Senate panel backs plunder report vs Binay

Ten senators – more than a majority of the Senate blue ribbon committee – have signed the report calling on the Ombudsman to file plunder charges against the Vice President and his son

Ayee Macaraig

9:50:58am June 1, 2015

10:2:42am June 1, 2015

MAJORITY. Ten senators sign the report of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee based on an investigation into alleged dealings of Vice President Jejomar Binay led by senators Koko Pimentel (left) and Alan Cayetano. File photo by Alex Nuevaespaña/Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate blue ribbon subcommittee report recommending plunder charges against Vice President Jejomar Binay got the support of majority of the panel, ensuring it will be endorsed before the Senate plenary.

As of Monday, June 1, 10 senators – or more than a majority of the 17-member Senate blue ribbon committee – had signed the report calling on the Ombudsman to file plunder charges against Binay and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, over the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall parking building II.

The signatures of at least 9 senators are needed for the partial report to be considered official, and to be presented before the Senate floor.

Those who signed the report are:

Subcommittee chairman Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, who drafted the report

Senator Grace Poe

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago

Senator Francis Escudero

Senator Pia Cayetano

Committee chairman Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III

Committee vice chairman Senator Sergio Osme ña III

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV

First circulated last week, the report showed that father and son Binay should face plunder charges for signing documents as the agency heads for preliminary services for the parking building. The building was first constructed when the elder Binay was Makati mayor in 2007, and was finished during the term of his son in 2013.

The subcommittee also recommended the filing of plunder cases against members of Makati City Hall's bids and awards committee, and the contractor, Hilmarc's Construction Corporation.

Pimentel released hard copies of the report late Monday afternoon after the 10 senators signed it.

Among the signatories, those that attracted the most attention were Poe and Escudero, who had personal ties with the Vice President.

Poe's late father, actor Fernando Poe Jr, was friends with Binay. The then-Makati mayor became his campaign manager in the 2004 presidential elections. Escudero endorsed Binay in the crucial homestretch of the 2010 elections, but they had a falling out.

A reported challenger to Binay's 2016 candidacy, Poe explained why she signed the report even if she did not attend even one of the 21 hearings on corruption allegations against Binay.

“A senator does not need to physically attend the hearings to sign a committee report. What is important is that you read the committee report, and talk to the chairman of the subcommittee to know the details. The report was clear. One plus one equals two,” Poe said in Filipino on Monday.

Poe added that she stands by the credibility of the witnesses, especially real estate broker and appraiser Federico Cuervo of Cuervo Valuers and Appraisers.

“I don't think Mr Cuervo has an ulterior motive to lie about a building, especially because in almost all the famous buildings here, he is the one being hired to build these. So the credibility of our witnesses is really high,” Poe added.

Last week, the Binay camp blasted Poe for signing what it called a “one-sided” report.

Binay spokesperson Rico Quicho called the report “highly partisan,” saying it was based on mere “surmises and illegally procured ‘evidence.’”

The Binays repeatedly reject the longest running Senate inquiry as a ploy to derail the Vice Presient's 2016 presidential candidacy. The opposition standard-bearer, Binay is the front runner in election surveys.

The same Makati building is the subject of a plunder complaint lawyer Renato Bondal filed against the Binays in July 2014. The Ombudsman suspended the younger Binay as it investigates the case, but the Binays questioned the suspension before the Supreme Court.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) also found “probable cause” that Binay committed unlawful acts from 2008 to 2014, the period the building was constructed. The Court of Appeals supported the AMLC findings and froze Binay's bank accounts.

The Senate will hold 3 to 5 more hearings on other allegations against Binay covering supposedly anomalous land deals, and his reported use of dummies as chief executive of Makati.

'Report has basis'

Despite the criticism of the Binay camp, the senators said the report was solid.

Guingona said: “It had basis there was overpricing. There were 3 methods they used. There should be more investigation, and it should be referred to the Commission on Audit.”

Senator Aquino, a cousin of President Benigno Aquino III, echoed Poe in saying that Binay failed to refute the allegations of overpricing.

“These findings warrant that the appropriate government agency further investigates the matter, and file the corresponding charges, as it deems proper,” Aquino said on Monday.

Aquino and Guingona are members of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), which the President heads as chairman.

Over the weekend, Osmeña said he found the report “very convincing.”

Escudero gave two reasons he signed the subcommittee report: “The evidence cited by the committee is, to my mind, sufficient to justify the recommendation to file the cases mentioned; and.... In order to afford the named persons the opportunity to answer the allegations against them in their chosen  forum...the courts...since they refuse to participate in the Senate and have been saying that "they will answer in the proper forum.”

'Drawing political battle lines'

Binay's spokespersons have questioned the relevance of the report, saying there is already a pending plunder complaint against the Vice President before the Ombudsman.

Yet the report forced senators to publicly make a stand on the investigation, where only Pimentel, Alan Cayetano, and Trillanes have been actively participating for 10 months.

Quicho said: “The Vice President understands that the political lines have been drawn in the Senate, considering the dismal and lethargic performance of some politicians with ambitions to higher office. It is no longer surprising that issues hurled against the Vice President have been used and abused for personal agenda.”

He added, “The signing by the senators of the committee report does not necessarily equate to the culpability of the Vice President.”

Yet Poe said that Binay should just take the report as an opportunity to explain his innocence instead of criticizing those who signed it.

“Once a case is filed in court, it will be his chance to explain because he keeps saying that the Senate is not fair,” Poe said. – Rappler.com