracts in 4 years)

Asked what the President’s reaction was to Binay’s supposed plea, the source said Aquino “basically listened patiently” and “discussed other things like Yolanda and housing,” in an attempt to steer the conversation to different topics.

The source expressed the belief that the meeting "only further strengthened the position of the President that the Vice President should not succeed him." Aquino has yet to name his favored candidate for the 2016 presidential polls. 

On Friday, October 17, Rappler interviewed another source close to President Aquino who confirmed Binay’s plea, and the President’s immediate response: “He rebuffed Binay. The President made his position very clear.”

Binay camp: No such appeal

The Binay camp denied the claims.

Asked whether the Vice President asked for a halt in the hearings, Binay’s spokesperson, Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla told Rappler that this “didn’t happen.”

Remulla also claimed the meeting was not initiated by Binay but “was at the behest of people close to both.”

What Remulla did confirm, however, is that Binay will stay in the Aquino Cabinet, as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) concerns.

“The VP serves at the pleasure of the President. He will continue to serve the people especially with housing and OFW concerns,” he said.

The Palace source said that the October 14 meeting was initiated by the Vice President primarily to “clarify he was not hitting the President,” and that “he has no plans of resigning from the Cabinet.” 

The meeting took place on the same evening that Binay, in a speech before state prosecutors, slammed Aquino’s allies and blamed them for the alleged demolition job against him.

In his speech, Binay also hit the controversial economic stimulus package of the administration, the Disbursement Acceleration Program that Aquino has adamantly defended. 

He also criticized the “unfair” treatment of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who faces plunder complaints, saying that she was a former president with a serious illness and “a woman” at that.

The source close to Aquino said that by explaining himself to the President – that they remain allies even after he had lambasted him and his policies in public – the Vice President made it appear that he “wants to have his cake and eat it too.”

Palace mum on details

On Thursday, October 16, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr confirmed the October 14 meeting  between Binay and Aquino, but said  they talked about “non-official matters.”

Coloma declined to elaborate.

Also on Thursday, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a vocal critic of the Vice President, said he thinks the meet-up between Binay and Aquino is merely Binay’s “propaganda” to prove everything is okay.

“What he meant, by virtue of that pronouncement that everything between them is okay, [is so] the other government agencies will back off – but its not that way,” Trillanes told reporters.

“President Aquino won’t call us to stop the investigation. And if he does call, sorry but this is our job, this is our mandate,” he said.

Trillanes has expressed interest in seeking higher office in 2016.

Binay and his son face plunder complaints before the Ombudsman over an allegedly overpriced Makati building. The complaint sparked a Senate probe into Binay that has led to other revelations such as a supposed P1.2-billion ($26.77 million*) farm owned by the Vice President that is not declared in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

Binay has cried foul over the accusations, saying they are fueled by political aspirations. The Vice President leads the 2016 polls on presidential hopefuls despite a drop in his numbers since the start of the probe, while the presumed standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, trails far behind in 2nd place.

*$1 = P44.8