5 Binay ‘dummies’ no-shows in 22nd Senate graft hearing
Five suspected dummies of Vice President Jejomar Binay were missing, as usual, at the latest hearing Tuesday of a months-long Senate probe, prompting senators to say that their continued absences were a sign of guilt.
The 22nd hearing of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee looking into corruption allegations against the Vice President dwelt lengthily on Binay’s absence as well as that of his alleged fronts—Binay aides Gerry Limlingan and Ebeng Baloloy; Dr. Jack Arroyo, nephew of Binay’s friend Senator Joker Arroyo; Laureano Gregorio; and Erlinda Chong.
Senator Koko Pimentel told reporters that the continued absence of Binay and his five alleged dummies despite repeated invitations was” sign of guilt.”
“Absence in hearings, by analogy, is like flights. It’s like you are running, flying, going far. There is a doctrine in law that flight is an indication of guilt so let’s just stretch it—absence or refusal to attend despite repetitive invitations should already be an indication of guilt,” said Pimentel.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said: “This is a pattern that we want to establish. These dummies are not facing (the Senate subcommittee) because they know they will not be able to get away. Laureano Gregorio, Gerry Limlingan, Ebeng Baloloy, Jack Arroyo and so on… They cannot get away with it here at the Senate because we are relentless.”
But the biggest disappearing act that senators apparently wanted to highlight Tuesday was the continued snub from Binay himself.
Before the start of the hearing, a seat was prepared for the Vice President. The panel gave Binay “sufficient time” to appear before them. Binay did not show up but the panel proceeded with the session.
Pimentel said his subcommittee would hold four more hearings. “There are still many unresolved issues because we have many uncooperative resource persons. Many are sick, many are abroad,” he told reporters.
Binay has denied wrongdoing. He said the long-running hearings were meant to derail his bid for the presidency next year.
Trillanes had previously claimed that both Limlingan and Baloloy, who have already been cited for contempt by the Senate, have fled the country. Bureau of Immigration lawyer Elaine Tan said records showed Limlingan and Baloloy were in the country but Trillanes got an affirmative reply when he raised the possibility that they might have escaped through the backdoor.
Limlingan is a personal friend and financial manager of Binay while Baloloy is a distant relative and his longtime executive assistant.
The panel also recommended that both Arroyo and Gregorio be cited for contempt for ignoring the Senate invitations.
Arroyo has been alleged to be a dummy of Binay in a joint venture agreement between the University of Makati (UMak) and STI to run a nursing college in the public university.
Trillanes berated UMak president Tomas Lopez as well as STI officials Eusebio Tanco and Monico Jacob, insisting they had come with a “bagful of bola” (jokes) to mislead the panel on alleged irregularities in the tieup with a nursing course in the Makati university.
Gregorio, on the other hand, is the alleged original owner of the so-called Hacienda Binay in Rosario, Batangas province, which businessman Antonio Tiu claimed to have bought.
The senators were not too happy when the matriarch of the wealthy Chong family, Erlinda, sent her son to represent her in the hearing.
Trillanes insisted on Erlinda Chong’s appearance at the inquiry, so that she herself could answer questions about her alleged dealings with Binay.
There is a standing warrant for the matriarch’s arrest for her absence in earlier hearings. Her children have said that she was undergoing treatment in Hong Kong. She had already left the country when the warrant was issued.
During the hearing, Trillanes observed how Erlinda was either so lucky to have acquired an 8,877-square-meter property in Makati City owned by the Philippine Army for P17 million (currently worth P1 billion), or, she is a dummy of Binay.
Kimsfer Chong, president of Meriras Realty and Development Corp., vehemently denied that his mother, Erlinda, and family members were Binay dummies, adding that the family had “real businesses.”
But former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado said the Chongs might have legitimate businesses set up on the 8,877-sqm property in Makati City, but its “true owner” was Binay.
Mercado, a former Binay ally who has turned against the Vice President, said that while the Chong matriarch was the owner on paper, in truth it belonged to Gerry Limlingan and wife, Marguerite Lichnock, supposedly fronting for Binay.
The property, which used to belong to the Philippine Army’s 525th Engineering Battalion, was first leased by Meriras and later acquired by Erlinda Chong in 1999 for P17.7 million, a deal that two senators also questioned on Tuesday as they noted that the property was now supposedly estimated to be worth P1 billion.
Now worth P1B
Trillanes described the sale as an “injustice.” Pimentel, the panel chair, joined Trillanes’ “outrage” at the “jackpot” deal.
“You’re so lucky. Why is Erlinda Chong so lucky to get this property that the Philippine Army gave to the local government of Makati? Why did it go to you? You know why? Because you are the dummy of Vice President Binay,” Trillanes said.
But Kimsfer Chong disputed this and said his family did not act as a front for Binay. He said his mother acquired it for P17.7 million, and he doubted the property could be worth P1 billion.
“Our businesses are all legal, legitimate,” he said.
The Chongs own 67 percent of Meriras, which put up the improvements on the property.
Part of the property was sold to the Latter-Day Saints.
Environment department executive Alvin Constantino testified that there was nothing improper in the sale of the property to Chong because under the law, the property was allowed to be leased, and the lessee also had the option to purchase it.
Mercado said the Chongs were not 100-percent dummies and were business partners of Binay. They had put up a building and businesses on the property, he said.
But Mercado maintained that Binay owned the lot. Mercado said he had been part of the process of the acquisition of the property.
In an earlier hearing, Mercado testified that Binay told him to convince the Army to divide the lot between it and the city government. Makati’s half would be developed to contain various establishments to provide services to city residents, but this did not push through.
Also on Tuesday, the Binays’ political rival Renato Bondal was allowed to show a presentation criticizing the Binays for their earlier actions.
These included Makati Mayor Junjun Binay’s confrontation with security guards of the exclusive Dasmariñas Village who refused to let his convoy pass through a gate where exit is prohibited. The mayor had insisted on using the gate, and later hauled the security guards to the Makati police station. With the mayor at the time was Sen. Nancy Binay.
Bondal alleged that the senator, who went down from her vehicle to watch the confrontation, carried a gun. He said she even hid the gun behind her back.
He also showed a video of the demolition of houses at the Laperal compound in Makati, and the Vice President’s recent confrontation with police officers after the Ombudsman ordered the mayor’s preventive suspension.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.