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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Binay’s day is here


AND SO it is that barely a month into the new chapter of his life as a private citizen, Jejomar Binay, former vice president of the Philippines and longtime mayor of Makati, finds himself charged with corruption by the Ombudsman at the Sandiganbayan. Shorn of the immunity that his former position carries, Binay has formally been asked to do the one thing that was repeatedly asked of him by various quarters—the Senate, the media, his eventual cocandidates in the presidential race, citizens on social media—from the time allegations of corruption against him surfaced and found traction in the news, but which he dodged and evaded every time: Answer questions.

The case stems from the construction of the Makati Parking Building II, that was begun under Binay’s last term as mayor and completed by his successor as hizzoner, his son and namesake. According to the Commission on Audit, “the construction of the Makati Parking Building II from phase 1 to 5 totalling P2.8 billion showed irregularities from budgeting to procurement to execution resulting in the misuse of public funds.” Binay is liable for these irregularities, the COA said, because he was the head of the procuring entity from 2007 to 2010. The COA’s 12-member special audit recommended that he be charged with grave misconduct, dishonesty, gross inexcusable negligence, and graft and corrupt practices.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has made good on her promise to file charges against Binay based on the COA report and her own office’s investigation that found probable cause to hale the former VP to court. Answering the Ombudsman’s charges within a court setting would be a new experience for Binay; in the past, he issued blanket denials of wrongdoing, refused to attend any hearing of the Senate inquiry into the alleged corrupt practices at Makati City Hall, and accused Morales of bias, her actions supposedly part of a demolition job by the Aquino administration on its rivals in the opposition.

Binay, the early front-runner in the 2016 presidential race and the public’s most highly regarded official for a sustained period according to surveys, had hoped to ride out the controversy by saying little and appearing to be above the fray. He let his lieutenants do the talking; the one time he delivered a speech that was to finally answer in detail the questions surrounding his actions as Makati mayor, he launched into an autobiographical reminiscence, once again trundling out his past as a poor orphan who made good by becoming a lawyer and a freedom fighter during the Marcos martial law era. The ad misericordiam defense was carried over to the campaign: His ads, statements and appearances highlighted his life story but completely ignored the corruption allegations, which would eventually metastasize to include such sensational bits as a sprawling hacienda in Batangas with faux English gardens.

The weight of all those unanswered questions took a toll on Binay’s commanding lead in the campaign, which was bogged down further by his lackluster showing in the presidential debates. He finished a dismal fourth in the race, and now the convenient catch-all cover of political bias that he had wielded with abandon at anyone trying to extract answers from him is gone. He can’t plead demolition job anymore; he is a private citizen now, and while a daughter has managed to win back the old family seat as Makati mayor and another is a senator, the house of Binay is much diminished from the entrenched and powerful political dynasty that it was mere months ago.

If Binay is innocent, as he has always maintained he is, then he must welcome the chance, finally, to use all the legal resources at his disposal to clear his name. He would answer the charges at the proper forum, he had repeated ad nauseam every time he was confronted about his past conduct. Is there any forum more proper than the Sandiganbayan for such a project?

The day he had seemed to dread and avoided for so long is here. What the long (and ultimately futile) march to the presidency could not force out of him, perhaps the court can, at last—an honest summation, for starters, of how an 11-story building originally estimated by the National Statistics Office to cost only P246 million would bill Makati City a whopping P2.7 billion upon completion. This moment of accountability has been a long time coming.

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