Tension grips Makati anew

MORE than 200 riot police were deployed near the Makati City Hall Monday after the Office of the Ombudsman issued a new suspension order against Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. in connection with the alleged overpricing of the Makati Science High School Building.

The presence of riot police and some 600 Binay supporters who rallied outside city hall set the stage for the second confrontation in four months over the government’s efforts to suspend Binay. The authorities are expected to serve the order early Tuesday.

Vice President Jejomar Binay exhorts Makati City residents to continue supporting
his son, Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, who is again the subject of a suspension order
from the Ombudsman over the construction of the Makati City Science High School.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, the mayor’s father, arrived at the city hall building shortly after noon and said the police contingent reminded him of the martial law years.

Binay supporters and city hall employees said they feared the presence of the police would disrupt business and operations in city hall over the next few days.

Makati City police chief Ernesto Barlam said most of the policemen were members of the PNP Civil Disturbance Management team who were dispatched to prevent any untoward incident in case the Department of Interior and Local Government serves the suspension order.

“The suspension order has not been served yet,” said Barlam.

Four months ago, the government deployed some 2,500 SWAT and Special Action Force commandos after the Ombudsman issued a suspension order against Mayor Binay and other city officials of the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall Building 2.

The mayor, who holed up in his office at the time, challenged the suspension order before the Court of Appeals, which granted him temporary relief.

The standoff caused the city government to suspend operations, however, and at one point Makati had two mayors—Binay and his vice mayor.

At a press conference Monday, Mayor Binay accused President Benigno Aquino III of being behind the new suspension order issued against him.

“At this point it’s hard for us to believe that President Aquino had nothing to do with this. Nothing is impossible. They are capable of breaking the law,” Binay said.

Binay’s camp said the second suspension order has no legal basis and accused the Ombudsman of acting with grave abuse of discretion.

The Office of the Ombudsman issued the suspension order a few days after the Vice President resigned from the Cabinet and criticized the administration.

Mayor Binay said the second suspension issued against him was part of a grand conspiracy and well-organized plan called “Oplan Nognog” initiated by the administration to destroy his family, particularly his father, who is a strong contender in the May 2016 presidential elections.

“This is the second time a suspension order issued against me, and this is out of ordinary. There are other big cases out there but they’re not moving [on them]. Clearly, they want to stop our Vice President from pursuing his plan,” said Binay, who decided to stay overnight at his office.

Outside Makati City Hall, hundreds of residents coming from different barangays gathered and expressed their support for the mayor.

Binay’s lawyer, Claro Certeza, said Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II has directed the National Police to implement the suspension order based on a complaint filed by the Field Investigation Office of the Ombudsman.

The suspension order, if one is to be issued... has no factual or legal basis,” said Certeza, adding that the Ombudsman Act requires strong evidence of guilt for a preventive suspension to be issued validly.

In a statement, the lawyer argued said the statement of Mario Hechanova, former general services chief of Makati, “should not be given evidentiary value” because it was not based on his own personal knowledge but was merely relayed to him by another person.

Hechanova alleged that he was told by former city engineer Nelson Morales that Vice President Binay, who was the mayor at that time, gave instructions that the bidding for the design and construction of the Makati Science High School Building project be rigged to favor certain parties.

“Under our prevailing rules, this is what is known as hearsay evidence, which has no probative value and will be rejected by the courts,” Certeza said.

He said since Morales was deceased, there was no longer any way to test the truth of Hechanova’s statement, which should therefore not be given any evidentiary value.

Certeza also refuted another allegation that Mayor Binay conspired with his co-respondents, calling it a “bare-faced lie” without any supporting evidence.

“The complaint is bereft of any statement as to the participation of Mayor Junjun Binay in the planning, preparation and perpetration of the alleged conspiracy. Participation in the conspiracy according to the Supreme Court cannot be established by merely stating that the accused signed certain documents allegedly used in the conspiracy,” he said.

Renato Bondal, who ran but lost to Mayor Binay in the 2013 polls, led the filing of the criminal charges with the Office of the Ombudsman in December last year.

Bondal accused the incumbent mayor and his father of conspiring to defraud the local government of Makati City of P862 million in the construction of the 10-story school building when the elder Binay was still mayor of the city and when his son took over from 2007 to 2013.

The complaint stated that the project was built at the cost of P1.3 billion when the original cost estimate was only P470 million.

Also named respondents in the case were former and incumbent councilors Ferdinand Eusebio, Arnold Magpantay, Romeo Medina, Tosca Puno-Ramos, Alethea Casal-Uy, Virgilio Hilario, Monsour del Rosario III, Vince Sese, Nelson Pasia, Salvador Pangilinan, Ilias Tolentino, Ruth Tolentino, Henry Jacome, Leo Magpantay, Nemesio Yabut Jr., Armand Padilla, Israel Crusado Ma. Theresa de Lara, Angleliro Gatchalian and Ricardo Javier, and members of the Makati City School Board in 2009.

Bondal was also one of the complainants who filed a plunder case against the officials for the alleged overprice of the Makati City Hall Building II.

In a statement issued Monday, the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension of Binay and 14 other respondents in seven administrative cases, all for grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, in connection with the alleged irregularities that attended the Makati Science High School building construction worth P1.3 billion.

The Binays and 21 others are also facing a preliminary investigation before the Ombudsman for graft, malversation and violations of the Government Procurement Reform Act in connection with the alleged overpricing in the construction of the Makati City Hall Building 2.30overprice/pageone

The Vice President on Monday branded as faulty the findings of the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee against him, saying they were based on testimony given by his former vice mayor that was based not on facts but “mere conjecture and erroneous assumptions.”

The Vice President, the first among presidential aspirants to declare that he would run in 2016, said  former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado’s testimony was part of the script of his political opponents.

The Senate should have looked into the truthfulness of the statements of their favored resource persons and not accepted them at face value, Binay said.

“In any fair judicial proceeding, evidentiary value is given to testimonies of impartial witnesses because they have no personal stake in the outcome of the case. They will not stand to lose or benefit regardless of the findings,” the Vice President said.

Binay lashed out at his former ally, Mercado, accusing him of spreading nothing but lies and baseless accusations since he first appeared before the subcommittee.

“The senators leading this supposed investigation in aid of legislation should have first looked into the interests of these resource persons hurling allegations me and my family before their bare and self-serving statements were admitted into the records. But given how these resource persons are being favored and pampered in the hearings, this is no longer a surprise,” he said.

The Vice President said Mercado’s testimonies show his pattern of lies and his propensity to perjure himself. Binay went on to debunk Mercado’s allegations one by one.

“Mr. Mercado claims I was supposedly received a 13 percent kickback from all infrastructure projects in Makati City. He himself admitted that this is based only on what engineer Nelson Morales allegedly told him. However the rules of court state this claim is inadmissible for being hearsay evidence. What’s worse is that he is attributing statements and acts to a person who is already deceased,” he said.

“Mr. Mercado testified that our piggery in Rosario, Batangas was air-conditioned. However, based on the ocular inspection of the property conducted by the members of the subcommittee themselves, there was no air-conditioned piggery whatsoever,” he added.

Binay also noted that Mercado stated under oath there were luxurious mansions as well as a 40-car garage in the Rosario property. The ocular inspection, however, proved otherwise.

“Mr. Mercado also claims that the I own the property in Rosario, Batangas. However, the bare claim of Mercado was debunked by the testimony of businessman Mr. Antonio Tiu,” he said.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio De Los Reyes himself stated that there is no evidence that The Vice President owns or has ever owned the property in Rosario. De Los Reyes also said there is no need for DAR to investigate the Vice President since the documents show that the latter did not have any property under his name in the area.

“Mr. Mercado said under oath the property in Rosario consisted of 350 hectares of land. However, in the succeeding hearings, it was revealed through an examination of the titles and other documents that the Rosario property is merely composed of at most 145 hectares, or less than half of the 350-hectares claimed by Mr. Mercado,” the Vice President said.

“Mr. Mercado also said architect Rodolfo R. Bongato designed our supposed rest house in Rosario. But this claim was categorically denied by architect Bongato himself who said his signature in the document presented by Mercado was a forgery,” Binay added.

“Another lie of Mr. Mercado said under oath is that he supposedly paid for and was aboard the helicopter that was rented to take aerial pictures of the property in Rosario. However, the flight manifest later revealed he was not aboard the helicopter. Instead, the manifest shows that it was actually a staff of Senator Alan Cayetano along with Ariel Olivar, Mercado’s cousin, who were on board,” he said.

Moreover, while Mercado testified that Binay has a log cabin in Tagaytay Highlands, Belle Corp., developer of Tagaytay Highlands, released an official statement denying Mercado’s allegation. – With Rio N. Araja and Vito Barcelo

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