MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday, October 16, ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the allegations of corruption against Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family members raised by whistleblowers in an ongoing Senate inquiry.
De Lima made the announcement after she met with the whistleblowers led by former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado, who had accused the Vice President and members of his family of corrupt activities ranging from kickbacks in Makati City projects, rigged bids, to using dummies to hide businesses and properties.
She directed NBI director Virgilio Mendez to create a “dedicated” team to conduct the parallel probe, anchored on the allegations made by Mercado, and lawyer Renato Bondal and Nicholas Enciso VI.
Bondal and Enciso had filed plunder charges against the Vice President and his son, Makati Mayor Erwin Jejomar Binay Jr over the alleged overpriced Makati building, the subject of an inquiry being conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee.
Without giving details of the meeting, De Lima said the whistleblowers gave “revealing information” on the alleged anomalies and said they would submit more evidence to back their allegations.
“It will suffice to say that we asked the extent of their knowledge in connection with the allegations hurled against the Binays and the extent of their evidence against the Vice President,” she said.
Responding to questions, De Lima said the investigation will not include all of the allegations against the Binays since if this is done, “we fear that the NBI will never finish their investigation.”
She said any significant findings and evidence will be forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman, without any recommendation on who should be prosecuted.
“We will not indicate in the transmittal to be forwarded to the Ombudsman that 'this is recommended for prosecution.' We will leave it up to the judgment and the discretion of the Ombudsman on what to do with these partial findings,” De Lima said.
When asked, De Lima said the Vice President cannot hide under the cloak of his immunity as Vice President once the NBI begins its investigation, and that only President Benigno Aquino III or the Ombudsman can halt the probe.
“There's no such thing as immunity from investigation. And the one important thing to stress is we are not only investigating Vice President Binay, but also his family and his alleged dummies. They [family and dummies] are not immune from suit,” she said.
De Lima clarified that the NBI was tasked to conducted a parallel probe as the Field Information Office of the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee are conducting their respective investigations.
‘De Lima faces disbarment’
The Binay camp scored De Lima for ordering the investigation even without any orders from the President or the Ombudsman.
“It is a sad day when even the DOJ [Department of Justice] is part of the political circus,” said Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla..
JV Bautista, interim secretary general of the United Nationalist Alliance, warned De Lima of disbarment if she pursues the investigation Binay.
“De Lima is certainly courting a lawsuit for her abusive and unlawful acts. Perhaps another disbarment case will knock some sense into her head,” Bautista said.
He said that the DOJ “clearly has no jurisdiction to conduct an investigation over any impeachable official" as "that power belongs exclusively to the Ombudsman."
"De Lima should read her Administrative Code and the Ombudsman Law to understand this very basic rule on exclusive jurisdiction. Why is she initiating the investigation motu propio?” Bautista said.
He accused the DOJ chief of being “an over-eager political wanna-be bureaucrat with no jurisdiction to investigate the Vice President.”
“She belongs to the executive branch of government. The Vice President, therefore, is her superior and she is not possessed with power or authority to order an investigation against her superior, in the same manner that she cannot order the investigation against the President,” Bautista said.
De Lima dismissed the criticisms, as well as allegations that she is part of an alleged plot to obliterate Binay’s chances in the 2016 presidential race.
"Malinis na malinis po ang konsyensya ko. Sigurado po ako sa sarili ko na hindi ako sasasama sa mga ganyang oplan. Unang-una, meron ba talagang oplan? And number 2, kung may oplan, hindi po kasama ang Secretary of Justice. Ang desisyon kong ito ay mag-isa ko pong desisyon. Hihinto lang po ako kapag pinahinto ako ng Pangulo o ng Ombudsman,” she said.
(My conscience is very clean. I will am not part of any plot. First of all, is there really a plot? And number 2, if there is one, the Secretary of Justice won’t be part of it. This [investigation] is my decision alone. I will only stop if asked by the President or the Ombudsman,” she said.
De Lima said the investigation was prompted by the need to verify the allegations of Mercado.
In the Senate hearing on October 8, Mercado alleged that the Vice President owned the 350-hectare "Hacienda Binay" in Batangas with an estimated value of P1.2 billion. Binay had denied the allegation. – Rappler.com