(5TH UPDATE) THE SUSPENSION order against Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay and other city officials was condemned ?in the strongest terms? and branded as ?illegal? by the opposition on Tuesday as allies of the embattled local executive rushed to his side at the Makati City Hall where he has holed out.
The DILG served the 60-day suspension order against Binay, Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado and 16 councilors earlier in the day over charges they kept so-called ?ghost employees.?
Binay has denied the accusation.
Former president Corazon Aquino, a close friend of Binay, went to the Makati City Hall to show her support for the mayor and urged everyone to ?pray for justice.?
Others who showed up at Binay?s side were fellow Metro Manila Mayors JV Ejercito of San Juan and Toby Tiangco, and Representatives Agipito Aquino of Makati and Imee Marcos of Ilocos Norte.
The left-leaning Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance or Bayan), in a statement, vowed to join the barricade at the city hall and held the Arroyo administration responsible for the crisis in Makati.
?We should show that we are all for justice,? the former president said at a press conference. ?Jojo (Binay) you can count on my support and prayers.?
"We are all for justice. We have seen the goodness of Mayor (Binay). In my opinion, he's even a role model," she said.
?We should all pray for justice,? she added.
House Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero said the order was ?illegal, unlawful, baseless and blatant violation of the law and due process.?
But Makati Representative Teodoro Locsin Jr. saw not politics but greed for money as behind Binay?s suspension.
?I believe that those people behind it are motivated by money,? Locsin said in a phone interview. ?They want to remove the entire administration in Makati because they want to steal the money.?
Home to the main business district, Makati generates between P6 billion to P8 billion in annual revenues.
The ?more realistic explanation,? said Locsin, was that there are ?crooks? in the administration who want to control the economy of Makati.
Asked to identify who these ?crooks? are, Locsin said: ?These are the same people who want our pork barrel to pass through them.?
?The media should just look at them. Look at their faces and you'll know. You shouldn?t be scared; they are just human,? he added.
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan asked the administration to exercise more restraint in handling political dissent, saying moves like Binay?s suspension only increased tensions.
"Political tension will only increase with this latest suspension order. It would be best for the administration to rethink its policy of clamping down on legitimate political dissent. It should exercise greater restraint in dealing with those critical of its policies and programs,? he said.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who is in Geneva for the International Parliamentary Union assembly, e-mailed his reaction.
?The suspension of Mayor Jejomar Binay shows ruthless, schizophrenic, hypocritical Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo prosecuting local government officials who are against her while coddling others supporting her. It?s time to use all licit moves to check her abuses,? he said.
Senator Edgardo Angara worried about the repercussions on the country?s international image by what he called an ?abuse of the justice system.?
He called the stand-off at the Makati City Hall an ?ugly sight in the financial capital of the country, which hosts the offices of many foreign businesses, including the world's biggest foreign banks.?
?I'm sure the wire services are flashing this news all over the world,? he said.
Both Angara and Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., who called Binay?s suspension ?pure and simple political persecution,? was an administration crackdown on the opposition in preparation for next year?s elections.
Magsaysay said Binay?s suspension was part of ?a selective, partisan suspension of opposition mayors,? citing Pasay City?s Wenceslao Trinidad and Baguio?s Braulio Yaranan, both oppositionists.
In a text message, Escudero said Binay's suspension was clearly a case of harassment against the administration's perceived enemies.
?Why does the administration always seem to be looking for a fight and are harassing the opposition? Do they always want to have unrest? And to do it to the main international and local business district. Or do they really want to erase the opposition?? said Escudero in Filipino.
Escudero also lambasted the appointment of an officer-in-charge by the Department Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the city, saying it showed the government's blatant disregard of the election process and democracy.
During last week's deliberation of the proposed 2007 budget at the House of Representatives, Escudero questioned why the administration seemed to be going after opposition personalities only.
He pointed out that there were more administration allies with more pending cases before the Office of the Ombudsman but none of them have been charged or suspended from their posts.
Escudero then reiterated his call to the Ombudsman to remain impartial and not single out those in the opposition.
"I will support my mayor because I believe he was falsely accused or falsely suspended. Obviously it is a kind of political harassment because the charges are not very clear," Representative Aquino, of Makati's 1st District, said in a chance interview.
Marcos said they were willing to stay with Binay until his suspension is rescinded.
Tiangco and Ejercito did not discount the possibility they could be next in line for suspension.
"Why are we being singled out? Why are they doing this to the opposition?" Tiangco asked.
"They do this to those who appear to be unbeatable in the 2007 elections," Ejercito said.
"I just hope that the people would be wary, even the media, that we have now not only a stealing, not only a cheating, not only a lying Presidency, but we also have now a killing presidency. It is time to wake up," Ejercito added, referring to the spate of killings he says has gone beyond targeting activists and journalists to including the political opposition.
?Political persecution under this administration knows no bounds. The obvious thing is that the suspension order is politically motivated and is intended to weaken an opposition base,? said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes.
?We hold the Arroyo regime directly responsible for the crisis and standoff in Makati. This is wholesale political persecution. This is the executive massacre of local officials opposed to the administration. If unchecked, other opposition officials might suffer the same fate,? he added.
Reyes also condemned the manner by which the suspension order was served.
?The administration knows that the only way for its illegal orders to be implemented is through coercion and intimidation. What they did at dawn today was cowardly to say the least,? Reyes said.
He said the people saw through the action and were enraged by it.
?Everyone knows that Malacańang is sponsoring an election slate in Makati against the oppositionist Binays. The suspension order will surely benefit election rivals sponsored by the Palace,? Reyes said.