Senate upholds decision to arrest Junjun Binay

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Whether he likes it or not, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin "Junjun" Binay Jr will face the Senate inquiry into allegations his family amassed wealth at the helm of the country's financial capital. 

The Senate upheld the decision of the blue ribbon committee to cite the son of Vice President Jejomar Binay and 5 others in contempt, and order them arrested.

After an intense debate in a meeting that lasted for over an hour on Wednesday, January 28, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano announced the consensus of the Senate rules committee that the contempt and detention order was valid.

Senate President Franklin Drilon adopted the report, later signed the contempt and arrest order Wednesday evening.

The blue ribbon committee decided last Monday to hold Mayor Binay in contempt for snubbing the panel's summons to attend all but one Senate hearing. The mayor was present only in the hearing last August 2014. 

Cayetano told reporters that Senate sergeant-at-arms Jose Balajadia Jr will likely arrest Mayor Binay on Thursday, January 29, right before the blue ribbon panel's 14th hearing into the alleged corruption of the Binay dynasty. The hearing starts at 9 am.

"To be fair to Mayor Junjun, he promised to cooperate so he does not need to spend the night here. And if he answers questions and cooperates, he can go after the hearing," Cayetano said. 

Balajadia though later told reporters that, technically, he can arrest Binay anytime once Drilon signs the order. 

The decision ends 3 days of debate among senators whether the blue ribbon committee followed Senate rules in meeting to cite Binay in contempt.

Only chairman Teofisto Guingona III and senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Aquilino Pimentel III were present in the meeting last Monday. It was Guingona who moved to cite Binay in contempt, with Trillanes concurring. 

Binay allies and minority senators Vicente Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan II manifested on the Senate floor that they disagreed with the consensus.

Sotto distinguished between a meeting and a hearing. He said that his interpretation of Senate rules was that one-third of the members of the 20-member blue ribbon committee should have been present in the meeting to constitute a quorum. 

Honasan pointed out that holding a witness in contempt amounts to a deprivation of liberty, and due process must be followed. 

"The conflict must be resolved in favor of the protection of rights. The Senate must be careful in issuing a contempt order. Contempt is punitive," Honasan said.

Yet Guingona insisted that Senate rules do not differentiate between meetings and hearings. 

"Assuming it was a meeting, exactly, the rules say two members of the committee constitute quorum to do business. Do we even have to interpret that?"

Cayetano concluded: "We have to uphold the powers of the Senate. No one is above the law." 

Back to ‘overpriced buildings’

Also cited in contempt were the following: 

The Senate inquiry started with allegations of overpricing of the Makati City Hall 2 parking building. It has since evolved to include other supposed anomalies including a lavish estate the Binays reportedly own, and the Vice President's alleged kickbacks from infrastructure projects and use of dummies when he was mayor of Makati for two decades. 

Cayetano said the Thursday hearing will go back to the alleged overpriced buildings, and senators will ask Mayor Binay to explain. 

The Binays reject the inquiry as a tack of their political opponents to bring down the popularity of the Vice President, the leading frontrunner and the opposition's standard-bearer for the 2016 presidential elections.

For Trillanes, Cayetano and Pimentel, the Vice President must come clean, and simply answer the long-running corruption allegations against him. –