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Beyond the stutters

/ 01:00 AM October 25, 2014

Listen beyond Vice President Jejomar Binay’s flustered stutters whenever a sensitive question is lobbed.

The queries range from the P15.6-million Redwood-type, three-bedroom unit of The Woodlands at Tagaytay Highlands to overpriced beds at the Ospital ng Makati to the whereabouts of top aides, like Gerry Limlingan, who have dodged below the radar screen.

That takes some doing. Front pages, end-to-end Senate hearing coverage plus evening broadcasts or talk shows are plastered with his denials. “Vice President Binay categorically denies the malicious and baseless accusation that he owns a three-bedroom log cabin,” says Joey Salgado, Binay’s spokesperson. Thus, the Vice President’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth didn’t jot the cabin down. Naturally.

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Eight out of 10 Filipinos, however, want the Vice President to face the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee probe, reports pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS).

In a nationwide survey, conducted from Sept. 26 to 29, 79 percent of the 1,200 respondents said Binay should personally refute graft charges. Only 11 percent wavered. And 10 percent thumbed the idea down flat.

SWS notes that the clamor for Binay to attend the Senate probe spreads across all social classes. Four out of five who were satisfied with Binay’s performance still wanted him to appear in the Senate.

That has fallen on deaf ears. His spokespersons reiterate that the Vice President won’t amble into what he sees is a booby-trapped proceeding. The absent, however, are always wrong.

Witness former vice mayor Ernesto Mercado has filled the vacuum and told a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee hearing: The wife of the Vice President, Dr. Elenita Binay, and his daughter, Sen. Nancy Binay, signed billing statements and receipts for the Tagaytay Highlands mansion. These included membership in the International Golf Club in Tagaytay Highlands.

More documents have surfaced since. One is an official receipt dated Sept. 2, 1997, showing Limlingan bought a P546,000 manager’s check. It bore the address 8514 Caong St., San Antonio Village, Makati City—a known address of the Vice President.

The Inquirer, however published a document, dated Jan. 31, 1997, addressed to Binay, then mayor of Makati City stating, “You have been allocated a Redwood-type, three-bedroom unit of The Woodlands at Tagaytay Highlands,” it asserted. “The purchase price… is P15.6 million.”

Another document dated May 9, 1997, said that a 10-percent discount, amounting to P1.56 million, slashed the net price to P14.04 million. The terms of payment were extended to 20 months. “TO: M1 [code for Binay] Your copy on the price and schedule of payments. Gerry.”

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Asked about the property, a spokesperson from the SM group said in a text message: “We have no records” [of the alleged transaction]. The Sys of the SM group became majority owners of Belle Corp. in 2010.

Look beyond the interlocking scams into the equally pressing national concerns.

Four out of every 10 Filipinos today are homeless, notes John F. Lagman in the study titled “Anatomy of the National Housing Problem.” It is a problem that has been compounding, over the years, from a stew of population growth, poverty, armed conflict in some places to policy gaps.

In the early part of the postwar period in 1950, just a little more than five million or about one-fourth (27 percent) of Filipinos clustered in urban areas, mostly Metro Manila. Four decades later, the country’s urban population surged to well over 29 million. That was or almost one-half (48 percent to be precise) of the country’s total population then.

By 2005, the urban population totaled more than 53 million or over 60 percent of the country’s population. Add to that the 300,000 displaced by conflict, as in Mindanao.

And come 2050, some 117 million or 84 percent of Filipinos will be urban dwellers. Few could afford a Redwood-type, three-bedroom unit of The Woodlands at Tagaytay Highlands.

Increased population concentration in Metro Manila and other cities jacks up rent and cost of land among people with stagnating incomes, note Dr. Anna Marie Karaos and John Nicolas of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues. Lots can range from P3,000 to P42,000 per square meter. That’s petty cash for Tagaytay Highlands owners. But that prices out the poor.

Such valid concerns are relegated to the backdrop as charges and countercharges fly.

The Vice President said he’d appear before the Senate if the invitation would come from the mother committee. Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, blue ribbon committee chair, said he was accepting this challenge of Binay, which was made in a TV interview.

Guingona appeared for the first time in the subcommittee hearing to say the Vice President would be given the opportunity to explain and would be given respect.

But has the Vice President started to hedge? “Binay would consider the invitation,” his spokesperson stressed. Among the bookies, the odds favor those who say Binay will backpedal pronto.

Something will have to give soon. Makati’s “Camelot days” of “happily ever aftering” is over for the Binays and their diehard followers. The only question is when. “The strategy of evasion may work for some time,” Sun Star’s Bong Wenceslao notes. “But it won’t work in the 2016 presidential election.”

As the late star Mickey Rooney said: “Once upon a time, I lived happily ever after.”

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E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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TAGS: corruption, Gerry Limlingan, Jejomar Binay, Juan L. Mercado, Makati, opinion, Ospital ng Makati, property, real estate, Viewpoint
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