“Why,” an angry Sen. Nancy Binay asked last Friday, “are they so afraid of the Binays?” She was responding to the order of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales dismissing her brother Junjun Binay as mayor of Makati City and disqualifying him permanently from government service, but by “they” she must have been referring not only to the Ombudsman and her prosecutors but also the Aquino administration which her father, Vice President Jojo Binay, used to serve.
We can understand her perspective; she may have been speaking not merely out of bravado but from all sincerity. To her and to others like her in the political camp of the Binays, the Ombudsman’s order could only have been issued with an eye on the Vice President’s political fortunes. With his disciplined campaign in 2010 and his head start in the presidential campaign of 2016, the elder Binay must still loom as a threat to the ruling Liberal Party. Despite his falling voter preference numbers, the Vice President’s candidacy must still remain a potent one.
And attacking him from the flank, in this case issuing a ruling on the administrative aspect of the charges filed against his son in relation to the so-called Makati City Hall Building 2 controversy, must have been—in this view—motivated yet again by the fear of a Binay presidency.
This sense is based on the idea that the Ombudsman takes her cues from the Executive. When President Aquino took his oath of office, he did it before Carpio Morales, then the second-ranking member of the Supreme Court, rather than before the chief justice. For the President’s critics, this is Exhibit No. 1 of Carpio Morales’ partiality, in her capacity as the country’s chief graft-buster. There is sorry experience to learn from, too; at least two previous ombudsmen were widely perceived to be protective of the presidents who appointed them.
But, to those who follow Carpio Morales’ work, she is nothing like Aniano Desierto or Merceditas Gutierrez; her independence is a matter of record. On the same day she announced the resolution dismissing Mayor Binay, she also announced the imposition of the same administrative penalties of dismissal and permanent disqualification on Masbate Gov. Rizalina Lanete of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, a coalition partner of the LP.
The dismissal and permanent disqualification of Mayor Binay follows on the Ombudsman’s earlier order suspending him. Having investigated the administrative charges, Carpio Morales said she found ample proof of the mayor’s guilt.
“It bears emphasis that despite the irregularities involved in the procurements, and glaring ‘red flags’ already present in the early stages prior to the bidding and up to the release of the first and second payments to [Mana Architecture and Interior Design], he still went on to approve the release of the last two payments in favor of MANA,” Carpio Morales said. “By so acting, [he] intentionally closed his eyes to the irregularities by failing to observe utmost diligence.”
Perhaps Carpio Morales timed the announcement (the Friday before the week for the filing of certificates of candidacy) to derail both the younger Binay’s reelection plans and the elder Binay’s presidential ambition? This is certainly what the Vice President’s counsel and staff allege, in response to the Ombudsman’s latest order.
But what is the Ombudsman supposed to do, after finally concluding that “flagrant anomalies” had taken place under Mayor Binay’s watch?
In the first and second phases of the project, MANA’s services were contracted without a public bidding. Four payments worth almost P12 million were paid to the company “despite the incomplete submission of deliverables.” The bids and awards committee took just 11 days to complete the process, proof of “undue haste.” In the last four phases of the project, the mayor and other officials had arranged the public bidding “for the purpose of ensuring that Hilmarc’s Construction Corp. would be awarded the contracts.” Construction started even without approved designs and cost estimates.
It is unfortunate that the timing of the announcement opens the Ombudsman’s order to political insinuation. A lesser character would perhaps find it prudent to postpone the inevitable. But given the evidence found, what is a person of conscience to do?
Last Friday’s announcement was made precisely because a constitutional officer was not afraid of the Binays, or of the political consequences.
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