Did Jojo Binay manage to turn back adversity with his remarks last Thursday?
Yes and no.
When he spoke last Thursday, he was addressing two courts. The first was the court of law, such as the Senate could be called that. The second was the court of public opinion. He may have won the first but not the second.
The “court of law,” or the Senate investigation, is where Binay finds himself with the stronger hand. That may be a strange thing to say given that that’s where he’s been getting it, with Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes and Koko Pimentel, in particular, leading the charge. But Binay has the stronger hand there, simply because his detractors have not presented incontrovertible evidence against him.
Their accusations are these: He overpriced the Makati parking building, he rigged public bidding, taking in 13 percent of every contract in Makati, and he and his family got their share of the loot like clockwork. Ernesto Mercado, Binay’s former trusted lieutenant and vice mayor, even had a PowerPoint presentation with graphics to show the bags of money he gave to Binay and family.
Binay’s answers to these, which he gave last Thursday, are these: One, compared to several government buildings, including the Batasan, the Makati parking building is not more expensive, it is less so. His detractors have only the word of the National Statistics Office that it is overpriced, and the NSO itself says it is just a guess and does not constitute a reliable basis for a determination. His detractors as well have only their subjective judgment, based on a reading of construction manuals and a couple of visits to the site. And finally, the Commission on Audit itself went through the project every year for five years and has made no complaint.
Two, as to the rigging of bidding and taking bribes, they only have the word of unsavory characters, if not downright liars, who are Ernesto Mercado and company. One of them, Renato Bondal, lied openly when he said the Makati birthday cakes cost P1,000 when the records showed they cost only P300. Why the senators never censured or reprimanded him, only they can say. The Makati voters themselves had heard the accusations before but rejected them when they voted against them. Mercado himself is just a self-confessed thief who assumes others are so because he is.
Do these answers refute the charges? Are they more believable than the accusations?
Do they prove Binay innocent?
But here’s the rub. Binay doesn’t have to prove himself innocent, his detractors have to prove him guilty. The cardinal principle in law, at least in a democratic society, is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Which is what’s profoundly disturbing about the way the
Senate has gone about the hearing on Binay. Mercado and company have thrown all sorts of accusations against him, none of which they have bothered to prove with documents, the corroborating testimony of independent witnesses, the reports of COA and various experts. Instead, they are challenging Binay to prove them wrong.
Summoning Binay to the Senate—it is a summons, however it is called an invitation—pursues that tack: Come to the Senate and refute us. Why on earth should he? If the Senate has already built a solid case, one that can stand in court, it should give it to the Ombudsman and demand that it file charges against him.
From the start, I’ve been saying that I’d like nothing better than for Binay’s detractors to bring a case of corruption against him as he has been rumored to be awash in it. Preferably in court but pwede na rin in the Senate. But to do so competently, to do so professionally. It’s true that Binay cannot just dismiss the charges against him by saying it’s just politics. But it’s even truer that you cannot just cry bloody murder and expect to be taken seriously when you cannot supply a smoking gun.
From the other end, and it’s one hell of an irony, presuming someone guilty until proven innocent may not work in a court of law, but it may work in a court of public opinion. Merely accusing someone of accepting bribes may not stand up in court, but it may stand up in politics. Conjecture, speculation, mere say-so may not send someone to jail, but it may cast someone in hell.
I’m truly curious to see what the third-quarter surveys have to say about Binay’s political standing after the Senate hearing. I myself tend to believe what I’ve been hearing about how those surveys are shaping up, which is that the hearing has taken its toll on Binay. A Senate hearing on corruption by itself, whether it finds someone guilty or not, puts him in a bad light. As it is, you can see how the fallacy of presuming someone guilty until he can prove himself innocent has already taken root, with a good many Filipinos demanding that Binay acquit himself in the Senate or be damned.
But in the end, whether or not Binay has managed to turn back adversity with his remarks doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether we have advanced the cause of fighting corruption or not with this issue. The point of it, lest we forget, is to jail the corrupt and recover the loot they stole. That is what makes P-Noy’s efforts to fight corruption admirable, his implacability in jailing the corrupt, however critics criticize his selectivity, as witness the way he has brought the cases of Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla to the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan and the three themselves to jail. True enough, Binay may not dismiss the accusations against him as just politics, but even truer enough, the senators may not do so as well. Are they prepared to go past the elections and hound him all the way to Muntinlupa afterwards?
Or will they simply forget about this once they make him lose?
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