MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago on Friday, October 10, again urged Vice President Jejomar Binay to face a Senate panel probing corruption allegations against his family.
In a press conference in Muntinlupa City, Santiago said that the Vice President's decision to skip the Senate hearing based on the argument that it is politically motivated has apparently backfired, citing his sagging approval and trust ratings, as well as his popularity as a presidential candidate.
“You can’t discount that [the probe] has no effect at all….It’s substantiation that the charges are beginning to stick simply because of his silence,” said Santiago.
Without the Vice President's testimony, Santiago said “the burden of evidence will never move forward." Instead, whistleblowers who are testifying at the Senate probe like former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Maceda "will have the forum all to himself.”
Binay and his son Makati mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay, Jr face plunder complaints for an alleged overpriced "parking building" built in phases during their respective mayoral terms.
The Vice President has dismissed the Senate probe as a "badly written telenovela" meant to hurt Binay's chances in 2016. He is only candidate who has declared his intention to run for president in 2016.
“Whether it’s politically motivated or not is not the issue….The question is: Did you steal money from the government?” said Santiago, who reiterated that “everything” is motivated by politics.
‘Presumption of innocence not enough’
Santiago said it’s not enough for Binay to give blanket denials in public. “You cannot just say it’s all lies and deny all of them. That is not a defense. The presumption of innocence is not a defense,” she said.
A former trial judge, Santiago told reporters that “the presumption of innocence has already been eclipsed" by Mercado's testimonies.
She noted that the “more remarkable” aspect of Mercado’s testimony was his admission “against his own interest," which would make his testimony admissible in court, contrary to the position taken by the Vice President. (READ: VP Binay: Allegations won't stand up in court)
In one of the hearings, the former vice mayor said that if he benefitted from the controversial Makati City Hall Building 2, what more the mayor, referring to the Vice President who was Makati mayor at the time.
In another hearing, Mercado said he was the Vice President’s bagman and would personally deliver to his residence the 13%-kickbacks the then Makati mayor allegedly got from the city’s projects.
Binay was invited by the subcommittee, chaired by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, to appear in one of the hearings. Binay snubbed the invite, opting instead to visit relocated informal settler families in Manila.
The younger Binay attended the first hearing but skipped subsequent ones, despite the issuance of a subpoena against him.
Mayor Binay has questioned the subcommittee’s jurisdiction on the issue, but this was rejected by Pimentel twice. His camp is studying the possibility of seeking a Supreme Court (SC) injunction or temporary restraining order on the Senate hearings.
Citing previous jurisprudence, Santiago said she “predicts” the High Court would uphold the decision of the Senate subcommittee to junk the jurisidictional challenge.
Grounds for impeachment?
Binay’s camp is arguing that since a complaint has already been filed before the Ombudsman, it has “primary jurisdiction” over the probe. Santiago said the argument will not hold.
“There’s no legal basis whether in the Constitution that gives a person suspected of violating the penal code and other laws…the choice, [or] in effect, the power to chose his forum,” she added.
Despite the dip in his numbers, Binay remains the “most trusted” among public officials and is still leading possible candidates for the presidency, an idea that Santiago scoffed at, noting that it was too early.
In previous interviews, Santiago said she was open to gunning for the presidency in 2016, should she recover fully from lung cancer. But at Friday’s press conference, Santiago quipped that she will “probably quit politics” once she recovers.
A dip in survey ratings isn’t the only thing Binay should be worried about, Santiago said. She believes the allegations against him could be the grounds for an impeachment complaint.
She said terms in the Constitution “are broad enough to cover the accusations against [Binay]… betrayal of public trust.”
But the veteran politician admitted that getting Binay impeached may be improbable, in view of the looming 2016 elections and a long list of priority legislation that Congress needs to pass. – Rappler.com