Cayetano warns Binay will save senators indicted for pork scam
MANILA, Philippines — Can and will Vice President Jejomar Binay save opposition senators indicted over the alleged pork barrel scam if he becomes president in 2016?
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano warned of this possibility on Sunday, pointing to the Vice President’s purported silence over the alleged involvement, particularly of Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, in the multi-billion-peso racket.
Cayetano, said to be positioning himself as well in the 2016 presidential race, criticized Binay for still considering Estrada as a possible running mate even if the senator had been implicated in the corruption case.
“Let’s not be naive.. a president who wants to interfere from 2016 to 2022 and after that, can interfere. Of course, that’s an impeachable offense, if you can catch him,” Cayetano said in a radio interview over DZBB.
Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. and Estrada were charged with plunder before the Sandiganbayan last week for allegedly amassing millions in kickbacks from their Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations.
Enrile and Estrada belong to Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance, the Vice President’s main political vehicle in the presidential election two years from now.
Estrada, Revilla, and Enrile, along with Janet Lim-Napoles and five other accused, could be arrested this week once that case is raffled off and warrants are issued by the anti-graft court.
Cayetano questioned why Binay had not been supposedly demanding accountability from Estrada, in particular, even in the face of what he called “overwhelming” evidence.
“Supposedly if you’re a candidate for 2016, you would say that you would send even your own ally to jail. But it’s not happening in our country,” he said.
“[Binay is] even saying that he would make [Estrada] his vice president,” he added.
“I’m not judging Vice President Binay for anything else but for his own actuations.”
Cayetano said the public should not “play blind” to the possibility that the choice of the next president would “have an effect on the case of the three [senators].”
Cayetano said the arrest of his three colleagues “would even serve as a good example [and] send a strong message to Congress, to the Senate, to the Cabinet that if you do something bad, you will go to jail.”
If Estrada is picked as Binay’s runningmate and goes on to win the vice presidency, Cayetano said the plunder case against him could still proceed. But if Estrada was convicted, the sentence could not be carried out during his incumbency unless he was removed via impeachment, he said.
“But more than the legal aspect, the biggest question is the influence that a vice president could exert over the case,” the senator told the Inquirer by phone.
“It would send the message to prosecutors, to the justices of the Sandiganbayan that you shouldn’t touch [him], especially if it happens that the sitting President is [his] ally.”
Given the supposed Binay factor, Cayetano joined calls for the creation for a special Sandiganbayan division to hear solely the pork barrel case. He said the Supreme Court should also allow live media coverage of the trial.
“It’s not true that the case cannot be finished within the next 500 to 600 days. There are still [around] 700 days before the  election,” he said over DZBB.
Cayetano warned that the next president would be in a position to influence the pork barrel case, given his or her power to appoint people in the judiciary and the prosecution service.
“They fear that the President [Aquino] would use his power to influnece the case, but it’s the other way around. The next administration is that one that could use its powers to either acquit or send people to jail,” he said.
Joey Salgado, spokesman of the Binay, reiterated the Vice President’s respect for the rule of law and the independence of the courts.
“Should he be elected President by the people in 2016, he will respect the independence of the courts and will not interfere in its proceedings, nor will he extend pardon if the courts decide that the evidence is strong enough to warrant a conviction. This applies even to the other personalities who have been named in the affidavits of Janet Lim-Napoles, Benhur Luy and the other whistleblowers. For example, should Sen. Cayetano or other legislators find themselves in a similar situation, they can rest assured that a President Binay will respect the independence of the courts.”
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