MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The ally-turned-rival of Vice President Jejomar Binay told the Senate that the former Makati mayor earned from the allegedly overpriced Makati “parking building" but refused to give details.
Testifying at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, August 26, former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado said he and the Vice President "benefitted" from the building, while Senator Nancy Binay supposedly made the cakes for senior citizens of Makati which are claimed to be overpriced as well. (READ: From cakes to buildings, Binays overprice, 'chop-chop')
Mercado made the statement upon questioning from Senator Antonio Trillanes IV about the building allegedly overpriced by P2 billion ($45.67 million*).
Trillanes asked him pointblank, “Kayo ba kumita sa transaksyong ito? (Did you earn from this transaction?)"
Mercado said, “’Di ako sinungaling. Pagtatawanan ako rito. Noong nagtanong pa lang kayo, tumawa na sila. Sa phase 1 and 2, nakinabang po ako.” (I am not lying. People will laugh at me. Actually, when you asked the question, people already laughed. In phase 1 and 2 of the building, yes, I earned from that.)
Trillanes then asked if the Vice President also earned from the building.
Mercado said, “Kung ang vice mayor nakinabang, aba'y siguro higit na nakinabang ang mayor dito. Imposibleng ‘di nakinabang ang mayor (If the vice mayor benefitted from it, then perhaps the mayor benefitted even more here. It’s impossible that the mayor did not benefit from it)."
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who is leading the investigation, then asked if Mercado had “personal knowledge” on his statement. The former vice mayor said it was his “automatic conclusion.”
Mercado affirmed his statement upon questioning of Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who asked him if he knew for a fact that Binay earned from the project. "Iyon po ang totoo. Iyon ang kalakaran, ang sistema (That's the truth. That's the system)."
Yet in an ambush interview after the hearing, Mercado refused to say how much he or Binay earned, saying he will only give details "at the proper forum" like the courts to avoid his statements from being "twisted."
Asked if he was referring to money, Mercado told reporters: "Depende. Maraming bagay iyan eh especially nung nag-kandidato ako diba? Kung ako’y tinulungan ng campaign materials, stage, etc. Hindi naman ibig sabihin pag sinabi mong pakinabang ay pera agad eh."
(It depends. It could be many things especially when I was running, right? If I was helped with campaign materials, stage, etc. It does not mean the benefit is immediately money.)
Pressed what he meant by pakinabang (benefits) in the context of the building, Mercado answered, "Like I said, I will answer in the proper forum."
The former vice mayor also clarified that he was not saying that the 11-storey building was overpriced. What he said was that based on the estimates and plan presented to him then for the first two phases of the 5-phase building, the cost was just P1.2 billion ($27.42 million) with one basement, a ground floor for a Land Bank branch and business permit and licensing offices, and 4 floors.
"'Di ako nagsasabi ng overprice. Hayaan mo ang COA (Commission on Audit) mag-determine kung mayroong overprice." (I am not saying it's overpriced. Let COA determine if there was overpricing.)
Mercado said he was a longtime ally of the Vice President since 1986, when Binay first became Makati mayor. He said he and Binay were so close they called each other brothers.
Mercado said they had a falling out when Binay did not fulfill his promise to field him as his successor as Makati mayor in 2010. Instead, the Vice President supported his son, now Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr.
Watch the ambush interview with Mercado here:
Mercado claimed an intermediary of the Binays said Binay’s wife, doctor Elenita Binay was initially open to allow him to be Makati mayor but with a condition.
“’Pare, payag na si Doktora Binay mayor ka, basta wala kang tatanggaling empleyado ng city hall, wala kang babaguhing proseso.’ [Ang sinabi ko] ayoko naman po ng rubberstamp. Mula noon, nagbago ang pakikitungo ni VP Binay sa akin.”
("My friend, Doctor Binay agreed for you to be mayor for as long as you won’t remove any employee of the city hall, won’t change any process." [I said] I didn’t want to be a rubber stamp. From then on, VP Binay treated me differently.)
He added that the alleged overpricing would not have happened under his watch.
"Kung ako ang naging mayor ng Makati, 101% isasagot ko sa inyo, hindi mangyayari ito. 'Di ko po papayagan na ganito ang presyo na walang paliwanag. Baka ako pa magsasabi sa COA na i-check iyan kasi 'di tama."
(If I were Makati mayor, 101% I tell you, this would not have happened. I would not allow that price without an explanation. Maybe I would even be the one to tell COA to check that because it's not right.)
Mercado added that the ordinances and appropriations for Makati projects were questionable, usually made in lump sums without specifying the project. He added that councilors and officials were included in the names of those who approved ordinances, even if they were absent.
Pimentel said he too had this observation about the lump sums.
Trillanes said the statement should prompt the committee to discuss issuing an invitation to the Vice President to face the committee. Pimentel said senators will discuss the matter later.
Mercado also said it saddened him to have to speak against the Vice President, considering their long professional and personal relationship. Ernesto was a long-time city administrator of Makati when Jejomar Binay was mayor.
He said “principle” and “the national interest” were his reasons for breaking ties with Binay, and not just politics.
‘Nancy makes Makati cakes’
Mercado also implicated Binay’s eldest daughter, Senator Nancy Binay, in the long-running rumor that cakes given to senior citizens of Makati are overpriced.
The former Binay ally said the cakes were a “good program” of the city government, along with money for residents’ burial. Still, he said it was an open secret in Makati who was earning from the cakes. He then pointed to the senator, who he said acted as the “technical assistant” of the elder Binay.
“Alam ng lahat ng taga-Makati na si Senator Nancy Binay ang gumagawa ng cake noong ‘di pa siya senador.” (Everyone in Makati knows Senator Nancy Binay makes the cakes when she was not yet senator.)
Trillanes clarified the allegation, “You are saying people in Makati know Senator Nancy is the one making the cakes?”
Mercado replied, “Opo (yes).”
When Senator Vicente Sotto III asked Mercado if Senator Binay was the “chef” who baked the cakes herself, he responded that she supervised the process.
In last week’s hearing, another Binay political rival Renato Bondal claimed the cakes cost P1,000 ($22.82) each. The next day, the Makati City government said it only cost P306.75 ($7) each.
Bondal, upon questioning of Sotto, now says the P1,000-price tag he had earlier placed on the Makati government birthday cakes to its senior citizens was just a “guess.”
Nancy: 'Not true'
In a statement, Senator Binay denied the allegation and berated her father’s former aide for “abusing” the Vice President’s trust.
“I deny in the strongest terms possible and condemn the malicious claim of former Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado that I have economic or financial interest in the supply of cakes for senior citizens at the Makati City Hall,” she said.
On Mercado, she said: “Pinagkatiwalaan ng aking ama si dating Vice Mayor Mercado. Tinrato siya na parang kapatid. Ang sinukli ni Mr Mercado ay ang abusuhin ang tiwala ng aking ama. Umamin siya na nakinabang sa City Hall Bldg 2, at pilit niyang idinadamay ang aking ama. Madaling magdamay ng ibang tao at manira ng pangalan.”
(My father trusted former Vice Mayor Mercado. He treated him like a brother. Mr Mercado repaid this by abusing the trust of my father. He admitted to benefitting from City Hall Bldg 2, and he is trying to drag in my father. It is easy to involve other people and ruin one’s name.)
Senator Binay said she has “never been involved, and will never be involved in any activity that violates rules on conflict of interests particularly in businesses relating to the Makati City government and/or the national government.”
She said she does not know how to bake, has no bakeshop, and is aware that supplying the goods to City Hall, where her family member was in charge, is “against the law.”
She also said that during that day’s hearing, Bondal himself admitted that he only “guessed” the supposed P1,000-cake price which Makati records should show is only a third of the amount.
Senator Binay added that her alleged involvement in the cake issue just shows that “I am the next family member on their demolition list.” – Rappler.com
*$1 = P43.8