Binay camp defends Makati program for senior citizens

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay refuted the allegations of a Makati city government official who claimed that there are “ghost” beneficiaries in Makati’s program for the elderly.

On Thursday, August 20, Makati Action Center head Arthur Cruto testified before the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee and claimed that almost half of the BLU card holders in Makati are “suspicious.”

The BLU card program for senior citizens, which got its name after the blue color of the cards, provide beneficiaries with cash gifts, grocery items, and free maintenance medicine, movies, and birthday cakes. To qualify, a citizen should be 60 years old and above, a registered voter in the city, and is a bonafide Makati resident.

Joey Salgado, media affairs head of Binay, said that senior citizens in Makati receive the said benefits "personally." (READ: Why Makati senior want Junjun Binay in city hall)

"Makati senior citizens personally apply and submit documents before they are enrolled. They go through verification. Benefits are received personally. The [Makati] Social Welfare Department (MSWD) has a system to delist deceased beneficiaries,” said Salgado, who used be the Makati Public Information Office head when the Vice President’s son, Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, was seated as mayor.

The younger Binay is under a 6-month preventive suspension order over an allegedly overpriced city infrastructure project. Elected Vice Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña Jr of the Liberal Party has been sworn as acting mayor.

“Assuming without conceding the existence of fake beneficiaries, where is the evidence to show any link to the Vice President? None, because this is another tall tale," said Salgado.

“The supposed ‘findings’ presented by Mr Arthur Cruto are misleading and the conclusions pure conjecture. Dahil unverified ang beneficiary, ghost na kaagad (Because the beneficiary is unverified, they consider him or her as ‘ghost’ already),” he added.

He clarified that there are senior citizens who already moved to other localities but who remain registered voters of Makati, entitling them to the benefits of the BLU card program.

"Mr Cruto had no objection to this when his mother was living in Cavite but remained a senior citizen beneficiary," Salgado quipped.

He then dared Cruto to execute an affidavit and repeat his statements outside the Senate so the Binay camp “can file the appropriate case against him.”

Malakas ang loob nila kasi binigyan sila ng immunity ng mga senador para malaya silang makapagsinungaling at siraan si Vice President.” (He is confident to speak because he was given immunity by the senators so he can freely lie and hurt the Vice President.)

The Binay camp has consistently maintained that the probe is meant to derail the Vice President's presidential bid. Binay, who refused to appear before the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee, was no longer invited to Thursday's hearing.

Instead, Binay attended a Mass in Amapola Street, Barangay Pembo in Makati to mark the one-year anniversary since the Senate probe on him and his family began. The event was organizerd by residents of Makati, where Binay was mayor for 21 years.

Nothing but ‘lies’

Salgado called Cruto’s testimony a “demolition through PowerPoint.”

“We heard nothing but half-truths that will not stand in court but are intended for media consumption,” he said. “But what can we expect but lies from a known protégé of ex-Vice Mayor [Ernesto] Mercado?”

Mercado, who used to be an ally of the Vice President, is among the whiste-blowers who exposed the alleged overpricing of several Makati city projects by the Binay family in the year-long Senate investigation.

“The Liberal Party and Mercado cabal in Makati are raising ghost issues to deflect public focus from the deteriorating public service and the return of fixing and other forms of corruption at City Hall,” said Salgado. (READ: The Jojo Binay that Mercado knew)

“Ask any business permit applicant. What used to take 2-3 days to process under Mayor Jun Binay now takes two weeks at best. And the fixers are back.”

Salgado hits Trillanes

In his PowerPoint presentation during the hearing, Cruto showed death certificates of senior citizens who passed away in 2013. He said that crosschecking the documents with records from the MSWD showed that some of the deceased are still receiving cash gifts two years later.

According to Salgado, a death certificate is “not proof of corruption.” He said that if the senior citizen died within the release period for his or her benefits, the said benefits are still released to the beneficiary.

“The program is subjected to regular audit by COA (Commission on Audit) and there has never been any adverse findings,” said Salgado.

However, he said the committee is “selective” with the COA.

Kapag walang makitang mali sa Makati, tinatakot 'nyo at tinatawag na sangkot sa cover-up. Kapag pabor sa inyo, gaya ng sinabi ng dating COA chair, palakpak kayo. Pero kapag kayo mismo ang sinabihan ng COA na ipaliwanag ang overpriced consultants, sinasabi 'nyo na pakana ng oposisyon. Ayos ba, sir?” said Salgado.

(If they don’t see anything wrong in Makati, you scare them and claim they are part of a cover-up. If it’s in your favor, like what the former COA chair said, you applaud them. But when the COA says that you have overpriced consultants, you said the opposition is behind it?)

He was alluding to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the members of the Senate Blue ribbon subcommittee and a staunch critic of Binay, whom COA found to have consultants with unusually high salaries. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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