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Like brothers

Ernesto Mercado has testified to a lot of things other than what he knows about the overpricing of the Makati parking building. He brought to public attention the “Hacienda Binay,” and, once started, will not stop until he has told all of what he knows about Jojo Binay. Why? Because, as he states in an interview, Binay wants to be president and the Filipino people deserve to know what they would be getting if they vote for him. For his exact words, go to YouTube and replay his interview with me in “Bawal ang Pasaway.”

And Mercado has widened his “clientele.”  Not only is the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee listening to him, but it seems the Ombudsman and the justice secretary are just as interested. In the final analysis, the question is: How credible is Ernesto Mercado? Very, say the legal beagles, because he made “a declaration against interest” (such as admissions in participating in corrupt practices), which is an exception to the hearsay rule.

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This column aims to help the Reader decide for herself by supplying a backgrounder on him.  Feel free to add to the information here given.

Ernesto Salvador Mercado was born on April 28, 1953, in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, and was educated there (Cabu Elementary School, Central Luzon State University High School) until he got his bachelor’s degree in geodetic engineering from Araullo Lyceum.

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How came he to Makati? His wife, Juanita, whom he married in 1982, is from Makati. They set up the Quadrille Survey Co., which was how he made his living. In 1986, he won the contract under then Vice Mayor Lani Bernardo, to “sukat ng lupa” of the seven Makati barangays in Fort Bonifacio. That’s when he met Jojo Binay.

He got into politics in 1988, when Binay asked him to assist his running mate, Conchitina Sevilla Bernardo, during the election campaign. In 1992, the Makati city engineer, Nelson Irazga, recommended him to Binay as councilor material, and Binay agreed.  And his own political life started.

In 1998 he ran for vice mayor under Elenita Binay, but lost to Edu Manzano, so he was in the private sector for three years. His 1992 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth showed a net worth of P15 million. In 2001 his net worth was P60 million. How does he explain this? He claims that in 1992, he did not realize that properties and businesses under his wife’s name should be reported. This was corrected in 2001, he claims. How much of the difference in net worth this explains, I still have not ascertained.

His friendship with Binay started with his helping Binay establish a piggery in what started as a five-hectare lot in Batangas (by the time he stopped in 2002, it had grown to 95 hectares). And, apparently like all councilors, he received a monthly allowance from Binay.  But his knowledge of the extent of  corruption in Makati started only when he ran and won as vice mayor in 2001. In the “Bawal ang Pasaway” interview, he mentions that he suggested to his boss that they minimize the corruption he had encountered: He did this by reducing the number of signatures needed for approval of a project/license/permit from 35 to 18.

What is the accomplishment that he is proudest of as vice mayor? His legacy, he says, was that he succeeded in controlling the drug problem in Makati (there has been backsliding since he left). What is he most ashamed of? That he got embroiled in the corruption in Makati.

How close was he to Binay? Like brothers, he says. When Binay was resigned that he would be suspended in 2001 (the case that the Supreme Court said should be heard by the Sandiganbayan) or thereabouts, it was Mercado who urged him to hire the best lawyers (stop pretending to be poor) and fight it out. The same thing happened in 2007 when the “ghost employee” scandal broke in Makati.

It was Binay who applied the term “brother” to Mercado.

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He also says that Binay asked him to be mayor in 2010 but that he declined (he knew how Binay had behaved to others to whom he had offered positions). It was only when Binay went to Nueva Ecija to ask Mercado’s father to help change his mind, that he accepted. And Binay told so many people that Mercado would succeed him—until Binay changed his own mind and endorsed his son for the job.

Mercado decided to pursue the mayoralty. Twenty-seven of 33 barangay captains supported him but he lost anyway, even in his own precinct. Interestingly, 14 of his 16 councilor-candidates won, and so did his vice mayor. What are the odds?

Out of government, he is not required to declare his SALN. But he has a 16-room beach resort in Coron, Palawan, run by his daughter Carla, and a 4-story hotel (Grand Villa) in Pateros run by his son Jerome. Another daughter, Christine, has a clinic (she is a licensed nurse). His fourth child, April, is a college sophomore. And his son Eruel (out of marriage) is also still in school.

He is president of Freeway Insurance Agency (Mandaluyong), Christine Int’l Ventures Corp. and  TwinLeaf Group (both in Pembo, Makati).

Mercado has also been very open about his gambling and his womanizing. But the bottom line is: Do we think that with respect to Binay, after 18 years (1992-2010) of close association, he knows where all the bodies are buried? And will he lie about it?

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TAGS: Edu Manzano, Ernesto Mercado, Hacienda Binay, Makati Building 2, Vice President Jejomar Binay
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