Spectacle in Makati
If there’s anything that the business community wants and expects in governance, it’s adherence to the rule of law. The opposite—as perfectly illustrated in the spectacle last Tuesday at Makati City Hall, where supporters of the Binay family went hammer and tongs at policemen deployed to preserve the peace while a six-month suspension order is served on Mayor Junjun Binay—is bad for business and a surefire way to scare off foreign investments.
Imagine how that spectacle, which suggested anarchy in the premier business district no less, and which was earlier marked by the mayor’s father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, tangling with police officers, came across to prospective investors.
Mayor Binay has since decided to leave his office, having failed to secure a response from the Court of Appeals to his “extremely urgent” petition for a temporary restraining order on his suspension. As an elected mayor, after all, he owed it to his constituents to, in the words of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, “hold [himself] to the highest bar of accountability” by obeying the order and facing the administrative charges of grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service filed against him.
The influential Makati Business Club (MBC) expressed concern and observed that the crisis has generated “an environment of uncertainty and instability” in the country’s financial center. It noted that “such a situation is unnecessary and counterproductive, specially at a time when the economy is steadily growing and there is renewed investor interest in the Philippines.” It also wondered why the mayor decided to leave City Hall only after a significant period of time, two orders from the Ombudsman and occurrences of violence.
The MBC was correct to point out that what transpired at Makati City Hall showed “the cost of defying a suspension order, which has almost become common practice among public officials facing charges.” Indeed, certain officials appear to consider a public position as a personal or family possession and sometimes have to be literally pried kicking and screaming from it. The MBC also issued the reminder that as part of the Philippine democratic processes to address possible wrongdoing, suspension is not a punishment, and submitting to a suspension order is not an admission of guilt.
This suspension order is the second issued this year to Mayor Binay by Ombudsman Morales in the course of her investigations. It involves allegations of corruption in the construction of Makati City Science High School. The first order was issued last March and involves similar allegations in the construction of Makati City Hall Building 2. But the mayor was able to secure a TRO on it from the Court of Appeals, which Morales is contesting in the Supreme Court.
The Ombudsman was spot-on when she said that the matter was all about “the right of the Filipino people … to bring [public officials] before the bar of justice if they are accused of betraying the public trust.” Lest anyone forget, she said, “[n]o official, from the lowest to the highest, is exempt from accountability. When the Office of the Ombudsman, in accordance with its constitutional mandate, finds compelling grounds to issue a preventive suspension order, it has to do so.”
As was made obvious, Mayor Binay’s family and formidable army of lawyers were hard-pressed to advise him to continue to hang tough and dig in. It is fortunate that he decided to step down to allow the investigation to take its course.
Defiance of a suspension order is the reverse of the rule of law. The Tuesday spectacle at Makati City Hall, shown on national TV and uploaded in social media, was one most alarming not only to the business community but in fact to the general public. A verified complaint has been filed; the least that Mayor Binay can do is to take a leave from running the city and finally face his accusers in court.
“Now that the case is in the judiciary, it is our hope that the courts will render a fair decision swiftly and in accordance with its merits,” the MBC said.
But the glacial pace of the wheels of justice has long been a major cause of concern in this part of the world. And that, as they say, is a different story altogether.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.