Sandiganbayan finds probable cause to try ex-VP Binay for graft

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has found probable cause to try former vice president Jejomar Binay for his graft, malversation and falsification of documents charges which stemmed from questionable contracts in the construction of the Makati City Hall Parking Building.

Sandiganbayan’s 3rd Division also found probable cause to issue warrants of arrest against Binay and his co-accused, but everyone has already paid their bail bonds. “The Court need not issue warrants for their arrest,” the court said in its 53-page resolution.

Binay’s co-accused, former officials of Makati City, appealed to the Court to dismiss the charges against them but the 3rd Division denied the motions to dismiss and for dismissal of information for lack of probable cause. The motions for judicial determination of probable cause of some of them have been noted.

“The Court find that more likely than not the accused committed the acts constituting the times of falsification of documents and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 (graft),” the court said.

Binay has been conditionally arraigned for the charges last May. He wanted to join his family’s pilgrimage to Israel, and the court had to arraign him in order to have the authority to issue a travel leave. Binay revealed then that he had filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation. It is not clear where his motion stands before the High Court. 

In the Sandiganbayan’s latest resolution, the court affirmed the regularity of the Ombudsman’s preliminary investigation, which was done without ‘adverse findings’ from the Commission on Audit (COA).

“A finding of probable cause does not derive its veracity from the findings of COA, but from the independent determination of the Ombudsman,” the resolution said penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez with concurrences from Division chair Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Bernelito Fernandez.

Bid-rigging

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales charged Binay for the alleged anomalies in the awarding of contracts for the construction. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee said in 2015 that the building may have been overpriced by a whopping P1 billion or half of what was actually paid to build it, which is P2.28 billion.

The charges before Sandiganbayan, however, tackled only the alleged anomalies in the contracts, mainly the absence of a public bidding. Ombudsman investigators also alleged the bidding was ‘simulated.’

“The alleged simulated public bidding, the award of the contract, and they payments to Hilmarc’s could not have been made without the participation of the accused charged in the Information,” Sandiganbayan said in its latest resolution.

Records show that the bidding for the parking building was won by Hilmarc’s by close margins. Close bidding may indicate that a simulated bidding happened, where the favored bidder taps other firms to bid for the project. The favored bidder will arrange everything to make it appear that there is competitive bidding. When they win, they usually get their tapped firms as subcontractors.

The Senate called it an “institutionalized bid rigging” in a sensational series of inquiries leading up to the 2016 elections, where Binay ran for President. Binay lost in his presidential bid and when he officially stepped down as vice president, Morales proceeded to file the charges in court.

Binay has consistently hit Morales for selective justice. He did so again in early August when Morales indicted him and son  former Makati City mayor Jejomar "Junjun" Binay Jr for graft and falsification of documents, pertaining this time to the allegedly overpriced P1.3 billion Makati Science High School.

Like the parking building, the charges related to the High School building only tackled irregularities in the processes.

A plunder complaint filed against the Binays stemming from the alleged overpricing of the high school building by around P862 million is still pending at the Office of the Ombudsman. – Rappler.com

 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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