MANILA, Philippines - Former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado is in the United States with the knowledge of the Senate and the Department of Justice (DOJ), ostensibly to settle family matters.
In a radio interview from the US yesterday, Mercado admitted that his family owns the Coron Underwater Garden Resort in Palawan.
But Vice President Jejomar Binay’s nemesis said the property is only a 1.2-hectare “islet,” not an island of several hundred hectares as Binay’s camp claims.
In the same interview with dzBB, Mercado admitted that Ariel Olivar, whom he exposed as the alleged dummy of Binay, is his first cousin.
Mercado denied owning any property or bank account in the US, or any knowledge of bank accounts or property registered in the name of his ailing wife, who has been staying in the US for years.
He said he is in the US to settle some family matters, and that it had prior approval from the DOJ, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.
The resort, among the top tourist destinations in Palawan, is described in www.asiatravel.com as: “A vast water park giving a pleasurable encounter with water in all its richness, enjoy several activities together with your family and friends. Take a peek at the beautiful marine life with our top of the line snorkeling gadget, enjoy the ride and try our jet ski, speed boat, family motor boat, kayak and our 2-seater boat.”
Mercado said he allowed the organizers of Miss Earth International to use the resort for free as sleeping quarters for candidates starting tomorrow until Nov. 25 upon the request of “close family friend” Coron Mayor Clara Reyes.
Allowing pageant contestants to stay in the resort would promote Coron as premier tourist destination, he added.
Earlier, Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) interim president and spokesman, asked the organizers of the Miss Earth International pageant to reconsider their arrangement with the Coron Underwater Garden Resort, saying the resort was a fruit of Mercado’s ill-gotten wealth.
“While I fully support initiatives to showcase the beauty of the Philippines, specifically that of the islands of Palawan, and help promote responsible tourism in the area, I have second thoughts over holding an international event in the 100-hectare Coron Underwater Garden Resort in Palawan,” Tiangco said in a letter to Carousel Productions’ Ramon Monzon and Lorraine Schuck Thursday.
However, Mercado said his ownership of the “islet” was fully documented by the Coron municipal government.
Mercado was placed under the DOJ witness protection program after he exposed alleged anomalies in Makati City when the Vice President was still mayor. He said he left Manila on Nov. 18 and is expected back on Nov. 30.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima sees nothing wrong with Mercado’s US trip.
“Without confirming or denying (the flight), let me just state that there is nothing in the WPP law that prohibits a witness from leaving the country. We are not jailers,” she told reporters in an ambush interview.
De Lima explained that while witnesses covered by the WPP are discouraged from traveling abroad, they cannot be prevented from doing so – especially if the trip is necessary.
“I don’t want to give any information on that because we all know that there is confidentiality provision in the WPP law, essentially because of security reasons,” she explained when asked for details of Mercado’s trip. She also declined to say if Mercado had been provided security escorts.
Mercado reportedly left the country for Los Angeles on Philippine Airlines flight PR 102.
De Lima told senators during the budget hearing last Thursday that they were not ruling out investigating Mercado on allegations of corruption raised by the camp of Binay. – Edu Punay, Janvic Mateo, Helen Flores
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