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Water torture

12:25 AM December 06, 2014

A stature on a bridge in Bruges honors the martyr John Nepomucene, ordered drowned by King Wenceslau, according to one narrative, after his tongue was torn out, because he would not disclose what the queen had confessed—a reminder that neither the government nor the general public has any right to know what transpired between Vice President Jejomar Binay and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. If the Vice President had gone to the bishops for confession.

But, protesting that he was being “crucified,” the Vice President did not appear to be in a penitential mood when he appeared before the CBCP in his Boy Scout uniform. The reference to the Crucifixion, recalling the charges raised against him, seems to border on blasphemous. The CBCP executive secretary, Fr. Edu Gariquez, told the press, after hearing the VP’s “unconvincing” presentation, that the prospect of a Binay presidency “scared” him. A personal, perhaps imprudent, comment, but no breach of the confessional seal.

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The VP’s torment is really not the relatively quick Roman capital punishment of crucifixion, but the exquisitely extended water torture credited to the Chinese. It’s no big deal to splash some water on a person. But, drop after drop, hitting the same spot on a person’s body over a sustained period, reportedly inflicts unbearable pain.

Since August, the drops have been falling one after another: a contractor, falsely recorded as officially bidding for contracts in which he did not qualify and was not qualified to participate; a businessman confirming being trapped in an elevator to delay his submission of a bid; the contractor for Makati City Hall Building II admitting that it was neither world-class nor “green.”

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Some drops, produced by whistle-blower research, have come from directions distant from the MCHB II—documents reflecting the purchase of overpriced hospital equipment for Makati; an old woman wondering, on camera, why land she had sold to Mayor Binay remained under her name; electricity bills for “Hacienda Binay” still paid by a firm linked to VP Binay; allegations about dollar accounts undisclosed in SALN submissions; a COA audit questioning the 2012-2013 financial reports of the Boy Scouts, which the VP has headed as president for decades.

Other drops have come from unexpected sources, causing self-inflicted pain: a 2010 videotaped interview of VP Binay talking about his Batangas property; an Instagram from a Binay daughter claiming ownership of “Hacienda Binay”; DENR permits for exotic animals for the “Hacienda Binay” zoo issued to Sen. Nancy Binay.

The drops continue to come, the latest being the VP’s alleged ownership of condominium units extorted from building projects in Makati. The VP’s defenders dismiss each drop that falls as mere allegation, lacking probative value. Coming in a steady stream, they gain progressively greater weight not easily deflected by defiant denials.

Objective observers initially sympathized with the VP’s plight: How does he prove the negative, that he, for instance, did not own the condo units reportedly belonging to him? But the testimony given at the Senate hearings shifted on him the burden of refuting the documentary evidence presented by whistle-blowers.

VP Binay has thus far declined to address the substance of the charges raised against him. He first tried the political card: The investigation was a political demolition job. He has also claimed that his opponents were against him because of his “Nognog” appearance, or because they were rich and he was poor.

The countercharges of corruption filed against former vice mayor Ernesto Mercado and against Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano for assorted anomalies (overpriced multicabs, ghost employees, fraudulent SALNs) take another tack: to blur any difference between the VP and his accusers, showing that every politician is vulnerable to unproven, politically-motivated charges.

This is a risky strategy. Corruption charges, even when unproven, cast doubt on the fitness of a candidate to hold the presidency. But Mercado and the Cayetanos are not 2016 presidential contenders.

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UNA appears convinced that the assault against the VP has run its course and failed. While approval ratings did drop, the core support for the VP’s candidacy remained firm enough to keep him in the lead. Supporters are betting that with other issues on the horizon, such as the investigation of more politicians implicated in the P1.5 billion Malampaya-PDAF Scam, the public will tire of the Binay hearings and switch channels.

The Senate blue ribbon subcommittee has indicated that its Binay investigation could last till mid-2015. It claims that whistle-blowers have much more evidence to show how the Binays have exploited political office for private gain. It seems likely that the VP will continue to stall and stonewall.

The senators are betting that, as water wears down rocks, the flow of evidence, drop by drop, will erode the foundations of the VP’s credibility—and that they have enough time.

Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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TAGS: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Edu Gariquez, Government, Graft and Corruption, Hacienda Binay, Jejomar Binay, John Nepomucene
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