'If I were VP Binay, I would attend Senate hearing' – Miriam

MANILA, Philippines – Here's an unsolicited advice for Vice President Jejomar Binay coming from a fellow presidential hopeful: Senator Miriam Santiago said the current runaway winner in presidential polls should attend the Senate hearings on the alleged overpriced Makati "parking building." 

"If VP Binay does not attend the Senate hearing, he will lose a golden opportunity to clear himself," Santiago said in a news briefing at the Senate on Wednesday, September 10.

She added, "Even in the Bible [it says that] the innocent are as bold as a lion but the guilty flee."

Santiago said that the Vice President has nothing to fear about attending the Senate hearing since the Constitution and the Senate rules protect the rights of those appearing at the hearings.

"I would not be afraid that I might be treated rudely or purposedly embarrassed by the presiding officer or the hostile senators because there is a provision in the Constitution and the rules of the Senate that the rights of the persons appearing in public investigations shall be respected. He’s a lawyer himself, he can always raise that point. There is no danger in that," Santiago said.

The senator also said that while there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, this can be "overwritten" by public perception, especially as the public hearings are reported by the media and even broadcast live on some news networks.

'Allegations may affect VP bid'

When asked, Santiago said the Vice President's presidential bid may be affected by the allegations against him, especially in view of the "very, very strong" testimony of  former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado who had even implicated himself before the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee.

Mercado had testified before the Senate that he had "benefitted" from contracts of the Makati City government, and that if he did, what more the Vice President, who was mayor at the time. Binay's camp had earlier turned the tables on the former Makati official and claimed that Mercado, and not the Vice President, had made money when both served Makati City.

To this, Santiago said that Binay, as the local chief executive and an "experienced politician," should have done something about the alleged corrupt practices in his office.

"Do you mean to say that in all these years, he didn't know [about the corrupt activities]? That means he failed in looking after his city," Santiago said.

On allegations that the Senate hearing is politically motivated, because of Binay's lead in the 2016 presidential race, based on independent polls, the senator said, "So what?"

"Everything in politics is politically motivated, didn’t you know? And also what is the connection to whether it is right or wrong? Politically motivated – does it make a wrong right? Does it make a right wrong? So what? He called for it because as soon as he became vice president, he announced he was running for president. You’re calling on all the gods of mischief and malice upon your head. That’s one point there; that political motivation has nothing to do [with it]," she said.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel IV, who chairs the Senate blue ribbon sub-committee conducting public hearings on the Makati building, said on Saturday that he planned to invite the Vice President as a "lone guest" in one hearing, after all the other witnesses have testified.

Abad, too

Santiago also wants Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad to return to the Senate to answer lingering questions on the Aquino government's spending program called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). 

Santiago continues to question Malacañang's definition of savings. She said she will ask who were given DAP funds. 

"I want a question hour so I can ask him to give a list on the DAP money he gave away by order of amount," she said.

Santiago was in the Senate on Wednesday to preside a hearing of the fpreign affairs committee of the Commission on Appointments (CA), which she chairs. An argument with Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas over rules on quorum prompted her to walk out of the hearing.

She held a press conference after her walk out where she also announced her choices for a runningmate in 2016. – Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com