The controversy over the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall parking building has taken a dramatic turn, with Tuesday’s startling testimony from former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado. The former close ally turned political enemy of Vice President Jejomar Binay told the Senate blue ribbon committee investigating alleged corruption in the construction of the P2.7-billion building that Binay, then the mayor of one of the country’s richest cities, must have gained illegally from the project because he, the vice mayor at the time, did too. It was standard operating procedure, he said.
Asked directly by Sen. Antonio Trillanes whether he had benefited from the construction of the parking building personally, Mercado replied by remarking on how difficult the question was, admitting that the senator had trapped him (“nahuli ho n’yo yata ako”), and then confessing: “Ako ho aaminin ko sa inyo dun sa phase 1 at phase 2 nakinabang po ako” (I will admit to you that in Phase 1 and Phase 2 [of the project] I benefited).
In reply to the inevitable follow-up question, whether Binay himself had personally benefited from the project too, Mercado answered: “Alam po ninyo tayo namang mga pulitiko, alam natin ang sagot du’n e. Kung ang vice mayor po ay nakinabang ay siguro po higit na nakinabang po ang mayor dito” (You know, we politicians, we know the answer there. If the vice mayor benefited, then the mayor must have benefited even more). Asked even more directly whether Binay did in fact personally benefit from the project, Mercado simply said yes.
The committee chair, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who himself has had differences with Binay, a former party mate, was right to question Mercado over the source of his knowledge. Did he in fact know that Binay received kickbacks from the project, or was he merely speculating? It was a lawyer’s kind of question.
Mercado’s answer was as troubling as it was familiar: “’Yan naman po ang kalakaran ho”—which can be translated in many ways, as “That’s how it’s always done” or “That’s standard operating procedure.”
But there is another lawyer’s term that lifts Mercado’s testimony from the ordinary: He made an admission against self-interest. He exposed himself to legal liability and possible political persecution by admitting that he had received kickbacks from the project. He could have dodged the entrapping question from Trillanes or danced around the truth; after all, he is a seasoned politician. Instead, he said he would tell the truth and, precisely because he admitted doing something wrong, he seems to have done exactly that.
The admission against self-interest carries a lot of legal weight because it is based on a psychological truism: Most people wouldn’t put themselves in harm’s way, such as a lawsuit filed by a very powerful politician, unless they had to. Most people wouldn’t say something that reflected badly on them or rendered them vulnerable to attack or criticism if it weren’t the truth. Thus, the mere fact that Mercado owned up to gaining illegally from the billion-peso parking building already makes his testimony credible.
That’s the reality against which Binay’s impassioned press statement bumps up against. On the one hand, he is constrained to damn all of Mercado’s testimony as a complete fabrication. “All that Mr. Mercado said are lies. He has been making these baseless allegations since 2010 when he ran and lost. The people of Makati know him as a liar and fabricator of stories.”
And yet he cannot resist the self-interest angle. “If Mr. Mercado admitted that he received kickbacks from the Makati Bldg 2 project, it is only right that he be charged by the authorities. Nevertheless, Mr. Mercado conceded that his accusations against me are mere conjecture and speculation.”
But if all that Mercado said are lies, why should he be charged (except perhaps for perjury)? If he is telling the truth about receiving kickbacks, why would he tell the truth about the thing that incriminates him but lie about everything else?
There is a reason why the courts of law (and that of public opinion too) place a lot of weight on the admission against self-interest. It benefits, not the one who makes the admission, but, more often than not, truth itself.
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