Aquino: No corruption claims when Binay was housing czar

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III said there were no corruption allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay when he was housing czar.

In an interview with ANC's Tina Monzon-Palma, Aquino could not identify any allegation of corruption lodged against the opposition leader in the 5 years he was chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).

“Under my watch, I have yet to see anything that he did as head of the housing sector,” Aquino said on Tuesday, September 22.

The President added: “There are no allegations about him doing anything while serving as a housing czar in my Cabinet.”

Palma asked Aquino about Binay after he talked about his friendship with former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres. Torres again drew controversy recently for reportedly dropping Aquino's name in negotiating for the release of smuggled sugar. Palma then asked Aquino about Binay, who is also a longtime family friend. (See the editor's note below.) 

Before resigning to formally lead the opposition in June, Binay was both housing czar and presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers' affairs. Aquino appointed him to the posts at the start of the administration in 2010.

As head of HUDCC, Binay led key housing agencies like the National Housing Authority (NHA), the Home Guaranty Corp, and the Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund.

When Palma followed up and asked Aquino if Binay was indeed not accused of corruption while heading HUDCC, Aquino responded, “Knock on wood.”

 

Binay faces a yearlong Senate inquiry, and Ombudsman and money-laundering investigations for supposedly approving overpriced projects when he was mayor of Makati for 21 years. Binay was Makati mayor from 1986 to 2010, except for a 3-year gap where he sat out a term limit.  

His critics said he allegedly earned kickbacks from projects whose bidding was rigged. 

Binay is chairman of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) while Aquino heads the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

'Economic growth nothing to smirk about'

Aquino commented on the corruption allegations against Binay. 

“You know, through the years there have always been rumors,” Aquino said.

“But this is the first time that we've seen – parang (it seems) evidence, it seems … to support those allegations,” he added.

Aquino also took exception to Binay's criticism of his government as laid out in the Vice President's so-called “True State of the Nation Address" in  August. 

In that speech, Binay said that while the Philippines' foreign direct investments (FDI) reached over $6 billion in 2014, it was the lowest in the region. He said the country lagged behind Singapore with $67 billion, Indonesia with $25 billion, Thailand with $11 billion, and Malaysia with over $10 billion.

Binay also said that the FDI did not generate jobs for the majority but only went to financial and insurance activities which create a few jobs.

In response, Aquino said Binay must put the FDI growth in perspective. He said the number rose from $1 billion to $6 billion.

“In a sense [his comment is] true but where were [the other countries] coming from versus from where were we coming from? We were nowhere in the investment horizon or radar of so many investors, and our point now was 600% growth is nothing to smirk about,” the President said.

Aquino said his own address to Congress was meant to highlight these achievements.

“All I was saying is, in the past 5 years, these are the changes.”

In campaigning for president, Binay criticizes the administration's “failed, insensitive” leadership to highlight the need for change. He often calls attention to the lack of inclusive growth, poor Metro Rail Transit (MRT) services, heavy traffic in Manila, and the supposed “selective justice” targeting opposition members.

Yet Aquino and critics point out that the Vice President was part of the administration for 5 years. The President also said that Binay criticizes without presenting solutions and a clear program of government. – Rappler.com

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported that President Aquino said Binay did nothing as housing czar. We corrected the story to reflect the full context of the President's statements, which began when he was asked about his friendship with former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres. Torres reportedly dropped Aquino's name to negotiate an illegal deal involving smuggled sugar with the Bureau of Customs. We regret the error.

Here is the Q and A from the interview on the topic:

Monzon-Palma: But you have a friend who is now a former ex-LTO person who is being linked to an attempt to smuggle smuggled sugar at the Bureau of Customs. I mean, how are you taking that and do you believe the story that you've read? Have you called her and asked her: What's going on?"

Aquino: You know, unfortunately, and I have to confess this, I found out all about it because of the article in the paper rather than the Bureau of Customs, for instance, telling me about it and reporting it or even submitting a formal report. And I still have to talk to—I have to ask them that question. But I think what is important there is assuming I have a friend who tried this, there is also another friend in the person of Jess Dellosa who is in charge of that field that assuming it happened, thwarted the thing, there is no damage to the state.

Monzon-Palma: But this kind of friendship and we don’t know whether  you actually are a friend of her so they say that you are friends. I mean, how do you maintain a relationship with these people that you have appointed and then all of a sudden fell from...

Aquino: The definition of friendship is that, ‘di ba, ito ang landas ko e. Kapag gagawa ka nang salungat sa landas ko, hindi tayo magkaibigan. Kapag i-importahan mo ako na gumawa ng hindi ko kaya or hindi ko nagawa, or ikaw gumawa ng alam mong hindi ko gagawin, hindi na tayo magkaibigan.

Monzon-Palma: Ano nabigla ka 'nung nabasa mo? All along these years hindi mo akalain na meron siyang ganoong business? Tumutulong sa mga...

Aquino: Pero parang… Just on what was on the paper, she is supposed to be sugar planter. She has leased land in Tarlac after her stint in the LTO. Does it make sense for her to facilitate sugar smugglers that will depress the prices of the product that she has invested in? That is the only thing na off hand. Hindi yata logical ito.

Monzon-Palma: She is a sugar planter...

Aquino: A new sugar planter.

Monzon-Palma: A new sugar planter. Ilang ektarya po ang...

Aquino: I don't know but this was after her LTO stint.

Monzon-Palma: And she has not tried to call you to explain, “Boss...”

Aquino: There was a text message in all honesty to one of my assistants, and said: "Sobra ito, to think of showing people, et cetera... I haven't talked to her about it.

Monzon-Palma: You haven't talked to her about this case. You define friendship against her. What is your definition of friendship?

Aquino: If our friendship is based on your ability to use me, well therefore, we are not friends. If your interest, your aims are contrary to what I want to do, then we also cannot be friends. So, the friendship aspect there is 'di ba, two-way street. Iyong you can count on me because I can count on you. And when I count on you, there are certain parameters that these are—'this is okay, this is not okay.' Smuggling definitely is not okay. Influence peddling is not okay.

Monzon-Palma: Okay. Vice President Jejomar  Binay  has always been a friend to you all these years...

Aquino: But under my watch, I have yet to see anything that he did as head of the housing sector.

Monzon-Palma: Again?

Aquino: There are no allegations about him doing anything while serving as a housing czar in my Cabinet.

Monzon-Palma: Nothing

Aquino: Knock on wood. 

Monzon-Palma: Have you ever been to Hacienda that they speak about in Rosario, Batangas?

Aquino: No.

Monzon-Palma: You are unaware of all of these things that have come out in the course of the hearing of the sub-committee?

Aquino: You know, through the years there have always been rumors but this is the first time that we've seen—parang evidence, it seems (-unclear-) to support those allegations.