Time was when Vice President Jejomar Binay considered the Commission on Audit his friend—an ally in his fight against political enemies who he said were out to destroy his good intentions to serve this country as its next president. In September 2014, when accusations of corruption were being aired against him daily on the Senate floor and a complaint for plunder was filed in the Office of the Ombudsman—two opportunities to clear his name that he had refused to acknowledge, much less rebut with facts from his end, alleging they were part of a grand “demolition job”—he delivered a speech that he said would answer all these allegations “point by point.”
It didn’t. He merely told an emotional tale of an orphan son who became a struggling lawyer and then the trailblazing mayor of Makati City, where he took credit for such pioneering projects as free medicines, cakes and movie passes for senior citizens. As for the main issue against him then hogging the headlines—the allegedly grossly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II that began construction during his last term as mayor and ended up costing P2.28 billion—he turned to the COA to clear himself of the charges.
Binay said the building was constructed in five years, and each year that a portion was finished, the COA did a strict audit. He said the audit was done every year for five years, and that in those five years, the COA completed 10 audits and found no anomaly. In his exact words: “Ang gusali ay ipinatayo sa loob ng limang taon … At sa bawat taon na matatapos ang isang bahagi ay dumadaan ito sa mahigpit na audit ng Commission on Audit o COA. Ang audit ng COA ay ginagawa taun-taon sa loob ng limang taon … Sa loob ng limang taon, sampung audit ang ginawa nila at wala silang nakita na anumang anomalya.”
He reiterated that according to the law, only the Government Procurement Act and the COA’s rules can be used as basis for erecting a government building: “Inuulit ko, ayon sa batas, tanging ang Government Procurement Act lamang at mga alituntunin ng COA ang ginagamit na batayan sa pagtatayo ng gusali ng pamahalaan.”
Nothing could be clearer: The COA, according to Binay, should have the last word on whether he and his projects were aboveboard. If the government’s army of accountants and bean-counters had found nothing wrong in the construction of an 11-story parking lot building that now stood as way more expensive than swankier and much higher towers in Makati, then all the accusations have no basis and the “circus-like” Senate hearings were just a ploy to knock the shine off him as an early-bird presidential aspirant. Take it from the COA, said Binay in so many words: I’m innocent.
Now, only 18 months later, the COA is no longer Binay’s buddy (or in millennial speak, BFF —“best friend forever”). A special audit team has come up with a 148-page report saying the Makati City Hall Building II project “showed irregularities from budgeting to procurement to execution resulting in misuse of public funds.” For such irregularities, the report added, the former mayor and a number of other city executives, including his son and successor Junjun Binay, should be held liable for the “bloated cost” of the project and for other violations, such as the absence of any genuine competitive bidding for the project.
Binay’s camp is outraged that such a damning report would come out in the middle of the election campaign period; per its reckoning, this is another dirty trick to derail the VP’s predestined elevation to Malacañang. “COA is clearly biased as it has no authority to determine who is guilty of a crime,” said Junjun Binay’s lawyer. “The special audit team was created for the ‘special’ purpose of being used as demolition team against VP Binay,” added Toby Tiangco, president of the VP’s party United Nationalist Alliance.
So fearful was the Binay camp of the COA report that, according to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, it entreated an audit official to delay releasing the report until after the May 9 elections. That would, of course, have made the commission not only derelict in its duties but also complicit in hiding wrongdoing.
But in the face of yet another sterling opportunity for Binay to once and for all answer the charges squarely, he is again hedging and bellyaching. Unfortunately, even the COA that he had once depended on for official clearance now agrees: He has some explaining to do.
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.