Mayor Binay questions Senate jurisdiction over building issue

MANILA, Philippines – Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay on Thursday, September 25, questioned the jurisdiction of the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee handling a probe on the alleged overpriced Makati City building.

Binay, who had been subpoenaed to attend the hearing, said in a news briefing hours before the continuation  of the Senate probe that until this is resolved, he would not attend any other Senate hearing on the controversial building.

In a press conference at city hall, Binay said he would send a letter of “jurisdictional challenge” to the Senate to question the jurisdiction of both the subcommittee and the Blue Ribbon committee over the matter. The Senate probe was sparked by plunder raps filed against the mayor and his father, Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Mayor Binay attended the first hearing held almost a month ago but skipped subsequent ones, instead opting to send subordinates from the Makati city government.

“I was respectful, compliant and submitted myself to the authority of the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee in the name of truth and transparency,” he said of his first appearance.

He added, “During the course of the hearing, it became apparent that the proceedings were not in the pursuit of truth but rather in the furtherance of personal agenda." Mayor Binay echoed the criticism of the Binay camp against Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV.

The Makati mayor said he would not attend any of the subcommittee’s hearings “until the issue is resolved.” Binay’s legal counsel, also speaking at the press conference, said they would exhaust all legal measures should the mayor face contempt charges or a possible arrest.

Vice President Binay, meanwhile, was invited by Senate to the September 25 hearing but skipped it as well, and opted to visit informal settlers. He chairs the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) (READ: Will VP Binay, son attend Senate probe?)

Trillanes said they would push through with the hearing, Binay or no Binay.

"I personally won't take that sitting down. Ipapa-contempt ko yan. Hindi sila sacred cow. Kung pakiramdam nila nasa Macalañang na sila, royal family na sila... para sa akin [Mayor Binay] is a regular resource person," he told reporters ahead of the 10 am hearing. 

(I want him cited for contempt. He is no sacred cow. If they feel like they're already in Macalañang, that they're the royal family, [that's not the case]. For me the mayor is a regular resource person.) 

Vice President Binay is thus far the only person with clear and publicized plans for the presidency in 2016. On Wednesday, September 24, the vice president led the first organizational meeting of the coalition and soon-to-be-political-party United Nationalist Alliance (UNA)

The senator added Mayor Binay has "set a dangerous preceedent" by snubbing the Senate and instead opting to hold a press conference despite being issued a subpoena.  

Buildings, cakes, kickbacks

In the course of 5 hearings in over a month, the subcommittee’s resource persons have accused the Binays of earning from the “overpriced” building and more. Former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado, a former ally of the Binays said the vice president recieved a 13% kickback for every city project.  

The mayor took exception to the Senate subcommittee's handling of the probe. "The Senators have pre-judged me and my family," said Mayor Binay. 

What went wrong, according to the mayor? In his statement, he accused the Senate of “threatening” its resource persons – a reference to  Trillanes who pulled aside executives of building contractor Hilmarc’s during a break in one hearing.

Trillanes had addressed the issue during the subcommittee’s fourth hearing, clarifying that he never threatened resource persons and only urged them to tell the truth.

Mayor Binay also lamented the inclusion of “witnesses who swore to tell the truth but were later revealed to have only guessed their statements,” referring to lawyer Renato Bondal, who filed the plunder raps against the mayor and his son.

Bondal accused the Binays of overpricing cakes for Makati’s senior citizens at around P1,000 a piece. He later admitted the price was only a guess. The city shot back by saying the cakes only cost P306.75 each.

Since then, Bondal and two other witnesses including an ally-turned-foe of the Binays, have been placed under the government’s witness protection program.

The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, who was the vice president’s ally in Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). Their relationship turned sour during the 2013 mid-term elections.

Pimentel earlier told reporters he would write the draft of the subcommittee's findings with or without the vice president's appearance. – Rappler.com