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Drilon: SC can’t stop Senate probe on Binays due to separation of powers

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Senate President Franklin Drilon.  INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Beleaguered Vice President Jejomar Binay cannot question the jurisdiction of the Senate committee inquiring into the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II, according to Senate President Franklin Drilon.

As if anticipating the Binay camp’s threat to take the issue to the Supreme Court, Drilon said the high court cannot stop the Senate from inquiring into any matter or issue under the principle of the separation of powers.

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Drilon said he could not recall any instance where the high court had stopped a Senate inquiry.

“The separation of powers would call for the Senate to continue its investigation in aid of legislation,” he said.

Drilon said he firmly believes the blue ribbon committee has jurisdiction.

“As defined in the rules, on the basis of the resolution filed, there can be hearings in aid of legislation. This is an investigation in aid of legislation,” he told reporters on Friday.

Every Filipino’s right

However, he acknowledged the right of the Vice President and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Jun-jun” Binay Jr., to question in the high court the Senate’s jurisdiction to inquire into the allegedly overpriced P2.3-billion Makati parking building.

“That’s the privilege of every citizen. But let me reiterate that the questions are in aid of legislation, not for anything else. That is consistent with the decisions of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Lawyers representing the Binays on Friday said they would “definitely” take the case to the Supreme Court after the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee rejected the jurisdictional challenge that the Makati mayor interposed to stop the hearing on Thursday.

But Drilon said he doubted that the high tribunal has the power to “enjoin legislative acts” or stop inquiries.

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“The principle of separation of powers dictates that we are supreme in our own sphere,” he said.

“A number of cases have been brought to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has always sustained the right of the legislature to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation,” he said.

Jurisdictional challenge

After appearing in the first hearing that the Senate subcommittee called on the issue, the younger Binay has declined to attend subsequent hearings.

The mayor tried to stop Thursday’s hearing by submitting a motion for jurisdictional challenge, questioning the authority of the Senate subcommittee to conduct an investigation into the issue.

However, the subcommittee headed by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III denied the motion and proceeded with the hearing.

The Vice President also declined an invitation to attend the Thursday hearing, choosing to spend time with the poor in the old Smokey Mountain garbage dump in Tondo.

Binay, who has announced plans to run for the presidency in 2016, has dismissed the inquiry as mere political dirty tactics to scuttle his perceived lead in the presidential preference surveys.

‘Abuse of power’

According to lawyers representing the elder and younger Binay, what the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee did constituted “abuse of power.”

“They are overstepping their authority already. Of course we have respect for our senators but we have to point out that they are overstepping their powers already,” said lawyer Claro Certeza.

Another Binay lawyer, JV Bautista, said the blue ribbon subcommittee had violated the Senate’s internal rules.

“The rules require the blue ribbon subcommittee to rule first on the motion of Mayor Junjun Binay for jurisdictional challenge before proceeding with the inquiry. That was not what happened last Thursday,” he said.

Certeza pointed out that under the Senate’s rules, any jurisdictional challenge “should be resolved by the whole committee and not just the subcommittee.”

He said this was clearly stated in Section 3 of Resolution No. 5, or the rules of procedure governing inquiries in aid of legislation.

He quoted the section as stating that “if the jurisdiction of the committee is challenged on any ground, the issue must first be resolved by the committee before proceeding with the inquiry.”

“If there is a jurisdictional challenge, it has to be decided by the committee as a whole. That did not happen. It was the subcommittee that decided,” Certeza said.

Binays’ last resort

Based on the same rules, if there is a jurisdictional challenge, the proceedings should stop first “because the jurisdiction has to be resolved first,” the lawyer said.

“But the proceedings continued, all witnesses were paraded, and then, oh by the way, your jurisdictional challenge Attorney Certeza, that’s nothing already,” he said.

Bautista said that since the Senate subcommittee has been violating its own rules, the Binay camp’s last resort would be to bring the case to the Supreme Court.

Certeza said they would ask the high court “not to invalidate the investigation” even if they feel it was no longer in aid of legislation but ask the justices to instead “order” the Senate to take the jurisdictional issue to the “committee as a whole.”

The lawyer said that they were not interfering in the powers of the Senate but asking the high court to order the Senate to follow its own rules.

Dummies used

According to another lawyer, Patricia Alvarez, the earliest they can go to the high court for a “judicial review over the illegal acts of the subcommittee” was Monday.

Businessman Jose Orillaza testified on Thursday that he served as a dummy for the Vice President in a security and janitorial services company that obtained contracts with the Makati government when Binay was the mayor.

Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado also testified that Binay had used his longtime aide Gerry Limlingan to hide assets that he had acquired, including an 8,877-square meter lot originally belonging to a military reservation in Barangay Comembo in Makati, valued at P1 billion. Binay has denied he owned the property. With a report from Niña Calleja

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TAGS: Binay, Franklin Drilon, Jejomar Binay, Jejomar Erwin "Jun-jun" Binay Jr., Junjun Binay, Makati City Hall Building II, Mayor Binay, Overpriced Makati Parking Building, Supreme Court, Vice President Binay
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