MANILA, Philippines – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV challenged Vice President Jejomar Binay to explain his allegedly anomalous bank transactions instead of citing legal technicalities to evade prosecution.
The senator who started the yearlong Senate inquiry into corruption allegations against the opposition standard-bearer welcomed the Anti-Money Laundering Council's (AMLC) petition for civil forfeiture against Binay.
An independent vice presidential candidate, Trillanes rejected statements from the Binay camp that the petition violated a prohibition against the filing of civil forfeiture cases a year before the polls.
“Sa akin, that's beside the point. That's the technical side. Tingnan natin ang issue. Bakit ka may billions in the first place? Hindi iyong 'di ka pwedeng kasuhan,” Trillanes told Rappler on Monday, December 7.
(To me, that's beside the point. Let's look at the issue. Why do you have billions in the first place? Don't say you can't be sued.)
Trillanes was referring to the petition that the AMLC filed on November 12 asking the Manila Regional Trial Court to issue a provisional asset preservation order, and an asset preservation order against Binay, his son, and alleged dummies.
The petition identified bank accounts and properties under the names of 52 individuals and 13 organizations including the Vice President, and his son, dismissed Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr.
The AMLC filed the petition after the lapse of a 6-month freeze order on Binay's assets filed last May. It said the total value of the frozen assets was P427.26 million ($10.02 million), and $250,524.25. Now, the agency wants the assets forfeited in favor of the government.
Trillanes said the new petition vindicated the Senate investigation that remains suspended.
“Ibig sabihin may nakitang findings ang AMLC that confirm their earlier freeze order. May suspicious transactions that warrant the forfeiture of these assets. It affirms our allegations. Supposed to be ito ang ilalabas namin sa hearing kung natuloy,” he said.
(It means AMLC had findings that confirm their earlier freeze order. There were suspicious transactions that warrant the forfeiture of these assets. This was what we were supposed to bring out in the hearing, if it pushed through.)
The senator said that the Senate blue ribbon sub-committee intended to hold a hearing on corruption allegations against Binay last week but gave way to budget deliberations.
In August 2014, the Senate began its Binay inquiry that spanned a record 24 hearings. Trillanes openly admitted that the probe was meant to derail Binay's presidential bid.
One of 5 presidential aspirants in the May 2016 polls, the former Makati mayor is accused of earning kickbacks from the allegedly overpriced Makati parking building, the Makati Science High School, and a supposedly anomalous joint venture agreement between the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP), and property firm Alphaland. Binay is BSP national president.
The AMLC said the allegedly fraudulent bank transactions coincided with the same period as the 3 projects.
The Senate panel stopped its hearings in August 2015 as Trillanes and other senators focused on preparing for the elections. It released a partial report in May but the inquiry was left hanging without a full report. It remains unclear if – and when – the hearings will resume.
Binay won't touch funds for now
The Binay camp said that even without an asset protection order, the Vice President will cooperate with the investigation.
“Vice President Binay volunteered to the court that he will not touch the funds in his account in order for the court to properly resolve the legal issues,” said Rico Quicho, Binay's spokesperson for political affairs.
“This is a voluntary act to show that Vice President has nothing to hide and is confident in his position that the AMLC petition is not only illegal, but also a clear act of political harassment,” Quicho added.
The Manila court held a hearing Monday where Binay's lawyer, Claro Certeza, filed an omnibus motion against the AMLC petition. The Office of the Solicitor General, which represents AMLC, has 10 days to respond.
Binay's office reiterated that the AMLC petition was a “blatant violation” of a forfeiture law that prohibited the filing of cases “within one year before any general election or within 3 months before any special election.”
In July, the Vice President filed a P200 million ($4.41 million) civil case against various government officials including Trillanes and AMLC officials for damages resulting from libel.
Binay accuses the AMLC, the Senate, and the Office of the Ombudsman of being part of an administration-backed campaign to destroy his candidacy. He is facing several plunder complaints and investigations, with corruption the biggest challenge to his campaign.
The Vice President lost his front-runner status in the presidential race in the wake of the investigations.
Mercado invokes immunity
Another respondent in the forfeiture case was Binay's ally-turned-whistleblower, former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado.
Mercado was the primary witness in the Senate hearings, where he admitted benefitting from the allegedly overpriced projects.
Like Trillanes, Mercado said the new AMLC petition vindicated him even if it also sought to forfeit his assets.
“Wala na akong ganoong kalaking nahuli sa aking pera. Nakikita sila ng 4 na account ko na existing. One is yung aking personal sa BDO na may P299,000. One is yung aking account sa BPI, yung aking Coron Underwater Garden na P631,000. Yung isa P631,000 ata at yung isa, parang ganun lang,” Mercado told Rappler.
(I don't have that huge amount anymore. They found 4 existing bank accounts. One is a personal account at BDO with P299,000. The other is with BPI under Coron Underwater Garden with P631,000. Another is P631,000, I think, with the last with the same amount.)
He plans to file a motion to dismiss the case against him. While saying he can defend himself, Mercado invoked the “transactional immunity” he got from the Senate.
“Kahit ano pa ang sinabi sa Senado, hindi pwedeng gawing ebidensiya laban sa akin,” he said. (No matter what I said in the Senate, it can't be used as evidence against me.) – with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com