Makati vice mayor: 'Rule of law will catch up with Binay'

MANILA, Philippines – Makati City has two city hall buildings – the old and the new – and within each of them, an official invoking the rule of law claims the top post.

Early Wednesday, March 18, Vice Mayor Romulo Peña set up a makeshift office along the hallway of the old Makati city hall building, as he insisted on performing his duties as the lawful acting mayor of the city.

His position is recognized by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Ombudsman following the suspension of Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr on Monday.

Binay, however, insists that he remains Makati mayor because of the appellate court's order stopping his suspension. At the new Makati city hall building, he even signed official documents and met with city councilors, who also expressed their support for him.

Peña, however, believes that the law is on his side – even if Binay continues to hold office and discharges his duties.

"Siya, hawak na niya ang poder, lahat ng pisikal nandoon sa kanya. Pero ang di niya mahahawakan, eventually, magka-catch up sa kanya ang katotohanan na may rule of law," he said.

(He holds the power, all the fiscals are with him. But what he cannot control is that, eventually, the reality of the rule of law will catch up with him.)

Peña said he would abide by the decision of any higher authority, but that at the moment, he recognizes only the order of the DILG.

To disregard this order would be a "dereliction of duty," he added.

"It will be a dereliction of duty if I will not abide by the ruling. Kawawa naman tayo kung masasampahan tayo ng kaso dahil hindi tayo sumunod sa ruling. Hindi naman tama iyon," he said. (I'd be in trouble if I'm charged in court because I didn't obey the ruling. That's not right.)

Peña also stressed that he was not attempting to grab power from Binay.

"Hindi ko ginusto ito. Under my designation, kapag walang mayor, ako muna ang pansamantalang hahali. Kung sakaling maayos iyon, dalawang kamay ibabalik namin sa kanila. Hindi ito parang gina-grab ko ang power," he said.

(I didn't ask for this. My designation says, if there's not mayor, I temporarily take the position. If that issue is fixed, we will return the post to them with both our hands. It's not like I'm power grabbing.)

He added that he will not stop discharging his duties as acting mayor because he has not received any directive from the DILG ordering him otherwise.

On Monday morning, the DILG served the 6-month preventive suspension order issued by the Ombudsman against Binay. Peña was immediately worn in as acting mayor. About two hours later, the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the suspension.

That the TRO came late, and therefore had "nothing to restrain," forms the basis behind the opinion of the DILG, the Ombudsman, and the justice department that the CA order was rendered "moot and academic."

Flaws in interpretation

Binay's legal counsel, however, argued that only the courts have the power to decide on the interpretation of the TRO.

Other lawyers also pointed out that the TRO sought to stop the suspension itself, not the service of the suspension order, and that suspension is a continuing act that may be stopped even after notice had been served.

Asked about this, Peña said he would rather leave the matter to his lawyers. But he said that he saw "flaws" in the Binay camp's defense.

"Hindi abugado, pero nakikita ko mga flaws, marami akong nakikita. Napag-aaralan na 'yan unti-unti and they're buying time," he said. (I'm not a lawyer, but I see a lot of flaws. They are studying them and they're buying time.)

City hall transactions

At the old city hall, Peña's aides have set up a wooden table and plastic chairs to serve as the acting mayor's makeshift office. 

Peña admitted that because of the confusion in the interpretation of the CA resolution, some Makati residents are still hesitant to come to him in his capacity as acting mayor.

He said he hopes to resolve this as soon as he gets documents and directives from the DILG bolstering his claim to the top post.

"In the event na makuha na namin ang papeles para sa akin na mapoproteskyunan ako nang maayos, ie-encourage na namin silang lumapit sa amin," he said. (In the event that we get the documents that will properly protect me, we'll encourage constituents to approach us.)

"Then we will impose [on the people] that they should come to us here at city hall," he added.

Peña also called on Binay to voluntarily step down to avoid the confusion in the city.

"It's high time for Binay to step down, not because I want his position, but because it's what the law says," he added. –