Santiago: Binay can be impeached
MANILA, Philippines–Vice President Jejomar Binay cannot avoid impeachment for an offense that he may have committed in the past, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Wednesday.
“In my humble, personal opinion, the question of impeachment should have nothing to do with when the crime was committed,” Santiago said on the prospect of impeaching Binay over the allegedly overpriced Makati City parking building.
“Why will he enjoy immunity? That’s the question that can’t be answered by those expressing the opposite position,” she added.
On Monday, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda proposed the impeachment of Binay if only to put closure to the controversy and refocus attention to urgent issues such as countryside growth and urban traffic woes.
But so far, there are no takers in the House of Representatives where impeachment complaints are tackled before they go to the Senate for trial.
The Senate blue ribbon subcommittee is set to invite Binay to its hearing on the allegedly overpriced P2.28-billion Makati City Hall Building II the construction of which began in 2007 when the Vice President was still Makati mayor.
Binay, who has made no secret of his plans to seek the presidency in 2016, has dismissed the inquiry as a forum to vilify him since he enjoyed high approval ratings.
His son, Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, has defended the high cost of the building, claiming it is world-class and a “green building.”
But experts who made an ocular inspection of the building found nothing world-class in the structure.
Santiago said the testimony of former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado was damaging to Binay’s presidential bid.
Mercado admitted during a Senate hearing that he benefited from the construction of the 11-story building, suggesting that Binay too, then mayor, similarly received kickbacks.
Santiago, a former trial court judge, said Mercado’s testimony was strong given that it was a “declaration against interest” and a “confession.”
Everything to lose
“That is very, very strong. He has done serious damage here. I may say not only as a lawyer but also as a former regional trial court judge because under the rules of evidence there is a specific provision on admission against interest which gives the highest priority order,” she said.
Santiago said this could affect Binay’s chances in 2016 since the hearing has become a “trial before public opinion.”
Santiago said Binay had everything to lose if he skipped the Senate hearing.
“If Vice President Binay does not honor the invitation he would lose the opportunity to personally oppose all the statements that have been said against him. In that same hearing they heard only from the complainants,” she said.
In effect, he would lose a “golden opportunity to clear himself,” she added.
“No law allows public opinion to be stifled, so that is why if I were him I would go. I will not be afraid that I might be treated rudely or might be purposely embarrassed by the presiding officer or the hostile senators because there is a provision in the Constitution and in the rules of the Senate that the rights of a person appearing in public investigation shall be respected,” Santiago said.
After Mercado’s bombshell, a former Makati City official revealed that the bidding for the Makati parking building was rigged to favor a construction company.
During the last hearing of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee, former General Services Director Mario Hechanova alleged that procurement officials rigged the bidding for the parking building on orders of the vice president, who was then mayor.
More witnesses concerning the bidding in Makati are expected to appear at the continuation of the Senate’s probe on the alleged overprice of the Makati parking building today, according to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Cayetano also said the panel would not be swayed by any drama concocted by the Binay camp and their spokespersons, which he said were only intended to distract the people from the alleged overpricing.
Binay has denied that the building was overpriced, while his spokesperson said that it was the triumvirate of Hechanova, Mercado and former city engineer Nelson Morales (deceased) who had rigged the biddings.
If witnesses were placed under the Witnesses Protection Program, Cayetano said they would disclose more details about the alleged shenanigans at the Makati City Hall.
“The details will show the people who are really telling the truth. With the details, you can catch who is lying or who is telling the truth,” he added.
Santiago said the Senate should also look at other government projects cornered by Hilmarc’s Construction Corp., which include the Iloilo Convention Center and the House of Representatives south wing annex.
Hilmarc’s won the bidding for the allegedly overpriced Makati parking building.
Santiago called on the proper committee to look into the allegedly overpriced government projects of Hilmarc’s. A similar resolution was filed earlier in the House of Representatives.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, whose pork barrel funds and Disbursement Acceleration Program allocation partly funded the Iloilo Convention Center (ICC), said he was open to any investigation and added that he had nothing to do with the selection of the project’s contractor.
It was the Department of Public Works and Highways that handled the procurement process, Drilon told reporters.
Drilon admitted that some P200 million of his priority development assistance funds and P100 million from his DAP allocation went to the convention center.
In her resolution, Santiago said there were reports that the ICC was overpriced by P531 million and supposedly four times more expensive than the SMX Convention Center. The ICC allegedly cost P109,375 per square meter compared to SMX’s P26,400 per square meter cost.
Sen. Nancy Binay, for her part, said she was thinking of filing her own resolution calling for an inquiry on all government infrastructure projects.
It would not be focused on a single local government or contractor, she said.
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