The highly-anticipated debate between Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV will happen in two weeks, but this early, both sides have aired misgivings on what the exercise would accomplish.
Binay had challenged Trillanes to a face-off on Wednesday, apparently irked by the manner by which Trillanes and fellow Blue Ribbon subcommittee members Peter Allan Cayetano and Koko Pimentel had been investigating the Vice President’s and his family’s alleged corrupt practices during his term as Makati Mayor and allegations of ill-gotten wealth.
Binay had described the investigation as “farcical” and an “inquisition.”
Trillanes took on Binay’s dare and agreed to the debate and allow himself to be stripped of parliamentary immunity.
The debate will be hosted by media group Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.
Binay’s spokesman, Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla, said the Vice President has requested that the deans of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and San Beda be invited as moderators.
Remulla, however, said Binay may have more to lose than gain in the upcoming debate.
“I admit, the Vice President has more to lose because he will be stooping down to the level of Senator Trillanes. But the debate will push through,” Remulla said.
“The accused has the right to face his accuser in a neutral and sterile and scholarly atmosphere,” he added.
Remulla said Trillanes has abused his parliamentary immunity in cutting off witnesses from explaining and in making “rude and unsubstantiated” comments during the course of the Senate hearing.
“In a debate where he (Trillanes) is stripped of parliamentary immunity, one can explain or elucidate fully without fear of being on the receiving end of rude comments,” Remulla added.
Another Binay spokesman, United Nationalist Alliance interim president Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco said that while the debate will push through, he feels that it will be a pointless exercise because Trillanes is a known “liar.”
“How can you debate with someone who is a liar? That debate will go nowhere. But I am confident the Vice President will be able to prove to the public during the debate that he is in the right,” Tiangco said.
In accepting Binay’s challenge, Trillanes even suggested that the debate be held at the alleged property of the Vice President in Batangas.
Binay has refused to attend the Senate sub-committee hearing, since he claimed that he had already been prejudged by the senators.
“Why would I go there? That’s beyond in aid of legislation. This is really a demolition,” Binay said.
“And they’re saying, this investigation is to show that the Vice President is not qualified to be a president. So there’s politics there. That’s hypocrisy,” he added.
But while Binay’s camp aired their misgivings on the outcome of the debate, Trillanes said he was ready to take all the risks to “ferret out the truth.”
“If it’s the only way to know the truth on all these allegations, I’m willing to take chances. I’m willing to face all the consequences of what he will do, “ said Trillanes said during the sidelines of an ocular inspection by the committee on the vast Batangas agricultural land allegedly owned by the Vice President, as claimed by former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado.
The Vice President strongly refuted ownership of the agri-tourism park and insisted he merely leased nine hectare from Its owner, Filipino-Chinese businessman Antonio Tiu, for his piggery and the orchidarium of his wife, also former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay.
He said that he had already had divested his rights over the piggery when he sold it after winning the vice presidency in 2010.
Told that the debate could just be a ‘trap’ as Binay dared him it should be outside the Senate, Trillanes quipped, “I don’t care”.
The senator reiterated that he was accepting Binay’s challenge and is willing to meet him.
“I believe that this can be the only opportunity when I can confront him with all these allegations. This is the only venue when I can ask him the questions I had wanted to ask,” he said.
“We really cannot get anything from him since he continuously defy our invitation.”
Despite agreeing to shed his parliamentary immunity, Trillanes, a former military officer, said he has nothing to be afraid of.
On Wednesday, Tiu filed oral defamation charges against Trillanes in a Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office for accusing him as dummy of the Vice President on the Batangas property. He maintained he bought the property from Gregorio Laureano for P446 million but had paid only P11 million.
Tiu personally toured Trillanes and the media to the Batangas property after they were initially barred by his lawyer, Czarina Quintinilla from entering it.
The upcoming debate, meanwhile drew varied reactions from lawmakers from the Lower House.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., for instance, welcomed Binay’s decision to face his accusers, particularly Trillanes for a debate.
“That is most welcome. He needs to do that,” Belmonte said.
House senior deputy majority leader and Quezon City Rep. Bolet Banal, for his part, described the upcoming even as a “positive development.”
“The VP will now be able to address the serious allegations brought against him. [Speaker Belmonte] is correct in saying that the VP has nothing to fear because he has allies in the Senate,” Banal said.
Banal, however, argued that even if the probe will conducted in the Senate, to be headed by Senate Blue Ribbon mother committee led by Sen. Teofisto Guingona, the committee would be fair in handling Binay. Guingona had already announced that his committee was inviting Binay to attend the Senate probe.
“Chairman Guingona’s abilities as presiding officer will be tested because this is not just about the VP and his allies against the sub-committee senators; this is also a much awaited face-off between VP Binay and his former ally and vice mayor, Ernesto Mercado,” Banal said.
Iloilo Rep. Jerry Trenas, vice chair of the House committee on good government and public accountability, said it would be a good move for Binay to face his accusers “so that the issues can be answered by him in order to allow the public to make an intelligent decision.”
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, member of the House Independent Bloc, meanwhile, said the much-awaited face off of Binay and his accusers would b an opportune time for the Vice President to clear his name if he thinks he did not commit any wrongdoing.
“That is most welcome. This issue has to be resolved so everybody can get back to work on the basics. The government has to attend to the pressing needs of the Filipino people: food on the table, peace and security in their homes and communities, among others,” de la Cruz said.
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