MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Vice President Jejomar Binay made good on his threat to file a case against his bitter critic Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, but also included other lawmakers, political rivals, government agencies, and even Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in the charge sheet.
Binay's lawyer, Claro Certeza, filed the P200 million ($4.41 million) damage suit at the Makati Regional Trial Court on Monday morning, July 20. The defendants are Morales, Trillanes, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Caloocan City Representative Edgar Erice, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. (Read the full complaint below)
Binay also sued for damages members and officers of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), and his political rivals in Makati: former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, Mario Hechanova, Renato Bondal, and Nicholas Enciso.
Certeza told Rappler that this was Binay's chance to get back at his critics.
“They have been repeatedly saying that this is also the amount the VP got from his so-called illegal activities. Binabalik lang ni VP sa kanila kasi wala siyang P200 million. Baka sa kanila makuha. Now let's see who has the P200 million,” Certeza said in a phone interview.
(The Vice President is just returning the allegation. The VP does not have P200 million. Perhaps, from them, he will be able to get it.)
“This is for all these concerted actions of all groups that contributed to destroying the VP.”
Certeza said that the case covers all the allegations Binay's critics made against him since the corruption scandal and Senate inquiry began in mid-2014.
“In this venue, everybody is given an equal chance to prove their allegations under the strict rules on evidence. 'Di pwede dito ang kwento-kwento lang o hula-hula gaya ng hula ni Bondal. Ang tatanggapin lang, honest to goodness evidence,” he said.
(The court will not allow mere stories or guesses like Bondal's Only honest to goodness evidence will be accepted.)
Binay's counsel clarified that the lawsuit was a civil case for damages resulting from libel.
“We are not yet filing a libel case, just this civil case first. But the libel case is something we are studying also,” Certeza said.
With the lawsuit, the opposition standard-bearer pursued his tack of responding to corruption allegations through legal means instead of directly addressing the accusations in public.
Binay faces multiple plunder complaints and corruption allegations over allegedly overpriced infrastructure projects when he was still Makati mayor for 21 years. The Senate, the Ombudsman, and the AMLC are conducting separate investigations.
The Ombudsman suspended his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, over the allegedly overpriced Makati Science High School. The AMLC in turn asked for a freeze order on the Binays' bank accounts over alleged unlawful activities.
Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Viña though said that the lawsuit goes against constitutional and criminal law.
“You cannot file libel suits against senators performing their duties in plenary or committees. They are immune. You cannot file a libel suit against an official like an Ombudsman for performing her functions. And for media, actual malice must be proven before they can be charged with libel," the law professor told Rappler.
Certeza explained why the Vice President filed the case against each of the defendants.
On Trillanes, he said the lawsuit included the senator's claim that Binay paid off Court of Appeals justices to secure a temporary restraining order on his son's suspension in April.
“It's the totality of what he said in media that in reality is baseless and not substantiated by evidence,” Certeza said.
In response, Trillanes said he will face the case in court, and continue exposing Binay's alleged anomalies.
"This just shows that VP Binay is already panicking that's why he is trying to scare those who are investigating him," Trillanes said in Filipino.
Binay's lawyer added that Senator Cayetano also made public statements that the Vice President is corrupt. He said Cayetano merely “parroted the same lines” that Mercado made in the Senate.
Trillanes earlier invoked parliamentary immunity but the Binay camp insists that he and Cayetano made allegations outside the halls of the Senate.
“The function of a senator is to enact laws, that's why he is allowed to investigate. Once he goes out in public, and makes the same accusations, baseless as they are, we believe he becomes liable for libel,” Certeza said.
Certeza said this was the same case with Erice, who made “numerous public statements accusing the Vice President of wrongdoing without proof.” Erice is a political affairs adviser of the ruling Liberal Party (LP). He has long been critical of Binay.
Erice said he, too, is ready to fight Binay's lawsuit.
“Actually It's a privilege to serve our country by fighting a man whose greed for power endangers our morals and the democratic processes. I am inspired to do more. Maybe his need for money is really insatiable that's why he's asking for 200 million,” Erice said in a statement.
Binay also decided to sue Ombudsman Morales, reiterating that she showed “extreme bias” against him.
“She continues to articulate in public that the evidence against the Vice President is strong. He is a sitting vice president, and only removable by impeachment. In her statements, you really see her obvious bias against the VP,” Certeza said.
Last week, Binay made the same allegation in a counter-affidavit he filed before the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is investigating both the allegedly overpriced Makati parking building, and the Makati Science High School building.
Morales has been indignant about claims she is allowing her agency to be used for politics.
“I will not jeopardize my 40 years in government service – spotless, I will be modest to say that – just to be a tool for anyone to get back at certain persons,” she said in a rare press briefing earlier this month. (READ: Impeach me, Ombudsman dares critics)
The AMLC officials included in the charge sheet are:
Certeza said Binay was suing the officials both for their investigation, and the leaked AMLC report.
“There were campaign contributions regularly reported that they did not consider. Also, the income tax returns of the VP which he filed concerning his other businesses, they also did not include that. They distorted their report by saying his income was his only source of wealth,” Certeza said.
He added that the law states that the AMLC report must be kept confidential yet the officials supposedly gave “advanced copies” to Mercado, the senators, and the media.
Lawmakers though have said that the Court of Appeals freeze order that the media reported was a public document.
The Binay camp also took issue with the Inquirer's coverage of the scandal.
“You just look at the manner by which they covered the Senate investigations and all those times that accusations were made against the VP. You will notice that they devoted screaming headlines that are inaccurate to say the least,” Certeza said.
The other defendants have yet to respond to the lawsuit as of posting time.