Still keeping mum
“The worst is over for him” was how Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla, Vice President Jejomar Binay’s spokesman for political concerns, characterized the state of his boss’ political fortunes last November. By then, the avalanche of damaging revelations against Binay, made principally by his erstwhile ally, former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, seemed to have tapered off. Some senators were urging the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee conducting the hearings, in which the public was regaled with tales of massively overpriced buildings in Makati and haciendas in Batangas with imitation English royal gardens, to wrap things up. And the latest surveys showed that while Binay’s public standing had sustained a dent, attributed to the accusations against him, he remained the man to beat in the 2016 presidential derby.
Riding out the political firestorm generated by Mercado’s allegations appears to have been the Binay camp’s modus from the start. The tack is for the VP to be above the fray and not get in the muck with Mercado, whom his lieutenants have characterized as a sleazy political has-been bitter only at having been dumped by Binay over sundry irregularities while he was No. 2 in Makati. That stratagem also entailed that Binay would in no way legitimize the Senate hearings, much less engage in a shoutfest with his chief tormentor in the chamber, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, by acceding to the summons for him to appear before the body.
Except for a televised speech in which he answered not one specific allegation against him but instead regurgitated his life story from destitute orphan to human-rights lawyer to VP, Binay tried to make his accusers look trivial by projecting a business-as-usual mien. As Remulla put it, “Whatever they want to bring out against the Vice President, let them bring it out. But for him, first and foremost is work.”
But with the dissipation of the Christmas and papal-visit afterglow, the gloves are off once more.
Mercado was back in the Senate last Thursday with another revelation: That Binay had pocketed close to P200 million in kickbacks from a premium land deal between Alphaland Corp. and the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, of which Binay is the long-standing president. The one-hectare property in Makati has been developed into an upscale residential and leisure complex reportedly to the tune of P8 billion. Mercado said the BSP itself, which owns 60 percent of the property, has not received its share of the proceeds from the development, but Binay got his 5-percent commission early on.
The BSP-Alphaland deal is a convoluted one, and Mercado’s latest accusation needs careful parsing, not to mention more documentary evidence, since a knotty part of it is that it was he who had signed some of the papers—but only, he said, on Binay’s orders. Alphaland itself has vigorously denied the alleged anomaly, and is threatening Mercado with a multimillion-peso suit. If Mercado’s story holds true—that he was talked into signing the deal by Binay’s finance adviser, Gerry Limlingan, because Binay himself knew better than to incriminate himself on paper—then that would be all of a piece with the other properties, from the Batangas hacienda to the various condo units in Makati, that the Binays are said to own but are cleverly in the names of their various factotums.
In fact, the stronger revelation in the Senate last Thursday was not Mercado’s but the testimony of engineer Ariel Olivar, whose name appears in documents as the owner of a condo unit at the Peak Tower in Makati, but which he said is really owned by Binay. Olivar said he was asked to front as unit owner but has never paid any association or related dues on the unit, or has even seen the inside of it. The Peak Tower unit is one of six condo units in Makati that the Binays own, said Mercado—all under dummy ownership, and all obtained in exchange for quick permits and the like from City Hall.
As usual, Binay is keeping mum, delegating the task of responding to the latest charges, if at all, to his lieutenants. But someone should remind the VP that his 26-percent poll rating in December was way down from his 41 percent in July—the period, not coincidentally, in which he steadfastly refused to account for himself and his newfound wealth. Clearly, the public’s interest has been piqued. But since he continues to refuse to talk plainly, it’s wishful thinking to say that the worst is over for him.
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