How Binay got away from his first graft case

Aries C. Rufo
How Binay got away from his first graft case
Betrayal by former allies is not new to the Vice President

MANILA, Philippines – Allegations of fabricated bidding. Alleged use of public funds for campaign and election purposes. Audit findings of fund misuse. These accusations are old hat for Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay.

As far back as 1988, in his first two years as mayor of Makati, Binay has been parrying these accusations from political critics and former allies alike.

As early as then, he also had to deal with the betrayal of a trusted aide after a political falling-out.

Then as now, Binay has claimed that allegations against him were politically motivated, orchestrated by a group of people intent on pulling him down.

The allegations are a trite refrain resurrected and repeated every election time, Binay would say.

Twenty-six years later, it’s deja vu for Binay, only this time, involving different characters.

COA findings

Binay’s first graft case with the Ombudsman was filed courtesy of a Commission on Audit probe that found irregularities in the disbursement of funds months before he first contested the mayoral post in Makati. He was appointed OIC-mayor (officer-in-charge) of Makati in 1986 by former President Corazon Aquino following the EDSA revolt that year.

In January 4, 1988, or 14 days before the local elections that year, a COA team was formed to look into select transactions covering the period October to December 1987.

Among others, the COA team looked into the projects that allegedly involved ghost employees, overpriced construction materials, participation of questionable bidders, hiring of almost a thousand contractuals for “monitoring of discreet establishments,” expenditures for questionable projects, forgeries in signatures, and  illegal reimbursements to Marissa Chan, the former head of the Makati Social Services Department.

As former vice mayor Ernesto Mercado would later do, Chan turned her back on her patron due to political differences.

Based on its initial findings, the COA team found there were anomalies in the use of funds for different projects – from the “information and dissemination” drive that involved double or ghost payees; “barangay cleanliness and beautification drive” that involved dubious expenses; procurement of construction materials of doubtful validity; and release of funds unsupported by a sufficient budget.

Fictitious bidders

The smoking gun, however, was the alleged illegal reimbursements by the city government made to Chan for supposed expenses for Makati’s poor constituencies, like Christmas giveaways, donations for calamity victims and expenses for private functions like induction balls, get-together parties, Christmas parties, Halloween parties, and general meetings of private association groups.

Moreover, the COA team found that the procurement of 90,900 Christmas giveaways spearheaded by Chan and given by the city government in October for its “Pasko ng Makati ’87” was highly suspicious.

Identical to the Makati parking building project where one of the alleged bidders denied participating in the bid, the COA team discovered several alleged bidders did not actually participate in the bidding for the Christmas packages. (READ: Red flags in ‘overpriced’ Makati infra projects)

Similar to other projects undertaken by the city government under the Binays, “Pasko ng Makati ’87” was broken down into 3 tranches with a total cost of P9.999 million ($480,721).* (READ: Binay’s Makati building overshoots budget)

Favored bidder

All 3 bids for the Christmas project were won by a single bidder, Bambi General Merchandising, a company that reported an asset of P72,613, the COA team said.

“The 90,900 Christmas groceries were all delivered in October 1987, several weeks away from the Christmas season,” the COA report said. 

Scrutinizing the bid documents, the COA team found out there were red flags in the bidding process.

One bidder denied participating in the bid while another was found to be engaged in iron works and was not a supplier of grocery items. Still, a third bidder could not be located in its given address.

Based on the special audit, former Makati councillor Roberto Brillante, already at political odds with Binay at the time, filed a complaint before the Ombudsman.

He accused Binay of conspiring with Makati officials to misuse public funds, violate election laws and commit graft involving a total amount of P137.7 million. At the time, the plunder law was not yet enacted.

Former Ombudsman Conrado Vasquez ordered a preliminary investigation into the COA report but this was put in the back burner.

Spilling the beans

Meanwhile, while the case was pending before the Ombudsman, Chan issued an affidavit recanting her initial alibi and spilling the beans on her former boss.

In an affidavit issued in April 1992, Chan said the reimbursements she got from the city government for alleged expenses were actually used to promote the candidacy of Binay for the January 1988 local polls.

Chan said cash donations to fire victims were actually used for political rallies; cash advances were released and spent for Binay’s election campaign and expenses used for private organisations were all meant “to enhance his campaign activity.”

In separate instances, Chan said she got between P218,000 to P3-million cash advances a few months before the elections “to further promote the image of Binay.”

All in all, she got P8 million in cash advances between November and December 1987.

“I was ordered to execute all the documents by Mayor Jejomar Binay in order to close the COA audit report,” Chan said.

Refuting Chan’s allegations. Binay dismissed her affidavit as “a worthless scrap of paper.” Binay said Chan was trying to preempt the charges to be filed against her and that she was only trying to retaliate when he refused to accommodate her “special friend” in his party.

For all intents and purposes, Binay said Chan was only acting on behalf of Brillante in exchange for a favor. “The affidavit is a political tool for propaganda purposes…it comes during election time, its immediate case being, the rejection by respondent Binay’s party of respondent Chan’s nominee – her special friend – a young boy of 22 years, as candidate for councilor. Her special friend now runs for councilor under complainant Brillante’s party,” Binay argued.

Binay argued that Chan’s recanted statements were in direct contrast to her previous testimony before the Ombudsman panel that all the transactions she had with the city government were above-board.

He further claimed that Chan was being investigated by the city government for failing to remit collections from vendors and spending these for her personal use.

Demolition job

In 1994, after 6 years in limbo, Vasquez revived the preliminary investigation on Binay, prompting the mayor then to seek recourse from the Supreme Court.

He questioned the Ombudsman’s sudden interest in the case, saying the long delay in the resolution of his case violated his right to due process.

In a separate letter dated August 1994 to Vasquez, Binay warned the Ombudsman that his political enemies were out to “mislead” the Ombudsman into filing the case against him.

“This group, has among others, conceived an insidious plan to mislead you into filing a case against me. This time, they hope a Manifesto will do the trick,” he warned Vasquez. He also reminded Vasquez of his petition for a restraining order against the Ombudsman from pursuing the case.

But Vasquez proceeded with the filing of the cases and indicted Binay and several City Hall officials before the Sandiganbayan. The case however proceeded at a snail’s pace before the anti-graft court.

Withdrawal of cases

In 2001, Binay got a breakthrough when the Fifth Division granted his motion for a reinvestigation of the cases by the Ombudsman, this time headed by Aniano Desierto. 

Reviewing the facts, Desierto recommended the withdrawal of the charges against Binay and the other Makati City Hall officials for failure by the prosecution to establish conspiracy. 

As to the rigged bidding, Desierto said that while the COA established anomalies in the process, the findings “are not sufficient to conclude the biddings were rigged or simulated.” Desierto pointed out that there were other still bidders left apart from Bambi General Merchandising.  

The anti-graft court’s Fifth Division granted the withdrawal.

In the end, it was Chan who was left holding the bag. Desierto said the case against her “shall continue until  its final logical conclusion.”

The case against Chan, however, has been archived after warrants of arrest issued on her were not served. 

As for Brillante, he was already convicted twice for libel: the first one when he accused Binay of being behind the bombing in January 1988 that resulted in the death of 3 Makati residents, and second, when he claimed that several justices of the Sandiganbayan were allegedly bribed by Binay to dismiss the charges against his wife, former mayor Elenita Binay.

Will Binay survive the new onslaught this time? –

*$1:P20.80, as of December 1987

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