Binay: Political rival behind plunder raps
MANILA, Philippines–Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday said the allegation that he and his son allowed the construction of an overpriced P1.56-billion parking building beside Makati City Hall had “no factual or legal leg to stand on.”
Binay expressed hope that a fair evaluation of the plunder complaint against him and his son, Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, would result in the Ombudsman dismissing the complaint.
Speaking before finance and business executives, he said politics and the 2016 presidential election had prompted the filing of the plunder complaint by his old political foes. But he hinted that his foes were backed by a political rival.
“This complaint is no exception, although we have been informed that this time around, our local opponents have been provided with the needed resources, financial and otherwise, by certain national interest groups, particularly a group of lawyers closely identified with a national personality,” he said in a speech before a joint meeting of the Finance Executives Institute of the Philippines and Management Association of the Philippines in Makati.
Pressed by reporters on the identity of the national personality, Binay declined to name the person.
The Vice President and his son came out to defend the construction of the New Makati City Parking Building on F. Zobel Street in Barangay (village) Poblacion, which complainants Renato Bondal and Nicolas Enciso VI of Save Makati Movement said was grossly overpriced. They said the building was the “most expensive parking building in the entire country.”
In his speech, the elder Binay said that those behind the plunder case against him were intent on sowing intrigue between him and President Aquino.
“They want me to think that the Palace is orchestrating the filing of this baseless complaint against me and my son … to divert attention from the impeachment complaints filed against the President,” he said.
He wondered why those who filed the complaint excluded the names of their allies and party mates who were “part of the city council and were present when the council approved the ordinances they cited.”
The Vice President said that “in a fair and impartial evaluation,” the plunder complaint and other complaints he expected to be filed against him would be dismissed.
Binay and his son urged the reporters to go to the building, which they said was not a parking building alone as claimed by the complainants.
They said the building housed business and service offices of the Makati City Hall.
“It would be malicious to say that this is the most expensive parking lot,” Mayor Binay said, adding that parking was the secondary purpose for putting up the building.
The younger Binay said the city had to put parking spaces in the building because it was cheaper to put up a building than dig deeper for basement parking.
But the Binays did not give the cost of putting up the building.
The Vice President said that “in the process of constructing, the government agency is allowed to engage in variations if it’s needed in the construction.”
On the complainants’ claim that the project should have cost only P245.6 million based on the cost estimate by the National Statistics Office (NSO) for commercial buildings in Makati, he cited a Supreme Court decision that said that the NSO was not the agency tasked with determining whether a project was overpriced.
“One should ask around, go out and compare the costs,” Binay said.
Like prices of T-shirt
The Vice President likened the pricing of the building to that of a T-shirt, saying that prices of T-shirts vary depending on their style.
He said that in Makati, city officials had made it a point to construct schools and hospitals that were of high quality.
The Vice President also questioned the complaint’s allegation that the building was overpriced when the Commission on Audit (COA) had not completed its auditing.
Wait for COA audit
The younger Binay asked the media to wait for the COA audit on the building.
Since the building was constructed, the mayor said the COA had neither notified City Hall of any auditing problem nor issued an audit memorandum observation on the property.
He and the others, the younger Binay said, could show proof that they followed proper procedures, such as undertaking a public bidding for the construction of the building, contrary to the allegations of the complainants.
The mayor denied the complainants’ claim that the local government could have put up the building for just P7,000 per square meter because such amount would apply only to low-cost housing units.
Aside from the Binays, 23 others were charged with plunder and violation of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).
An ally of the Binays said the timing of the filing of the plunder case against the Vice President showed that it was politically motivated.
“Obviously, it’s political in nature because 2016 is around the corner,” said Sen. JV Ejercito of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
“If that was serious, why wasn’t it filed when the Vice President was still a mayor or shortly thereafter, in his first or second year as Vice President?” Ejercito added.
UNA secretary general Toby Tiango expects more charges to be filed against the Vice President.
“No, we’re not worried … This is not the first one,” said Tiangco, a Navotas City representative.
He said it was clear that the case filed by a group of Makati residents against Binay, his son and 23 others was motivated by politics.
Binay, who has announced a plan to run for president, is widely considered the leading contender in the presidential race two years before the election.
A recent Pulse Asia survey showed he was ahead by a huge margin, with 41 percent of the nationwide vote against the 12 percent of his closest competitor, Sen. Grace Poe.
“The disadvantage of being on top is that there will be an increase of such kind of attacks. But whether this will affect the Vice President’s ratings is another matter,” Tiangco said.
“I think the people are smart enough to realize this is just politics,” he said.
He said he had talked to Binay about the issue, and that the latter was not bothered. “He said our lawyers are on it, and that we should not be distracted by things like this,” Tiangco said.–With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and DJ Yap
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