MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – For years, reports of Vice President Jejomar Binay allegedly owning units in a number of condominiums in Makati City have become part of urban legend. One witness, however, is coming forward to try to prove that there is truth to those coffee shop talks.
That witness may or may not appear before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee on Tuesday, November 18.
Sources at Blue Ribbon committee told Rappler that a certain Ariel Olivar will surface at the sub-committee hearing on Tuesday morning, November 18, and testify that he is a “dummy” for a condominium unit actually owned by the Vice President.
However, another source outside the Senate said Olivar will just submit an affidavit and not sit in the hearing.
Olivar, a private surveyor, was the one who surveyed the so-called Hacienda Binay in Rosario, Batangas, when it was just 95 hectares, former Makati Vice Mayor Nestor Mercado said. If Mercado’s testimony is to be believed, the property has since expanded to 350 hectares and is under the name of another alleged dummy, businessman Antonio Tiu.
Olivar was reportedly among the passengers in the helicopter that took aerial photos of the controversial property shown in an earlier Senate hearing.
“Olivar is going to testify that he is merely a dummy for that property,” one of the sources said. The property in question is a 150-square meter unit at The Peak Tower in Makati.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV had announced that he would drop a new bombshell on the beleaguered Vice President at Tuesday’s hearing. He refused to elaborate, and only indicated that more buildings in Makati would be scrutinized for allegedly being over-priced. (READ: Trillanes threatens Binay with new corruption exposé)
In March 2001, an investigative report by Newsbreak, which first exposed the alleged Binay property in Batangas, also touched on condominium units owned by members of the Binay family but were not declared in the assets lists of those in government at the time.
These included two Hidalgo condominium units inside the posh Rockwell Center in Makati. (READ: Can Binay explain his wealth?)
In that piece, journalist Miriam Grace A Go (now editor of Rappler) wrote: “It is common knowledge in Makati that permits that City Hall gives to condominium builders sometime come with a hefty under-the-table price.”
Under the set-up, contractors set aside one unit for the Binays for every building constructed. However, critics say the scheme is not limited to building contractors. Suppliers who also bagged contracts in Makati also supposedly gave the Binays condo units to sweeten the deal.
Binay had brushed aside the allegations. “These charges are a rehash of old election issues,” he wrote in reply to the Newsbreak article.
Then and now, his camp sweeps aside allegations of corruption during his term as mayor of Makati as lies and propaganda peddled by critics who want to weaken his chances in the 2016 elections.
After a come-from-behind electoral victory in 2010, the Vice President immediately declared he would be seeking the presidency in 2016. (READ: Binay turns UNA into a political party for 2016)
Binay’s survey ratings have taken a beating following allegations of ill-gotten and hidden wealth led by Mercado at the Senate hearings, although he remains the most trusted government official.
The Senate sub-committee is looking into alleged overpricing in the construction of the P2.7-billion Makati City Hall Building 2. Construction of the building was initiated during his term as mayor and completed during the first term of his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr.
Sources privy to Olivar’s testimony said the surveyor has admitted that he acted only as front for Binay for The Peak Tower property, which was originally under the name of Rosa Diana Realty.
“He was aware that he was only a front. He was aware that the Peak Tower unit was under his name but that the real beneficial owner was Binay,” Mercado confirmed.
The Land Registration Authority (LRA), in a report to Trillanes, said the original title for the property “was cancelled due to sale.” It was registered in Olivar’s name on July 31, 2003.
How did Senate probers unearth the property? Through records kept by Binay’s long-time personal secretary and aide, Eduviges “Ebeng” Baloloy. (READ: Ebeng Baloloy: BInay’s girl Friday)
Mercado has testified that he received two balikbayan boxes containing hidden bank deposits and stocks certificates of Binay dating back to 1986 when he was first appointed mayor by President Corazon Aquino, mother of the current president.
The documents include foreign and local bank accounts of Binay “care of” Baloloy, and joint accounts of Baloloy and Binay’s financial adviser, Gerardo “Gerry” Limlingan.
They also include Limlingan’s handwritten notes detailing updates on the bank accounts and dollar placements. (READ: Mercado shows Binay’s ‘hidden’ dollar accounts)
Apparently, the cache of documents reveals more than that.
Among the contents of the supposed balikbayan boxes are Baloloy’s handwritten ledgers showing Binay’s supposed condominium units.
One of these was The Peak Tower Unit with TCT No. 17496. In her ledger, however, Baloloy indicated the floor area as 148 square meters, instead of 150 square meters as indicated in the LRA report.
There were other condominium units listed, but these are still being verified.
In a statement, the Office of the Vice President said that Mercado “is the real owner of the [Peak Tower] unit,” pointing out that this was the same property where Mercado and his late former live-in partner lived.
“This is also the location of the shooting incident in which Mercado was considered by police as the prime suspect,” the statement said.
Binay’s camp said Mercado’s live-in partner “died from a gunshot wound to the stomach” in April 2002. “The gun used in the shooting was registered to Mercado. He surrendered the gun a day after the incident and even admitted to cleaning the crime scene. The couple had an altercation before the incident.”
The statement also said, “It is only too clear that Mercado’s agenda is to fool the public and cover up his ownership of many undeclared properties.”
Published news reports said the Makati police ruled out foul play in the death of Mercado’s partner.
In a separate interview, Mercado admitted that he and his late live-in partner stayed at Unit 2801 of The Peak Tower.
He recalled that when he and the Vice President were still close friends, Binay offered Mercado that he could use his unit at The Peak Tower. “At that time, I had a problem and Binay generously offered that I use his unit there.” He stayed there for more than a year.
Mercado said Binay also asked him to “fix the title for the property and look for someone to name for it.”
He said he forgot this conversation with Binay and only recalled about it when they were documenting Binay’s alleged hidden assets.
Asked how he could have initially forgotten the circumstances on the property and its real ownership considering this was where his live-in partner died, Mercado said he sought “to erase the ugly memories” in that property.
No condos in SALN
In all their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) submitted through the years, Binay and his wife, Elenita, who was a one-term Makati mayor from 1998 to 2001, have not indicated any condominium property.
What the couple declared as real properties are residential houses, lots, and agricultural land and lots.
In his 2013 SALN, Binay listed 11 real properties, with a total value of P13.878 million. Their highest valued property is their residence on Caong Street, San Antonio Village, Makati, with a current fair value of P7.148 million. – Rappler.com