SENATE President Franklin Drilon rejected on Wednesday the call of President Benigno Aquino III to wrap up the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee probe on Vice President Jejomar Binay quickly so that lawmakers could focus on pending bills.
“We cannot stop it by ourselves because the committee needs to vote if they have enough evidence,” Drilon said.
“Every senator has a right to scrutinize any issue before the committee. Here, the committee is saying that there are other buildings that they need to look into. That is within the rights and powers of the committee,” Drilon added.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the subcommittee, said Aquino should keep his hands off the Senate investigation against Binay because it would set a dangerous precedent and be seen as interference with a co-equal branch of government.
He said Aquino should ask the Justice Department instead to hasten its probe.
President Aquino said while on an official mission to Beijing that he wished the Senate investigation on Binay would conclude soon so legislators could focus on pressing issues.
The President said that while he respects the Senate as a co-equal branch of government, legislators also have obligations to the people, aside from conducting such investigations.
The President noted that a number of bills are pending before the Congress, among them the fiscal rationalization bill, the military pension system, the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, the supplemental budget, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
He said he wished that Congress would focus on these legislative matters, considering that he has fewer than 600 days in office before he steps down in 2016.
Binay is being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee for allegedly benefiting from the overpriced construction of the Makati City Hall Building II.
Pimentel said his subcommittee, which has held 11 hearings so far, had met many obstacles that kept it from completing its work.
“We have also encountered unfriendly and uncooperative behavior from those being investigated. These are the people causing the perceived delay. Makati officials have boycotted the hearings. Imagine LGU officials defying the Senate? Should we allow this to happen at all, much more continue?” he said.
The Office of the Ombudsman and the Justice Department are conducting parallel investigations into the allegations of corruption against the vice president.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who has led the attacks on Binay, said there is no time frame as to when the investigation may end.
“We will not do this until the election period. What we are saying is we can’t afford to tackle all the evidence in just one hearing,” he said.
Trillanes said the sub-committee will present more witnesses and evidence supporting questionable transactions in Makati City, where Binay had served as mayor.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, on the other hand, said that while senators wanted to terminate the hearings soonest, it was Binay who has refused to cooperate with them by not attending the Senate hearings.
Pimentel, Trillanes and Cayetano were all senatorial candidates who won under the Team Pnoy, a coalition party of the Aquino administration during the May 2013 mid-term elections.
From the Palace, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said there was nothing wrong in the President conveying a message from Binay to Drilon.
In a daily press briefing, Valte also said there was no request from the President himself to stop the Blue Ribbon subcommittee inquiry.
“Is there anything in the Constitution that says the two leaders cannot speak? Nor is there anything in the Constitution that specifically says that they cannot discuss matters involving other public officials,” Valte said in a news briefing on Wednesday.
“The President said yes to relaying the message and he did... a message was conveyed, let’s draw the distinction between pressure, asking them to do something and merely being a conduit to relay a message,” Valte said.
During his interview from China, Aquino said he respects the Senate as a co-equal branch, she said.
Valte declined to comment on the President’s remarks about the “piecemeal” investigation by the Senate.
“I am in no position to react as you requested. My principal has spoken,” Valte said in a text message.
Drilon earlier revealed that Aquino called him to relay Binay’s request, but he denied that the President was asking for a favor and exerting pressure.
Valte also said hat there were no factions in Mr. Aquino’s Cabinet, saying that all members are part of the official family.
“You know they all work for the President. I’m really reluctant to answer questions on that, they all work for the President,” Valte said.
In an interview in China, Mr. Aquino said called on the Blue Ribbon Committee to present all the evidence against Binay instead of in doing so piecemeal so as not to disrupt legislative work.
He said the probe was taking time away from pending bills in the Senate such as the 2015 budget, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and the Fiscal Incentive Rationalization bill.
The Senate is investigating allegations that Binay and members of his family accepted bribes and kickbacks when they were mayors.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda also said the President never ordered the Senate to end its investigation.
“We wish to correct the report that the President wanted the Senate investigation on VP Binay stopped. For the record, the president relayed to the Senate President the request of the Vice President,” he said.
Lacierda also said that even before relaying the request to Drilon, Mr. Aquino already informed Binay that the senators cannot be dictated upon.
The interim president of Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance slammed Drilon’s pronouncement that the Senate would continue its probe.
Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco said that the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee hearings—11 so far-- were made possible by the tolerance of Drilon and Senator Teofista Guingona III, the chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee.
“The Senate hearing was obviously in aid of destruction,” Tiangco said, saying that the senators leading the investigation merely wanted to damage the Vice President, who is leading in opinion polls for the 2016 presidential elections.
Tiangco said the investigations would lead nowhere and had to stop.
Joey Salgado, chief of the Vice President’s media affairs office, said Aquino’s statement from China should be seen as a reminder that the rights of individuals should always be respected, and that courts are the proper venue to determine the guilt or innocence of an individual.
He said that the senators conducting the alleged corruption charges against Binay do not care much for the presumption of innocence has been evident from the start.
“These inquisitors are blinded by their prejudgment and consumed by their obsession to malign Vice President Binay that we seriously doubt if they would heed the words of the President,” he said.
“We also doubt if the senators would feel any shame that the President had to remind them that there is much legislative work to be done, especially the approval of the 2015 budget. The fact that they have scheduled another hearing on Nov. 17, the first day of budget deliberations at the Senate, shows where their priorities lie.” With Vito Barcelo
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