MANILA, Philippines – Did a former Makati city official personally benefit from the congressional development fund of Vice President Jejomar Binay's daughter?
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV leveled a new allegation against Makati Representative Abigail Binay, saying she issued 15 checks from her Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the name of Ryan Barcelo, the former officer-in-charge of the Makati Social Welfare Department.
“Kahit gaano mo paikutin, that's called malversation kasi nakapangalan sa iyo,” Trillanes told Barcelo. (No matter how you twist the issue, that's called malversation because the checks were in your name.)
Barcelo explained he was the special disbursing officer of the city government.
“The office of Congresswoman Binay had programs for medical and financial assistance. The social welfare department is the way to give that. I am not aware if that was for PDAF or not but there was an assistance given,” Barcelo said.
Trillanes and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano grilled Barcelo on whether he knew the checks were from Binay's PDAF and if he encashed the check, but the official could not recall, drawing jeers from the gallery.
Barcelo began working for Makati's social welfare department in 2003. He became its head in October 2012 until the Vice President's son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, was suspended in July. Barcelo succeeded his aunt, Marjorie de Veyra, a known supporter of the Binays and the running mate of the younger Binay in the 2013 polls.
In the first part of the hearing, Barcelo maintained his department had a “tight screening process” for the BLU Card program. He said the department asked senior citizens to submit documents before they could avail themselves of cash gifts, burial assistance, and a free birthday cake.
Barcelo condeded though that the department relies on reports from “the grassroots” before it verifies the death of beneficiaries, and removes them from the list.
Yet the discussion turned to Congresswoman Binay when Trillanes asked him if he got checks from her PDAF.
Known as the pork barrel, the PDAF has become associated with corruption since a corruption scam was exposed in 2013. State auditors found that lawmakers funneled the fund to fake non-governmental organizations in exchange for multi-million-peso kickbacks.
'Why don't you explain consultants?'
Congresswoman Binay took exception to Trillanes' revelation, reiterating that Barcelo was the “bonded officer” tasked with disbursement. She said her PDAF was for medical and funeral assistance in her second district.
“Maybe Senator Trillanes does not know that the expenses go through the eye of a needle with the [Commission on Audit (COA)] auditor of Makati. Before medical assistance can be given, there are many documents that must be submitted. The [department] double checks this. There are receipts submitted to the COA,” Binay said in a statement.
State auditors questioned the number of Trillanes' consultants who include his brother Juan Antonio, a houseboy, family drivers, and fellow Magdalo members who get their salary from Senate funds. The Binays have called on the Senate to investigate Trillanes' consultants.
“I already said before that my funds are open to scrutiny because I know I used this properly, supported by documents,” said Congresswoman Binay. “Can Senator Trillanes say the same about his Senate consultants that even include his brother?!”
Trillanes has said that his consultants were “legitimate,” and that they help him in intelligence-gathering, presenting witnesses, and authoring bills.
The senator took a swipe at the Binays' criticism of his consultants. He retorted: “These PDAF checks of Congresswoman Abby, my consultants found this.”
His colleagues defended him, and even joked about the issue.
Cayetano and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III quipped, “Congratulations to the consultants of Senator Trillanes!”
'Doubling senior citizens in PH'
Trillanes and Congresswoman Binay have repeatedly clashed since the Senate began its probe into corruption allegations against the Binay family last year.
The opposition standard-bearer and former Makati mayor, Vice President Binay faces accusations ranging from overpricing to bid rigging and ill-gotten wealth, and lately even pocketing funds for ghost beneficiaries of Makati's vaunted senior citizens' program.
In the 24th Senate hearing, Makati City Action Center head Arthur Cruto returned to testify on 5 more barangays that his office surveyed to verify the existence of the beneficiaries. Cruto is part of the administration of Acting Mayor Kid Peña, who replaced Binay's son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay as he sits out a suspension over graft charges.
Last week, Cruto presented a survey showing that 40% to 52% of the beneficiaries were not on the voters' list and in their place of residence. Yet the data was based on only two out of 33 barangays (villages) in Makati – Kasilawan and Pinagkaisahan.
This time, Cruto presented data from 5 more barangays: Carmona, Singkamas, Sta Cruz, South Cembo, and Cembo. He said that 41% of the beneficiaries were also not on the voter's list of the Commission on Elections, and could not be located.
He said that Makati has 68,000 senior citizens out of a population of 529,039.
“Twelve percent of the total population of Makati are senior citizens, which is almost double the national average,” Cruto said.
He cited a 2010 census to say that there were only 6.26 million senior citizens out of a national population of 92.1 million.
This prompted Cayetano to say: “Sabi ni Jojo Binay, ang nagawa niya sa Makati, gagawin din niya sa Pilipinas. So dodoblehin ba niya ang senior citizen sa Pilipinas?” (Jojo Binay said what he did in Makati, he will do in the Philippines. So will he also double the number of senior citizens in the Philippines?) – Rappler.com