MANILA, Philippines – Three witnesses against Vice President Jejomar Binay in the alleged overpricing of a Makati building when he was mayor have been placed under the justice department's Witness Protection Program.
Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters on Friday, September 12, that the Department of Justice granted the request of former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, lawyer Renato Bondal, and Barangay Olympia, Makati, Chairman Nicholas Enciso VI to be given government protection, given the "gravity" of their allegations against the Vice President.
Mercado, Bondal, and Enciso went to the WPP office last Monday. Bondal and Enciso have filed a complaint before the Ombudsman against Binay and his son, current Mayor Erwin Jejomar Binay, for allegedly overpricing by P2 billion the new Makati City Hall Building II.
The elder Binay was mayor in 2007, when construction of the questioned building started. By the time it was completed, his son had succeeded him. The Vice President denied the overpricing, saying the city government even saved P200 million from the project.
Mercado has appeared in a Senate hearing on the matter a few times. On Thursday, he told senators that the father Binay got 13% of the project amounts as commission. Earlier, he admitted to having earned kickbacks, and said if anything untoward happened to him, only the Binays could be responsible. City officials had said Mercado is not a credible witness.
Evaluated by the Senate
De Lima said it was the Senate which evaluated the 3 witnesses' fitness to be taken under the WPP.
"The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee recommended it to the Senate President and later the [Senate President] recommended its approval pursuant to the provisions of the WPP Law," she said.
She said that in legislative inquiries in the past, when the Senate thinks the testimony of the witnesses will be very material to the probe – such as in the case of the overpriced Makati building – witnesses are given "full coverage" under the WPP.
Once the witnesses are under the protection program, De Lima said, they may apply with the Ombudsman to invoke their immunity in the event counter-charges are filed against them.
"But it (the immunity) is always subject to the condition, expressed and implied, that they should be telling the truth," De Lima warned. "Dapat magsasabi sila ng totoo. Kasi later, kung may pruweba na hindi sila nagsasabi ng totoo, may repercussions 'yan, may consequences 'yan."
(They should tell the truth. Because, later, if it's proven that they were not telling the truth, there will be repercussions, there will be consequences.) – Rappler.com