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Up in the air

opinion / Columnists
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There’s the Rub

Up in the air

/ 12:08 AM September 08, 2014

I’m very curious to see how Jojo Binay will fare in the third-quarter surveys. This is by far his most serious challenge, the charge of overpricing the Makati City Hall parking building, which has drawn former lieutenants anxious to testify against him. Up until the case got to the Senate, he was leading all presidential rivals by a mile. Though his numbers have dipped over the past year, he remains the prohibitive favorite. Will he continue to be so after this?

Well, the case is a double-edged sword. On one hand, if his detractors are able to build a fairly solid, never mind ironclad, case against him, his numbers could tumble. Huge leads are never insurmountable, as P-Noy himself saw when his own seemingly impregnable one almost disappeared in early 2010, as Manny Villar battled him to near-parity. Fortunately, in P-Noy’s case, the setback wasn’t beyond reversing. In this case, if it sets in, and the issue is one of pangungupit big time in the building of a building, reversing it won’t be so easy.

On the other hand, as a friend of mine worries no end, if Binay weathers this, he will have an open road to Malacañang. What doesn’t kill you, as Nietzsche said, will make you stronger. Sometimes, it will make you president.

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Which is the reason I worry about the way the senators, chief of them Antonio Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetano, have been handling Binay’s prosecution. Oh yes, prosecution, which can’t be lost on the public. Body language often tends to be more eloquent than the verbal one. I had hoped the Senate would carry out the hearing more competently to give it the patina of objectivity and make the damnation more authoritative, but that has not happened.

Trillanes in particular leaves much to be desired in the way he has comported himself. While denying that he threatened Hilmarc’s president, he admitted that he told him that if he was participating in a cover-up in the expectation that Binay would become the next president, he was making a big mistake as this would merit all sorts of sanctions.

The justification is worse than the original sin. This isn’t just a threat, this is a presumption of guilt. It’s not unlike telling him, “If I should find out that you are a murderer and a rapist, I will expose you to the world.” That is a hypothetical statement, which is absolutely uncalled for. First, have some proof of what you’re saying, then say it.

In fact, Trillanes is not harming Binay by these antics, he is harming himself. He is reminding the world of how impetuous he can be, such as when he led the Oakwood Mutiny, figuring the world would naturally fly to his side by the righteousness of his cause. People who are armed with certainty are not admirable, they are scary. It is not Binay’s quest for the presidency he stands to derail by these things, it is his own (or is it the vice-presidency?).

The result has been that two weeks or so after the Senate launched its hearings on the Makati City Hall parking building, we are no nearer to pinning down Binay with any definiteness than when we first began. Whether the building is overpriced or not remains a matter of conjecture, the conclusion drawn from the building not being green or world-class. Yes, but was it overpriced, and by how much?

More to the point, the question is, who profited from all this? The witnesses say Binay ordered the biddings rigged (Mario Hechanova) and that if they took their share from it, Binay must have taken a bigger one (Ernesto Mercado). Binay’s camp retorts that this is just the word of liars and thieves, who not quite incidentally have incriminated themselves, admitting they were party to the crime. Binay himself says his lieutenants were pretty much running the show during his last years as mayor, being personally harassed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who sent Ronnie Puno at one point to forcibly pry him loose from office.

That is how the case stands today. Without direct, irrefutable, proof about the overpricing and the direct beneficiaries of it, everything is up in the air.

Still and all, you never know how all this could impact on Binay’s fate at the polls. I leave his camp to protest the apparent unfairness of it—they’ve already made noises about the hearing being a “kangaroo court,” and true enough there’s something bothersome about the exercise of charging first and proving later. But if it should give the country pause to rethink the merits of the one person it is giving the green light to Malacañang to, then I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. More to the point, if it can make him less a prohibitive favorite, or make him look vulnerable, I’ll count my blessings where I can find them.

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The fact that I find the conduct of the Senate hearing on the Makati City Hall parking building less than salutary doesn’t mean I’d like Binay to be president. Any more than I’d like Mar Roxas to be so, although he is probably now irrelevant to the equation, he is impervious to traction. Binay’s loss, if it comes, is not likely to be his gain.

More likely, it will be the gain of those who have been tyrannized for so long by the lack of choice between Binay and Roxas. Specifically, between a middle class, including the quite outspoken social media denizens, or netizens, who worry about the air of corruption swirling around Binay and despair of his seemingly inexorable march to the presidency, and the masa who find Roxas as alien to them as a being from another planet.  Binay’s conceivable fall could be the thing to push the emergence of a third party, an alternative, an answer to desperate prayers. It’s not just that stranger things have happened, it’s that they happen all the time. In this country more than any other.

I’m very curious to see how Binay will fare in the next surveys.

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TAGS: corruption, Jejomar Binay, nation, news, politics
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