'Open secret in Makati'

By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 18 2014 04:36 PM | Updated as of Nov 19 2014 09:09 AM

Former Makati official accuses Binay of owning Makati condos hidden through dummies

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado accused Vice President Jejomar Binay of owning units in at least six condominium buildings in the city--properties that the former Makati mayor supposedly hides using various dummies--in exchange for granting property developers certain perks.

At the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee's 12th hearing on various allegations against Binay, Mercado presented photographs of the condominium buildings, titles of the units, and other documents. He said he made the revelation to establish a pattern of corruption in Makati under Binay's leadership.

Binay's alleged properties include more than 100-square meter units at The Peak Condominium, Berjaya Hotel, Perla Compania de Seguros Mansion Condotel, Prince Plaza II Condotel, and Avignon Hotel--all named under different individuals.

The supposed dummies are Ariel Olivar, who conducted a survey of the estate in Rosario, Batangas that critics say is Binay's; Celso Santiago, an uncle of Binay's wife Elenita, and Makati project contractors Benjamin Zapanta and Santos Panlilio, and Panlilio's wife Aurora.

None of them were at the hearing, but Olivar submitted a sworn statement that Mercado read aloud.

"My name was registered as the owner to conceal the identity of the true owner of the property," Mercado said, reading from Olivar's affidavit. "I know the true owner of the property to be Vice President Jejomar C. Binay."

Mercado claimed that Binay would grant property developers a year's delay in the payment of real property taxes for their buildings on the condition that they give him condominium units. This would allow developers to save P40 million in taxes, Mercado said.

He said that before this, property developers would also have to cover city engineers' overtime pay for a speedy issuance of building permits.

The transactions would involve the city engineer's office, according to Mercado.

"Ang hinihingi naman sa 'yong condominium na isa o dalawang unit ay halagang P30 million lang din. Aba eh papayag ka na.," he said.

"Iyon ang sistema kung bakit open secret sa Makati na si Vice President Binay, noong panahon ng kanyang panunungkulan bilang mayor, ay may condominium unit kada building."

Mercado added that of the many property developers in Makati, only the Ayalas would not condone Binay and give him condominium units.

Mercado called on the alleged dummies of Binay to come out and attend the Senate's investigation.

"Sana dumating ang pagkakataon na magkaroon sila ng sapat na lakas ng loob, manindigan, at magsalita para sa ikatatapos ng ating mga ginagawang imbestigasyon," he said.

Mercado has made other allegations against Binay, including his supposed ownership of a 350-hectare estate in Rosario, Batangas and use of dummies to conceal it.

The former official had said he was unknowingly used as a dummy, after he found out a parcel of land in the property is registered under his name.

Assuming he is indeed the owner and not Binay as he alleges, Mercado on Tuesday surrendered his piece of land to the government for distribution under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes said he would have to check with his agency's legal department how to go about it.

BINAY CAMP: MERCADO IS REAL OWNER

Binay's camp, however, denied on Tuesday that he owns a condo unit at the The Peak Tower in Makati.

Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla, Binay's spokesman for political affairs, said the unit actually belongs to Mercado.

Remulla released the statement before Mercado could even testify about Binay's alleged ownership of the condo unit.

The allegation has already been talked about in news reports prior to the Tuesday hearing.

"On the contrary, what we know is Ernesto Mercado is the real owner of the Twin Peak condo unit. Dito dating nakatira ang live-in partner nyang si Racquel Ambrosio, na anak ng yumaong comedian na si Babalu," he said.

He said this is also where Ambrosio died from a gunshot wound to the stomach. The couple had an altercation over a property hours before Ambrosio’s death.

As a result, Mercado became the prime suspect. Police later ruled out foul play and said Ambrosio committed suicide.

Remulla said Olivar is the dummy of Mercado.

"We challenge Mr. Olivar to divulge all properties under his name. He is known to be a dummy of Mr. Mercado," he said.

Remulla said Olivar was in the same manifest of the chartered helicopter that was used to take aerial photos of the Sunchamp property in Batangas.

"How can a supposed dummy of the Vice President be on the same manifest of the chartered helicopter used to take aerial photos and videos of the Sunchamp property on October 2? It is only too clear that Mercado’s agenda is to fool the public and cover up his ownership of many undeclared properties."

He said this is part of Mercado's slew of lies.

"Take for example the alleged architectural services contract he claims was allegedly signed by Mrs Binay and an architect that turned out to be a forgery. Then there are the receipts from Tagaytay Highlands which do not prove ownership of a log cabin as Mercado has claimed, a fact attested to by the corporation that runs Tagaytay Highlands. We should also bear in mind that the ocular inspection of the Sunchamp property revealed that Mercado’s claim of the air-conditioned piggery was nothing but a hoax," Remulla said.