Binay’s day in court
It seems like another era altogether—those hearings of a subpanel of the Senate blue ribbon committee conducted by Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV to investigate alleged anomalies in the design and construction of the P2.2-billion Makati City Hall parking building. More recent subjects of legislative inquiry have moved from the seat of the country’s central business district to the biggest city in Mindanao; the focus of attention is no longer the family of the vice president at that time, long-time Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, but the family of the man who defeated Binay and three other rivals in the presidential election of 2016; Trillanes has parted ways with Cayetano, who is now the foreign secretary, and Pimentel, now the Senate president.
The inquiry the three senators conducted over 25 hearings and almost two years may well have been the longest such investigation in the Senate’s history; it involved the spectacle (but again our memories of it seem to unspool from an older, even ancient, reel of images) of Binay’s son, Junjun, then the mayor of Makati, being forced to show up at the Senate on pain of a citation for contempt.
It is highly probable that the charges of corruption damaged Binay’s presidential candidacy; it must be said, though, that first, he did not fare very well in the three presidential debates organized by the Commission on Elections and, second, his hardworking but old-fashioned brand of retail campaigning proved to be no match for the social-media savvy and spontaneous acts of genuine volunteerism of the Duterte presidential campaign.
Perhaps, for this very reason, having lost the most important prize in Philippine politics, Binay may enjoy some support from Filipinos who now feel that he and his family have suffered enough.
It is true that his daughter Abby won the mayoralty of Makati last year and his daughter Nancy remains a senator of the Republic, but Filipinos are by nature a forgiving lot.
But as the legal maxim has it, the law may be hard but it is the law. And the law requires that Binay, his son and other officials and individuals implicated in the anomalies, must all face trial in the cases that were filed in the wake of the Senate hearings.
Last April, the Sandiganbayan found probable cause for the charges involving Phase 4 and 5 of the construction of the parking building against the younger Binay and other officials. And on Aug. 31 the Sandiganbayan issued a finding of probable cause in the charges involving Phase 1, 2 and 3—now including the former vice president. Having lost his immunity from suit, Binay must defend himself in court to face charges of malversation, falsification of public documents and violation of Section 3(e) of the antigraft law.
One of his legal counsels, Daniel Subido, was confident of eventual exoneration. “We anticipate that prosecution’s so-called evidence would be weak and insufficient. Thus, the case will eventually be dismissed.”
In finding probable cause, the antigraft court upheld the Ombudsman’s investigation. In the words of the Inquirer report: “Prosecutors said the Binays and their coaccused manipulated the bidding for the contracts in favor of Mana Architecture and Interior Design Co. and Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. The construction contracts awarded to Hilmarc’s cost P1.486 billion (broken down into P387 million, P499.36 million and P599.4 million for the first three phases), while the architectural design and engineering services contract awarded to Mana amounted to P11.01 million.”
The court noted the Binays’ defense of good faith and presumption of regularity, but said these “matters of defense … are best threshed out during the trial of the case.”
Arraignment will be on Sept. 29. To a fretful public already anxious about the surge in extrajudicial killings, concerned about reports of “shabu” smuggling, worried about the consequences of the destruction of Marawi and a host of other problems, the news about the trial of the Binays finally pushing through may come across as distant, old, even irrelevant. But the solution to these problems necessarily includes a government functioning as designed. A fair, rigorous, transparent trial by an independent judiciary and involving a former vice president would form part of that solution.
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