MACABEBE, Pampanga—Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, accompanied by 10 bodyguards, including alleged agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, lost P300,000 while gambling for six hours last Saturday at a casino inside the Clark Freeport in this province, Senator Nancy Binay said on Sunday.
Binay said she saw Mercado leaving the casino at Royce Hotel and Casino at 3:30 p.m.
Mercado transferred to the nearby Widus Hotel and Casino to avoid the Binays but he was seen there, too, by Binay ally former Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo.
Mercado, a former ally of Vice President Jejomar Binay who ran and lost to Binay’s son and namesake dismissed Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., stood as witness to the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall parking building in a hearing that lasted for more than a year before the Senate sub-committee on blue ribbon.
The Binays denied Mercado’s allegations.
“I demand an explanation from the Department of Justice [which placed Mercado in the government’s Witness Protection Program]. This is not the first time that government’s scarce resources and taxpayers’ money were wasted on someone like Mercado, who was allowed to gamble in cockfighting and now in the casinos,” Senator Binay said.
“We have been hearing complaints from government witnesses that their movements are limited and the government cannot fully provide for their needs due to lack of funding [for the WPP]. Yet here is Mercado going casino-hopping with lots of bodyguards in tow,” she lamented.
The senator said when Leila de Lima was DoJ secretary, she already asked that Mercado’s compulsive gambling be investigated.
“Nothing came of that promised probe. I am not sure if his casino gambling would [be stopped] considering that Mercado’s daughter is now running for vice mayor of Makati City under the ruling Liberal Party,” Senator Binay said.
The senator said she was informed that Mercado left 30 minutes into his game because he had lost already some P300,000.
“Mercado must have learned that my family and I are in the lobby because we came early for the Pampanga sorties of my father, which was why he left the hotel. I saw him leave with his bodyguards. I will ask the DoJ to explain the presence of so many bodyguards in the casino when they were supposed to secure Mercado in a safehouse,” Binay said.
Pelayo also said Mercado complained that he had also lost at the VIP table in Widus Hotel and Casino but did not know how much he had lost.
“Mercado was sad, [with the] typical look of a loser,” Pelayo said.
He said Mercado left in a convoy of a black Toyota Land Cruiser and a gray Toyota Innova.
“I was in the hotel for a meeting with VP Binay’s supporters and I was surprised to see Mercado surrounded by at least 10 bodyguards, considering that an election gun ban is in effect,” Pelayo told reporters.
Pelayo and Binay said the bodyguards were in civilian clothes.
“I will write a letter to the DOJ on Monday to clarify if the bodyguards were NBI agents or personal bodyguards of Mercado and who is spending for them. Those assigned to secure a witness should not be seen with the witness in a casino but in the safe house, for security reasons, it goes without saying,” she said.
She said Mercado testified before the Senate that he had received death threats and that he feared for his life.
“Before, he was seen in the cockfighting arena. Now, he is gambling in casinos. Is it right that government pay for these kinds of activities of someone who is supposed to be under the Witness Protection Program?” the senator asked.
Binay said she would demand that the CCTV camera records of the Royce and Widus casinos be produced to determine if Mercado’s bodyguards were agents of the NBI.
She said all government employees are prohibited from entering casinos.
“Mercado played. That as much I was able to confirm. Then he left after learning the Binays were there and then I learned he just transferred to another casino and continued gambling there,” Binay said.
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