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Senate conduct harms chamber

Legal experts denounce ‘lynching’ during Binay probe

TWO legal experts on Monday slammed the way the Senate is conducting its investigation into the alleged properties of Vice President Jejomar Binay, saying the three senators leading the probe are doing the chamber more harm than good.

Sessions resume. Senators Grace Poe and Aquilino Pimentel
III confer with Senate President Franklin Drilon during the
resumption of the Senate sessions on Monday. Ey Acasio
Antonio Contreras, a professor of law at the Dela Salle University and Dean Amado Valdez of University of the East College of Law denounced the “lynching” of resource persons during the previous hearings, saying it could boomerang on Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Alan Peter Cayetano and Aquilino Pimentel III.

The warning seemed to dovetail with the results of the third Philippine Trust Index survey released by the public relations company EON, which showed that the Senate was the least trusted government institution with only 7 percent of the general public and 4 percent of “the informed public” expressing trust in it. In 2012, the Senate had a trust rating of 15 percent from the general public and 13 percent from the informed public, which was defined as adult Filipinos 25 to 65 years old who have completed at least three years of tertiary education and have access at least twice a week to print, online, and broadcast media.

The Office of the President also saw a decline in its trust rating from the general public, which fell sharply to 16 percent from 28 percent in 2012. Among the informed public, its trust rating fell to 15 percent from 24 percent.

In separate interviews, Contreras and Valdez shared the common observation that the investigation conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee already had a foregone conclusion—that Binay is guilty.

“There should be open-mindedness. Instead conclusions have been made,” said Contreras, a political analyst and professor of law.

In a radio interview, Contreras said that Pimentel, Trillanes and Cayetano have clearly shown bias against guests who are presumed to be identified with Binay, including businessman Antonio Tiu, who was accused of acting as Binay’s dummy.

Contreras observed that when former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado and other “witnesses” spoke, there were no interruptions and they were allowed to finish their statements.

“But when Tiu was talking, they [senators] butt in,” he added.

Contreras warned that the Filipino viewers are not stupid and many already disapprove of the lawmakers “antics,” which could damage the Senate.

Valdez said the subcommittee was looking at the wrong angle in attempting to connect Tiu with Binay. He pointed out that the explanation given by Tiu was more believable under common practice and the law.

“What Tiu as a businessman is doing is consolidating property, and purposely not getting a deed of sale outright because he will be going against provisions of the agrarian reform program. But from a practical point of view, this is what businessmen are doing to compete against big international players who hold hundred of hectares of land parcels in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etcetera,” Valdez said.

In the Philippines, one cannot own more than five hectares at a time “so you compile land to compete against international business,” he said.

“You purposely veer away from being the nominal owner so as to not run afoul of the Philippines’ agrarian reform law. But you have all the right to use, transform, destroy, etc. the property being the lawful owner,” he said.

Even the photos exhibited by Mercado, he said, has no value in court as the case would be solely based on the argument that he used to be an employee or colleague of the Binays.

“There are many versions of occupying a property, not necessarily owning it. The court will most certainly delve deep into this, and not take at face value any testimony of a single witness, which is what the Senate subcommittee is doing,” Valdez said.

He described the proceedings as “unfortunate.”

Contreras agreed and said Tiu had yet to secure a land title because of an existing mortgage.

“When you’re paying off a mortgage, you don’t have your TCT [transfer certificate of title] at hand. But when asked, yes, I live and use this property... I paid a down payment. Am currently paying amortizations. Yes, I own the land,” he said.

He also cautioned the investigating lawmakers against making life much harder for Binay because the vice president may eventually win the sympathy of voters and be perceived as the underdog.

Contreras likened Binay’s plight to that of ousted President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who was subject to a lot of accusations and name calling before he won the presidency in 1998.

“But the bigger issue is that the process of investigation, of inquiry, is being compromised by the demeanor of the senators in the subcommittee. And all this badgering, bullying, will backfire on them, and on the institution of the senate, in general,” the law professor said.

“My advice to the opposition, or the Liberal Party, if you want to bring down Binay, change your approach.... Naasar na ang mga tao, (the people are getting angry),” he added.

The latest Philippine Trust Index survey showed that the Catholic Church remained the most trusted institution in the country with 75 percent of the general public and 66 percent of the informed public saying they trust it “very much.”

The survey was conducted from May to June and involved 1,626 respondents from various socioeconomic and educational backgrounds in urban and rural areas all over the country.

For four of 10 Filipinos, the primary driver of trust in the government is its perceived freedom from corruption. However, fewer than two of 10 believe that the government is not corrupt.

Filipinos also believe that the government should be able to provide better jobs, attend to the needs of the poor, implement laws equally, and be transparent and communicate to its stakeholders to be able to earn the trust of the people.

The academe was the second most trusted institution after the Church, with 53 percent of the general public and 45 percent of the informed public trusting it very much.

Media are the third most trusted, with 33 percent and 22 percent trust ratings from the general and informed public, respectively.

Overall, the trust in the media remained the same for two years. TV networks were the most trusted, followed by radio and newspapers.

While traditional media still dominates, online sources are slowly earning the trust of Filipinos, the survey said.

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