Binay to speak on kickback claims 'directly to the people'

MANILA, Philippines – “I swear by God and the people that I have not received nor asked money for this project or any other project in Makati.”

Vice President Jejomar Binay rejected as baseless the allegations of his former aide and vice mayor that he “benefitted” from the allegedly overpriced Makati “parking building.” Still, he refused to commit to attend a Senate inquiry to prove his defense and clear his name.

Instead, Binay issued a statement after the Senate hearing on Tuesday, August 26, where former Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado accused him of “benefitting” from the construction of the building allegedly overpriced by P2 billion ($45.67 million)*.

“All that Mr. Mercado said are lies. He has been making these baseless allegations since 2010 when he ran and lost. The people of Makati know him as a liar and fabricator of stories,” Binay said.

He added, “To my countrymen, rest assured that I will answer all these baseless allegations point for point.”

Asked how Binay will respond to the accusations if he refuses to show up in the investigation, the Vice President’s spokesman Joey Salgado said, “Abangan natin (Let’s wait for it).” 

“He wants to clarify, answer the allegations directly to the people. The people are the final judge and not the senators,” Salgado said.

Binay's office announced Tuesday evening that the Vice President will hold a press conference on Wednesday, August 27, something that he rarely does. 

Binay’s critic Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano issued what he called an “open invitation” for the Vice President to face the probe now that he was directly linked to the alleged overpricing. Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan also said there were several “red flags and many questions” her agency observed in the construction of the building.

Salgado though told Rappler: “Perhaps we will respond once a formal invitation is sent. For now, we haven’t received any yet.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Binay’s daughter Makati Representative Abigail Binay Campos already said it was “malabo” (unlikely) for her father to attend the Senate inquiry, which the Vice President discredited in his statement. Binay said it is Mercado, not him, who should be held liable.

In the hearing, Mercado admitted that he earned from the building project and said it was his “automatic conclusion” that the Vice President all the more benefitted.

Mercado said: “Kung ang vice mayor nakinabang, aba'y siguro higit na nakinabang ang mayor dito. Imposibleng ‘di nakinabang ang mayor (If the vice mayor benefitted from it, then perhaps the mayor benefitted even more here. It’s impossible that the mayor did not benefit from it).”

Binay said Mercado’s claims were “mere conjecture and speculation.”

“If Mr. Mercado admitted that he received kickbacks from the Makati Bldg 2 project, it is only right that he be charged by the authorities…. But in the face of Mr. Mercado's admission that he pocketed money from the project, some senators wish to coddle and protect him.”

In an obvious reference to Cayetano and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Binay again said that it was “clear” the motive of the investigation is politics. The leader of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), Binay is running for president in 2016 while the two senators from the Nacionalista Party (NP) also expressed interest for higher office.

“The Senate is being used to malign my name and that of my family to advance personal ambition. Some of these senators have revealed their ambition to run in 2016, especially for the presidency and vice presidency. This is why they have gone full throttle in their attempts to malign me," Binay said. 

Binays threatening Mercado?

An ally-turned-rival of the Binays, Mercado expressed fear that his testimony will risk his safety. Mercado knew Binay since 1986 but the two had a falling out when the Vice President decided to field his son, Jejomar Erwin "Junjun" Binay Jr, to succeed him as Makati mayor in 2010 instead of choosing Mercado. 

During the hearing, Mercado said that he wrote a letter back in 2012 and kept it in his wallet “just in case something happens to me.”

Asked by Cayetano, Mercado read the later written in Filipino: “To my family and to the authorities, these past days, I noticed someone is trailing me. Just in case something happens to me, you should go after no one else except the Binay family (Vice President Binay).”

Trillanes then moved that Mercado and the complainants against the Binays, lawyer Renato Bondal, and Nicolas "Ching" Enciso VI be placed under the Witness Protection Program of the justice department.

Senator Nancy Binay, the Vice President’s eldest daughter, took exception to Mercado's statement. She turned the tables on the former vice mayor, saying it was he and not her family with a “history of violence.”

When his live-in partner died, he was the number one suspect in the killing. Because they are saying the suicide was questionable. In terms of having a history of violence, that’s more attached to his name than to us,” Senator Binay said.

After saying last week that she felt she was accused of being an “M” or magnanakaw (thief), the senator quipped: “May bagong ‘M’ pala ako this hearing, ‘mamatay-tao!’ Grabe na.” (I have a new ‘M’ in this hearing: killer!)

Mercado told reporters he was ready to answer all allegations against him, even reports that there was an Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) file on him.

“Ilabas nila. Alam mo ‘di muna ako sasagot. Ilabas na lang nila kung ano ang part sa Isafp. ‘Pag nilabas nila, sasagutin ko.” (They should bring it out. I won’t respond for now. They should just bring out this Isafp report. When they do, that’s when I will respond.) –