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Analysis

Binay shown the door, but he’s digging in

/ 12:14 AM November 05, 2014

CANBERRA—In a terse statement to the media on Monday, President Aquino said Vice President Jejomar Binay could leave the Cabinet if he no longer agreed with the administration. It was his response to Binay’s speech last week castigating the administration’s supposed shortfalls—an exchange that set them on a collision course at the tail end of the President’s term.

Mr. Aquino said Binay should present solutions instead of just criticizing the administration of which he is a member as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and as presidential adviser in overseas Filipino workers’ affairs.

The response was directed at Binay’s sense of shame and self-respect, but it does not seem to be working on him. So far there’s no sign that he is quitting; on the contrary, he is digging in. This has put the President in a bind. Tensions between the two highest officials of the land have in effect come to a head, with Mr. Aquino virtually telling Binay that the door is open for him to quit instead of them engaging in public bickering.

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Binay is under investigation by a Senate blue ribbon subcommittee on charges of corruption involving construction projects in Makati City during his term as mayor, as well as unexplained real estate in Batangas province and Tagaytay City. Evidence introduced in the Senate hearings, which Binay refuses to attend, has led to calls for his resignation, his dismissal from the Cabinet, or his impeachment.

In Japan last week, two Cabinet ministers resigned over allegations of corruption and of violation of election laws. According to ABC News, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi tendered her resignation on Monday, after taking responsibility for misuse of public funds. She is accused of spending $700,000 on providing entertainment to political supporters. Within hours on the same day, Justice Minister Midori Matsushima also resigned for the distribution of personalized fans, which counts as a violation of election laws. The political opposition has pushed for criminal charges against her.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has apologized for appointing them and said he would replace them immediately. “I’m the person who appointed the two. As prime minister, I take responsibility for this situation,” he told a press conference.

In Manila, Binay is clinging to his post. And the President is hesitant to sack him, apparently to deflect charges by the Vice President’s supporters that the administration has singled him out in a plot to demonize him, in an effort to scuttle his intention to run for president in 2016. Instead of being drawn into a public debate with Binay on the administration’s performance, Malacañang is leaving it to the Senate inquiry to skin him alive or boil him in his own juices.

While Binay is engrossed in fending off accusations of corruption, Malacañang is trying to nail him down on his performance as a Cabinet member—not on corruption charges. According to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., the President is busy assessing Binay’s performance as a Cabinet official. His performance is being scrutinized on the criterion of how he handles the responsibilities assigned to him by the President. His retention of his posts means that he still has the confidence and the trust of the President, Coloma said in the course of disclosing that certain Cabinet officials, including Binay, had failed to attend a recent Palace event where they were supposed to sign a “Cabinet performance pledge.”

Underplaying Binay’s absence, Coloma said all agencies and all Cabinet-level departments are part of this process to commit to the concept of performance-based budgeting. This specific event of signing the pledge shows the level of the Cabinet officials’ personal commitment. Malacañang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda earlier explained that the signing of the pledge was an outcome-based planning strategy intended “to reinforce the Cabinet secretaries’ commitment to the President and ensure the delivery of their agencies’ priority programs and projects.”

These standards also apply in the assessment of the performance of other Cabinet officials, triggering a demand from some administration allies for a wider revamp of the Cabinet to get rid of those whose performance falls below the standards required by the pledge, than merely the purge of Binay.

Demands have been mounting in the House of Representatives to sack not only Binay but also Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya. In particular, Abaya is under fire in social media over worsening conditions in the mass transport system, especially the Metro Rail Transit Line 3.

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In a scathing attack on the performance of the named Cabinet officials, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello scored the administration for focusing the anticorruption campaign on Binay. “The administration is losing moral high ground on the anticorruption issue,” Bello said, adding: “We cannot have a double standard by condemning Vice President Binay while tolerating administration allies involved in the pork barrel scam, the Disbursement Acceleration Program. … Getting rid of Binay is only half of the challenge facing the country. The other is continuing the reform program. Unless the President gets rid of those around him who have compromised the reform agenda, it will continue to lose credibility.”

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TAGS: agrarian reform, Akbayan, Alan Purisima, Batangas province, Binay, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Cabinet, Disbursement Acceleration Program, dismissal, Hacienda Binay, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, impeachment, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Makati City, Metro Rail Transit Line 3, Philippine National Police, pork barrel scam, presidential adviser in overseas Filipino workers, Proceso Alcala, real estate, resignation, Senate hearings, Tagaytay City, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Vice President Binay, Virgilio de los Reyes, Walden Bello
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