Remulla out, Corona lawyer in as Binay spokesman

CEBU, Philippines – He will soon be speaking for and defending another client: Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Beginning this year, lawyer Rico Paolo Quicho will be Binay's new spokesman just as Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla steps down as the Vice President's spokesman for political concerns.

Marami kaming magiging spokesman (We will have several spokesmen),” said Binay on the sidelines of a gift-giving event at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City on Monday, January 5.

Quicho accompanied Binay to the vote-rich province of Cebu, where the Vice President conducted relief operations in typhoon-hit towns.

Defending controversial government officials is nothing new to Quicho, who once served as the lawyer and spokesman of impeached chief justice Renato Corona during the latter’s impeachment trial.

Quicho’s experience will come in handy as Binay continues to face the biggest corruption scandal to hit him in more than 20 years of politics.

Binay and his son, Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr, face plunder charges over an alleged overpriced Makati City building constructed during their consecutive terms as mayor.

The building also became the subject of a Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee probe, which has since turned into a venue for Binay’s former-allies-turned-foes to accuse him of rigging bids and accepting hefty kickbacks when he was mayor of Makati.

Binay has denied the allegations, insisting they are only part of a plot to thwart his chances of winning the presidency in 2016.

His numbers – in both trust and approval surveys and 2016 preference polls – have dipped considerably since the subcommittee investigation began.

Why Binay?

Quicho has been part of Binay’s team since 2013, roughly after the Corona trial. “I volunteered, I wrote to the Vice President. After the impeachment trial, I wanted to enter politics,” Quicho told Rappler.

But the young lawyer opted not to run in 2013, instead working in the background with Binay’s team. “I was working with the Vice President, learning how he appreciates things, how he handles problems,” he added.

Why Binay? Quicho said it’s Binay experience in local governance that drew him in. “He is known to have a good continuity. He’s a reformer, but he knows the policies to continue.”

“I’ve been with the Vice President even before all these issues and I’ve seen him up close and personal. There are so many reasons why I want to vote for him but sa akin kasi (but primarily), it’s the compassion. Nakikita ko kasi na (I’ve come to realize that) we need a doer,” he added.

As the elections draw nearer and as Binay’s political foes gear up for even more exposés against the Vice President, Quicho said it will be important for people to understand that “evidence is different from proof and that perception is different from presumption.”

“Majority of Filipinos don’t want this to continue. Majority want the proper procedure. They should file the proper case before the courts. Let the accused defend himself,” said Quicho, referring to the corruption allegations against Binay.

Thus far, there are two plunder cases against the Binays – the first for the controversial Makati City Hall Building 2 and the second over the Makati City High School Building. Whistleblowers in the subcommittee probe have been turning over documents and other supposed documents to the Justice department.

On top of his new role as Binay’s spokesman, Quicho is currently taking his Masters of Laws degree at the University of California in Berkeley. He is also a law professor at San Beda and runs his own law firm, Quicho & Angeles Law Offices.

Remulla still ’on call’

The change of guards in the Binay camp is long-time coming.

Remulla, explained Binay, needs time off to work on his re-election bid but will still be part of his team on an “on call basis.” The governor added his stepping down as spokesman was "part of the agreement" from the very beginning. 

Nothing much will change with Quicho's entry as spokesman. “The bottomline, and this is what the Vice President is trying to tell us: they should veer away from politics and focus on the task on hand. We will always go back to the issue, the problems,” said Quicho.

In a previous interview with Rappler, Remulla said he would no longer be involved in their regular – almost daily – meetings but may return as spokesman in the months preceding the May 2016 elections.

"I will be busier with the formulation, development and roll out of the Binay economic program," said Remulla. 

Quicho won't be alone in speaking in behalf of Binay: he joins the Vice President's media affairs chief Joey Salgado. 

Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco and lawyer JV Bautista, both from Binay's United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), meanwhile, are spokesmen for the would-be party. 

Remulla was introduced as Binay’s spokesman in August 2014, just as the subcommittee began its probe. Remulla is a member of the Nacionalista Party (NP), of which subcommittee members Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter Cayetano are also members.

During the governor’s 4-month stint as Binay’s spokesman, the Vice President was accused of owning a vast hacienda in Batangas through dummies and of owning undeclared foreign bank accounts as early as the 80s.

The subcommittee is set to resume its probe on January 22. – Rappler.com