Suspension crisis shuts Makati City

WORK in local courts and government offices in Makati City was suspended Tuesday after violence erupted in front of city hall as supporters of Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. tried to stop the authorities from serving a suspension order against the mayor.

The supporters threw plastic chairs at anti-riot policemen and personnel from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) who posted a copy of the three-page preventive suspension order against Binay and other city officials in front of city hall.

Once more. Supporters of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay clash with
policemen who were ordered to serve the suspension order against
the mayor in front of City Hall. Ey Acasio
At least eight supporters and a female police officer were hurt during the scuffle that erupted around 8 a.m.

The DILG personnel hurriedly left the area after posting the order from the Office of the Ombudsman.

One of the injured supporters, Eric Enriquez, suffered an injury after being hit on the head with a police truncheon.

The disturbance at city hall brought a monstrous traffic jam along J.P. Rizal Street for several hours.

Members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit and about 800 uniformed policemen were deployed outside the building.

An hour later, Vice Mayor Romulo Peña took his oath as acting mayor at the Makati City Hall old building.

“I have no reputation of harassment, I have no reputation of personal vendetta and I have no reputation of intimidation. I am here to protect the city of Makati,” said Peña in a press briefing.

He also asked Binay’s father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, to follow the rule of law and respect the orders from government agencies.

“It will give a good example to the newly appointed officials, as well as Mayor Junjun Binay, myself and other city government personnel. Good governance and the love for God and country remain in my mind and in my heart,” Peña said.

At around 2 p.m., the mayor’s sister, Senator Nancy Binay went to the old Makati City Hall building and confronted the ground commander, Senior Supt. Elmer Jamias of the Southern Police District.

The senator demanded an explanation why several Philippine National Police (PNP) trucks and buses remained on the city hall grounds, which she said was causing unnecessary tension and fear among residents and those transacting at the building.

Vice President Binay also talked to Jamias Monday night, asking the police official to allow the people, especially those supporting the mayor, to enter the city hall grounds. He also requested that Jamias remove the police barricade and the parked PNP trucks, which were causing traffic in the area.

Jamias said he will file charges of oral defamation, grave threats and direct assault upon a person in authority against the Vice President and his supporters for threatening them that night. He added that his men exercised maximum tolerance despite a minor scuffle between Binay supporters and the police officers.

“We are here to do our jobs. In my 32 years of service as a policeman, I have dealt with a president, mayors, and other officials, but it is only now that I have received this kind of treatment,” Jamias said.

But United Nationalist Alliance secretary general JV Bautista, who accompanied Senator Binay, said the Vice President cannot be charged criminally because the second highest official of the land is covered by immunity from suit.

“He (Jamias) is a high ranking police official and he should know that,” said Bautista.

Bautista said the continuing presence of policemen in the area would disrupt the day-to-day activities at city hall. “Senior Supt. Jamias told us he will consider the request of Senator Nancy that they would remove the PNP buses and trucks.”

Mayor Binay remained defiant and stayed overnight at city hall with his family on Monday. He lambasted Peña for saying the Binays refused to follow rules.

“He is saying we didn’t respect the law, while the last time we got a temporary restraining order, he was the one who ignored it,” he said.

Binay’s camp has filed a petition for a temporary restraining order with the Court of Appeals to stop the Office of the Ombudsman and the DILG from implementing the new suspension order.

The court stopped  a similar suspension order in March.

The mayor also asked the Commission on Human Rights to act on the violent incidents, which he said were triggered by the anti-riot police squad.

“Why has the CHR kept mum on this matter? They should investigate the policemen who caused the injuries of many people. Is it right for the police to stop the people from gathering?” he said.

About 1,2000 supporters of Binay 1,200 enjoyed free lunch and snacks while camping out at city hall. They arrived as early as 4 a.m. and came from different barangays.

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

The case stemmed from the complaint filed by Renato Bondal, a losing mayoral candidate, 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.

In a 34-page petition, the Makati City mayor said that he should not be held accountable for the alleged anomaly since three of the seven construction phases of the Makati Science High School Building were done when he was not yet the city mayor.

He also argued that his alleged liability in the subsequent construction phases was expunged by his re-election in 2013 under the condonation doctrine.

He also said the Ombudsman, in suspending him, violated its own charter, which requires “strong evidence” to justify the issuance of a preventive suspension ordering.

He said the charge against him had no legal or factual basis because the allegation of a rigged bidding in the construction of the building was based on hearsay, while the charge of conspiracy was not supported by any evidence.

In ordering his suspension, the Ombudsman relied heavily on engineer Mario Hechanova’s statement that Vice President Binay, when he was still Makati mayor, ordered that the bidding for the design and construction of the school building be rigged to favor certain parties.

But Hechanova said he knew of the rigging form former engineer Nelson Morales, who is already dead and therefore unable to corroborate Hechanova’s claim.

“Considering that the statement in this regard is clearly hearsay and inadmissible in court, the Ombudsman should have realized that the evidence against Petitioner is not strong and without any basis whatsoever,” the mayor’s petition said.

The Makati City mayor said the Ombudsman failed to present any overt act he committed to justify lumping him with the other city officials who supposedly conspired to rig the bidding.

“Thus, considering that petitioner’s only participation in the bidding process was to sign documents such as the disbursement vouchers as well as other documents relating to the bidding, the same is not enough to sustain a finding that he is part of the alleged conspiracy,” Binay said, citing a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Sabiniano v Court of Appeals where the Court ruled that one’s signature appearing on a document is insufficient to warrant a finding of involvement in a conspiracy.

“To use the words of the Supreme Court, apart from Petitioner’s signature, nothing else of real substance was submitted to show his alleged complicity in the alleged crime,” the mayor said.

He said the Ombudsman failed to evaluate the evidence against him and merely relied on the complainant’s statements.

The order issued against the younger Binay this week was the second attempt by the Ombudsman to have him suspended.

In March, the Ombudsman ordered his suspension over allegations that the construction of the Makati City Parking Building II was overpriced.

The younger Binay challenged the first suspension and managed to obtain an injunction from the Court of Appeals, prompting the Ombudsman to elevate the case to the Supreme Court. That case is still pending resolution.

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