After 25 hearings, Senate subpanel wraps up probe vs Binay

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 26 2016 01:05 PM | Updated as of Jan 26 2016 01:55 PM

MANILA – After 25 hearings that lasted for nearly a year and a half, the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee has wrapped up its probe on the corruption allegations against Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

Out of the dozens of new resource persons invited to Tuesday's investigation, only Philippine Daily Inquirer writer Nancy Carvajal showed up.

The subcommittee's chairman, Senator Aquilino "Koko'' Pimentel III, said the public committee hearings, which kicked off in August 2014 based on two resolutions filed by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, ends today.

''We would like to assure everyone that the legislative ideas based on the evidence we have gathered as well as our findings on the two resolutions shall be forthcoming. Just to remind everyone, the subcommittee's proceedings were undertaken in aid of legislation,'' Pimentel said.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile was able to question whistleblowers Renato Bondal and former Makati vice-mayor Ernesto Mercado during the final hearing.

Bondal has filed give plunder cases against the Binay while Mercado, a former friend of the vice-president, claims to have personally witnessed how Binay used his power to amass ill-gotten wealth. Enrile said what they have are mere assumptions and need to be proven in court.

"Kayo ang principal witnesses, at malamang pinag-aralan niyo ng masusi ito. Kung kayo nag-aral para parusahan yung tao eh dapat alam ninyo kung ano ba tong foundation na ito na connected kay Vice President at ano naman ang foundation nito kay Gerardo Limlingan? Walang koneksyon kay Vice-President itong sa iba eh," Enrile said.

"Pag pinresenta mo sa husgado yan, that's meaningless eh. You have to trace the flow of wealth. Kung paano, san nanggaling," he added.

The subcommittee investigation began when Trillanes filed a resolution seeking an investigation on the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2.

At the center of the hearings, led by Senators Pimentel, Trillanes, and Alan Peter Cayetano, was former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, a once trusted man of the vice-president.

The subcommittee, in its partial report, said there was a "grand conspiracy" to overprice the structure by at least P1,124,137,306.7 to as high as P1,389,069,379.14.

The probe, however, also went on to cover other allegations of corruption against the vice-president, who is a long-time mayor of Makati City.

The subpanel tackled other allegedly overpriced structures in Makati such as the main Makati City Hall, University of Makati Nursing Building, Makati Science High School Building, and Makati Friendship Suites.

It also questioned the alleged overpricing of supplies for the Ospital ng Makati, the developmental loans allegedly given to Binay's favored parties by the Pag-IBIG Fund, the Boy Scouts of the Philippines – Alphaland joint venture, the UMak – STI joint venture.

Also revealed during the public hearings was Binay's alleged use of a dummy to to acquire an 8,877-square meter land within the Fort Bonifacio military reservation area.

Also scrutinized during the hearings were the benefits being given to Makati City's alleged ''ghost'' senior citizens, Makati City's sister cities program, and the so-called Hacienda Binay.

As a result of the Senate proceedings, the Office of the Ombudsman found probable cause to charge Binay, his son Junjun, and several others for graft in connection with the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2.

The Ombudsman also ordered the dismissal of the younger Binay from public office, dislodging him from his post as Makati mayor.

The Senate subpanel's hearings hurt Binay's popularity at the onset, paving the way for the rise of Senator Grace Poe in the pre-election surveys for president.

However, the vice-president appeared to have weathered the crisis, regaining the top spot in the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey and overtaking Poe.

Meanwhile, the Senate sergeant-at-arms failed to serve 14 arrest orders to resource persons who have repeatedly snubbed the hearing because they were no longer in their registered addresses.

They include Ebeng Baloloy, one of the alleged bagmen of Binay.

Atty. Rico Quicho, Binay's spokesman for political concerns, said the resource persons relied on hearsay evidence to spread black propaganda against Binay ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

"After more than a year of hearings, the subcommittee merely got hearsay evidence. As highlighted by the testimonies of the alleged resource persons, these are all hearsay and they have no personal knowledge...We are fairly confident that this will not stand under judicial scrutiny," he told ANC.

He also said the complaints filed against Binay before the Ombudsman are still under investigation and cannot be considered charges filed before courts.

He accused Senator Antonio Trillanes IV of trying to use the inquiry to pull down Binay's ratings and discredit his accomplishments.