The Tragedy of Jejomar Binay

His name is a betrayal, Jesus and Joseph and Mary blistering the tongue. Watch your back, check your pockets – and mourn the man who could have been.


Illustrations by Geloy Concepcion Design by ANALETTE ABESAMIS and DOMINIC TUAZON


 

Our series of presidential profiles, The Imagined President, began with The Idealized candidate, introducing the candidates as imagined by themselves and their supporters. (READ: Cinderella Man) The second installment, The Demonized, examined the candidates as imagined by their critics. (READ: Bandit King). In this final installation, we give you The Candidate, a synthesis of both narratives as seen through the lens of journalism and sociology. The positions we take here are ours alone and do not represent the views of Rappler.com. 

 

We invite conversation and discussion, and promise, if nothing else, to tell you a story.

T

here is a farm south of Makati, a sprawl of greenery half the size of San Juan City. The locals call it Hacienda Binay. 

Out front, across the mansion, a carefully maintained maze of hedges surrounds urns filled with creeping purple flowers. A blue fountain gleams to one side, an intricate pergola at the other. The entire arrangement – meant to resemble the Queen’s Garden in Kew – is an odd patch of fancy at the center of an agricultural municipality. There is a resort pool, a 40-car garage, an orchid greenhouse, a cock-fighting farm, a horse ranch, and the dozen enclosed buildings where pigs wallow in air-conditioned splendor, the hogs kept in seclusion “because the doktora doesn’t like the stench.”

Years of independent investigation along with recent revelations trace a morass of private deals and dummy corporations. They have led straight to the feet of the vice president of the republic. It is an accusation the Vice President denies.

In the last week of 2013, a series of photos appeared on the Instagram account of Joanna Marie Binay, the youngest of Binay’s children. There was Joanna, posing in front of one of the garden’s towering fountains. There was Joanna, riding a Segway in front of the main house. There were pictures of the veranda, the pool, and one of the Vice President himself singing into a videoke microphone. 

Most damning of all was the caption – “Our place in Batangas.”  

Lord of Makati

This is a story about a man who was poor. Poor is a word he uses often. His mother died poor. His father lived poor. He was poor growing up, until he put himself through school, studied law, passed the bar, and married the woman he loved. Then the hammer of martial law fell, and the man his friends called Jojo took to the streets. 

His march to Edsa began long before the day telephone books were shredded into yellow confetti.  We are told he joined a brotherhood of freedom fighters, and took his battle into the courtrooms of the new society. We know he was in prison while his wife gave birth to his firstborn son. We know he was jailed again, many times over. When Corazon Aquino took her place as president of the Republic, Jejomar Binay was by her side. When the military coups threatened her fragile democracy, it was again the little man in the flak jacket clutching an Uzi who marched beside his president.

The prize for that loyalty was the keys to the city of Makati. For 21 years, Binay was mayor of one of the richest cities in the country, amassing wealth and power that would have shocked the young lawyer who stamped affidavits for free.  

In 2010, in the aftermath of the unpopular presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he once again captured the national imagination and overtook survey leaders Mar Roxas and Loren Legarda to win the vice presidency. His successful candidacy was built on an ethical and strategic calculation not to challenge the presidency against both Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, son of the president to whom he owed his political career, and his good friend and party mate, the ousted president Joseph Estrada.

Instead, Binay hitched his wagon to the mythology of the Edsa People Power Revolution. When the call for an Aquino-Binay presidency spread – NoyBi – Binay fed the narrative. He provided an alternative that flew on the wings of Corazon Aquino’s death and the national outrage over the alleged sins of the Arroyo presidency.

This, he said, was how we were in Edsa. 

It was a calculation that paid off. Binay’s come-from-behind win was an electoral coup. The man of the poor who had never held a national position became the second highest official in the country.

As Benigno Aquino III raised the yellow banner of hope and change, it was Binay who stood smiling. 

Bad blood

The Aquino-Binay partnership did not last long. There was bad blood halfway through the Aquino presidency, as word spread that the Vice President’s aspirations would face the goliath of the Liberal Party. The charge was plunder. 

It was, regardless of intention, a legitimate issue. The man who is no stranger to graft charges found himself sitting with an administration that had declared a war on corruption.

In 1988, Mayor Jejomar Binay had a declared net worth of P2.5 million. By 2014, Vice President Binay had a staggering P60 million.

The Commission on Audit found the Vice President administratively liable for grave misconduct, dishonesty, gross inexcusable negligence, graft, and corrupt practices. The Anti-Money Laundering Council demanded the freezing of 149 bank accounts involving Binay and his alleged dummies. The Senate blue ribbon committee recommended the filing of plunder charges after a year of investigation. The Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict him over alleged anomalies in the construction of what Binay once called “a world-class parking building.”

To the Binay camp, all allegations of corruption, in court or out, was proof of the government’s elitist agenda. He is short. He is dark. He has been called an ugly black man and a shrunken gnome. Because of it, to attack him is to attack all “true Filipinos.”

It is a good story, but it does not explain why a public servant has 12 properties to his name, including 3 inside the exclusive gated community of San Antonio Village, Makati.

Ask him where they all came from, and he will say they were inherited. Ask him again, remind him of the poverty of his upbringing, and he will say only two were inherited; the rest came from hard work.

Ask him what work he means. Remind him of the size of his government income. He will name his wife’s old medical practice, a piggery, a flower business, and will tell you that 12 properties don’t amount to very much.

Throughout all this, Binay’s refrain is persecution. He has not been convicted. No warrants have been signed.

The Vice President trots all this out as facts to prove his innocence. It is a disingenuous excuse that ignores the reason why he has not been tried when every government body charged with accountability has found probable cause against him. Jejomar Binay is the vice president of the republic, and a vice president cannot be charged. For as long as he remains the vice president, the Office of the Ombudsman promises to respect his immunity. 

It is the same argument Binay made in his counter-affidavits. It is the argument by which Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales will abide.

When his term as expires, she promises to “hale Binay Sr to court.”

Accountability

The trial of Jejomar Binay will not be held in a court of law. It is happening here, today, over the airwaves, on the streets, in the debate stages where he paces and denounces. He has not been proven guilty because he cannot be charged in court. The public tribunal he scorns is the only one he needs to win – and he knows this too. If Jejomar Binay wins the presidency of 2016, he will have earned not just the power of a president, but 6 more years of immunity.  

It is perhaps the reason why Binay’s defense is one that swings from silence to indignation. He is called to account, and refuses to appear. By being dismissive of corruption allegations, he treats the public as undeserving of explanation. The politics of personal dignity Binay has masterfully enacted by appearing at boodle fights and funeral stops does not extend to addressing a public demanding to know if their vice president is a thief. 

“You heard it again,” he says. “All those old issues that are all accusations. Accuse, accuse, accuse, and yet they have never led to my conviction. I said, it’s hard. And they accuse me of not explaining. But all those people, I say, if you don’t want to look, then you’re feigning blindness. If you don’t listen, then you’re feigning deafness.”

Of the 25 hearings held over the course of a year by the Senate blue ribbon committee, Jejomar Binay has attended none. The reams of evidence he claims to have submitted were a result of a Senate demand from the City Hall of Makati. All the Vice President offered in his defense was an 8-page affidavit “containing general denials.”

“I’ve answered that accusation so many times,” he tells Mar Roxas at the 3rd presidential debate. “There’s nothing new there; nothing new. You know, I will not waste my time.”

This is what we know. 

We know that Jejomar Binay has unexplained wealth in the millions

We know that his Makati is a city where a urinal that costs P8,953 is worth P31,000 when installed in a government building, and where a hand dryer marked P19,451 costs taxpayers P62,700. 

We know that the city he ran allowed imaginary contractors to bid for projects worth billions, and where a “very dear family friend” has cornered massive deals in public services. 

We know that several undeclared dollar accounts in foreign banks were discovered to belong to the Vice President.

Who are you to judge me, he asks, when no court has?

Send in the clowns

The narrative that has made Jejomar Binay an icon is focused on drawing the line between rich against poor, with Binay firmly on the side of the victimized masses. He is everyone’s godfather, the man who will leave the fat check after the wedding, send tuition every June, sign the bill for the hospital, and offer condolences at the funeral along with wreath and coffin. It is Binay, more than any other candidate, who personifies the achievable Filipino dream. He is a short man, dark-skinned and sunburnt, the physical embodiment of the working class Filipino. He has been called every variation of nigger and gnome in both broadcast media and online commentary. The attacks against him, at their worst, tend to be the most personal and vitriolic, using the word “nognog,” a derogatory term for the dark-skinned. 

Of the 5 presidential candidates, it is also Binay who best represents the traditional politician – the elected official whose strength lies in relationships of dependency and reciprocity. His orgy of generosity makes aid charity instead of government responsibility – here is the vice president who claimed to have donated government wheelchairs to the government’s constituents. He will hang his tarps from service trucks and distribution centers, taking credit for relief operations and medical missions. 

But the future that Jejomar Binay guarantees has grown even more golden the closer May 9 approaches.

Everyone will be healthy, he says. Everyone will be educated. Everyone will have jobs. 

He promises it all with the flair of a sideshow clown hawking naked mermaids and dancing elephants. Three meals a day! Tax cuts! Housing!

Step right up, boys and girls. One vote, one dream – Binay will make it come true. Step right up – and he’ll throw in a free manicure too.

It is a story as unrealistic as it is desperate. Investors will “flood in,” he says. His promises are anchored on the success that is Makati City – if he was victorious in his city, he will spread that victory across the country. Yet Makati City is not the Philippines. The soaring skyscrapers rose on the strength of the city’s 62,000 business enterprises. The revenues contributed by some of the country’s largest taxpayers funded the welfare the city has distributed so generously. Certainly the impoverished provinces of Romblon and Maguindanao cannot afford P30,000 wash basins, much less world-class surgical suites. 

Beyond it all is the shadow of allegations of overpriced schools and hospitals, of public housing converted to private hotels, of the homeless tossed to faraway provinces and of Boy Scout property sold to business allies. (READ: Timeline: Binay’s plunder case, one year after)

It is all this, side by side with Binay’s refusal to face allegations, that makes it possible to believe the criticism that it was not Jejomar Binay who made Makati rich – as he says in his sorties – it was Makati that made Jejomar Binay rich.

The lost patriot

This is a story about a man who was poor. His mother died poor. His father lived poor. He put himself through school, studied law, passed the bar, married the woman he loved. He could have been comfortable, this man who once fed pigs before breakfast, but there was a war on the streets, and Jejomar Binay chose to fight. We are told he joined the parliament of the streets, and “stood tall at the barricades at Edsa during those glorious four days in February 1986.”

To understand the extent of Binay’s fall from grace demands an understanding of his place in the national narrative. Here is a patriot who chose to speak at a time when a word could lead to torture and execution. He was, say his contemporaries, one of their best, irreverent, incorruptible, and willing to suffer in the name of freedom. He is decisive, he is experienced, he could have been the unifying heart of a class that has long been neglected. He is, in the end, the leader who could have been.

See him now, king of a new dynasty, holding court at the Coconut Palace, accused of corruption, handing out cash at his front lawn, offering a seat to the dictator’s son. Watch him, the sunburnt messiah with millions to his name, assaulting police chiefs at the city hall and defending the son who howled at the gates of Dasmariñas Village.

The imagined country Jejomar Binay will run will be one held hostage by the same politics of patronage that has been slowly trumped by 6 years with Benigno Aquino III at the helm. Political administration will become a personal affair. Checks and balances will be choked by cronies willing to trade envelopes for operating licenses. The ideal of bureaucratic impartiality will be held hostage to the whims of a Binay dynasty. Public service will be a function of charity instead of responsibility – the birthday cake with “Love from Binay” spelled out in icing, instead of “From the People of Makati.”

His name is a betrayal, Jesus and Joseph and Mary blistering the tongue. He is Jojo to his friends. He is Binay to the press. He is Jejomar Binay, champion of the underdog, scourge of the powerful, the loyal disciple who made a deal with the devil and kissed integrity goodbye. Watch your back, check your pockets – and mourn the man who could have been. – Rappler.com



PREVIOUS PROFILES







 

 

 

THE IMAGINED PRESIDENT


Rappler’s presidential profile series maps the narratives presented by both candidates and critics in the campaign for 2016


 



 
 
 
 
Meet
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Compare
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Match: CandiDATE
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Explore
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.