MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Where is Vice President Jejomar Binay?
That's the question of members of the Senate gallery as a seat bearing his nameplate was empty at the start of the 22nd Senate hearing on corruption allegations against the Vice President and his family on Tuesday, July 7.
Senate blue ribbon subcommittee chairman Aquilino Pimentel III opened and suspended the hearing on Tuesday, July 1, noting the continued absence of the Vice President.
"We have given him enough opportunities to be here. I am convinced he is not coming," Pimentel said.
The Office of the Vice President sent a media advisory showing that the opposition standard-bearer was campaigning in Pangasinan. Binay's office said he was "talking with local leaders and residents" of Dasol and Burgos, Pangasinan, and turning over wheelchairs to senior citizens.
Binay continued to be absent from the hearings even after he resigned from the Aquino Cabinet, and no longer has functions as housing czar and presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers' concerns.
While in Pangasinan, Binay scoffed at the Senate hearing. "God bless them. What? Bawal ba akong nandito? (Am I not allowed to be here?)"
Binay said he did not receive any invitation from the Senate. "Matatawa ka lang. Drama na 'yun. (You will just find it funny. All drama.)"
Ahead of the hearing, Binay's daughter, Senator Nancy Binay, already said her father was deliberately snubbing the probe.
"I think mas maraming mas mahalagang gagawin ang ating Vice President kaysa pumunta pa sa hearing na iyan (I think the Vice President has more important things to do than attend that hearing)," Senator Binay told reporters at the launch of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) last week.
Pimentel had invited Binay to the probe, saying it was his "final chance" to confront mounting corruption charges against him. Pimentel's panel released a report recommending plunder charges against the former Makati mayor.
This is not the first time Binay snubbed an invitation from the Senate.
In November 2014, senators showed the same empty chair as Binay refused to attend the hearing. The nameplate bore the title: "Vice President Jejomar 'Jojo' Binay, former Makati mayor." (READ: Binay skips Senate Blue Ribbon hearing)
Binay repeatedly dismissed the probe as a ploy to jeopardize his candidacy. Analysts said the Vice President's refusal to confront the corruption charges brought down his popularity in the June election surveys.
The Vice President was first to declare his presidential bid but corruption allegations and multiple plunder complaints weigh down his candidacy. – Rappler.com