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Binay camp discredits 2 witnesses in hearing

Vice President Jejomar Binay INQUIRER file photo

Vice President Jejomar Binay.  INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay on Thursday moved to discredit two witnesses who testified in the Senate on Wednesday on the discovery of more “ghost” senior citizens in Makati City’s books and the snaring of P5 billion in service contracts by companies allegedly fronting for Binay.

Joey Salgado, a spokesman for Binay, said acting Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña should ask Arturo Cruto, the officer in charge of the Makati Action Center (MAC) who testified that the city loses more than P300 million a year during the Binays’ tenures to phantom senior citizens, to settle more than P2 million in unliquidated cash advances.

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In a radio interview, lawyer Rico Quicho, Binay’s political spokesman, asked whether people should believe the testimony of a witness who belonged to the group of Peña and whose objective was to vilify Binay.

Quicho did not name the witness but he was clearly referring to Violeta Lazo, officer in charge of the general services department of Makati who testified on the service contracts awarded by the city government to companies allegedly fronting for Binay between 2005 and 2014, covering the period when Binay was mayor of the city up to the suspension of his son, Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr..

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Inspired by uncle

Speaking in a radio interview in Ilocos Norte province on Wednesday, the Vice President defended the senior citizens program, claiming it was his idea to “provide dignity and respect” to Makati’s elderly residents and that the idea was inspired by his respect for his uncle who raised him after he was orphaned.

Binay also said the testimonies in the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee on Wednesday were lies and mere allegations, and made it clear this was the reason why he brought a damage suit against the people who vilified him.

“To our people, whenever you hear the style of (Sen. Antonio) Trillanes, of defaming me without basis, do not believe it immediately,” Binay said.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Cruto said a survey conducted by his office showed that 41 percent of senior citizens in five new Makati barangays (villages) could not be found and were not registered there as voters.

In her testimony, Lazo said an ongoing review of service contracts awarded by the city in the past 10-12 years showed that most of the P5.6 billion worth of contracts for janitorial, security and IT services were awarded to companies run by people identified with Binay.

One of the companies was a security firm that turned out to be owned by the brother-in-law of Sen. Nancy Binay but who reportedly divested himself of his shares in 2006.

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Cash advances

In a statement, Salgado asked Peña to order Cruto to settle more than P2 million in unliquidated cash advances he made in 2004 and 2005.

“We would like to remind the acting mayor that he had personally vouched for the ‘untarnished’ employment records of his appointees. It would do him well to take a closer look at the records of his other appointees to ensure that they do not have outstanding obligations like Cruto,” Salgado said.

He said Cruto used to be the executive assistant of former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, the principal witness against Binay in the Senate’s investigation of allegations that the Vice President amassed ill-gotten wealth during his three terms as mayor of Makati.

Gilbert de los Reyes, head of the Makati public information office, said the city government would verify Salgado’s information.

He said the information could be a bluff or Binay’s camp gave “bloated” figures.

Peña, he said, will issue a statement after the verification.

Program defended

In his radio interview, Quicho said Ryan Barcelo, the former head of the Makati social welfare department, was able to defend the senior citizens program, but the senators insisted on discrediting the Vice President and linking him to alleged irregularities.

In an interview on television, Quicho said Barcelo was able to explain well the process of registration for senior citizens in Makati, as well as the vetting and evaluation process.

He also said Barcelo was able to show that residents issued senior citizen cards were accounted for and that benefits intended for them did go to them.

“So it’s clear that there are no ghost senior citizens and that they got their benefits due them,” Quicho said.

And that was why when the senators could not break Barcelo, they switched to the allegation that Makati City Rep. Abigail Binay, a daughter of the Vice President, allocated pork barrel funds to the city government.

Quicho said the congresswoman did allocate funds for medical and burial assistance for Makati residents through a trust fund and issued checks to Barcelo to ensure quick release of funds.

Quicho said Trillanes did not show the checks during the hearing on Wednesday because the checks did not come from Representative Binay but from the national government and that this was paid to Barcelo because he was then the disbursing officer and bonded officer.

“So this had undergone a process,” Quicho said.

Congresswoman Binay criticized Trillanes for bringing up the pork barrel allocation to Makati in the Senate investigation, saying the senator had no proof of irregularity.

The congresswoman said she was ready to face the inquiry anytime to answer Trillanes’ allegations.

Case against Rep. Binay

But Trillanes on Thursday said that there was no need for Congresswoman Binay to be called to the inquiry.

If the congresswoman wants to explain the transactions involving her pork barrel allocations, she can do so by answering the complaint that will be filed against her next week, Trillanes said.

“Congresswoman Binay is irrelevant to the investigation. I just raised the subject [of] the checks to test the credibility of Mr. Barcelo,” Trillanes said.

“Besides, the case against her would be filed next week and all the details about the checks issued in the name of Mr. Barcelo from her [Priority Development Assistance] Fund would be included in the complaint,” he said.

As for Lazo, Quicho, this time speaking in a radio interview, said the blue ribbon subcommittee presented a new city government official under Peña who was now undertaking a review of service contracts in the city.

“But the question is, between the person doing the investigation and the Commission on Audit (COA), which for the past 10 years audited these transactions and did not make any adverse findings, who will you believe?” he said.

Without mentioning Lazo’s name, Quicho said the witness belonged to Peña’s group and she was brought in to vilify the Vice President.

Strict procedures

Quicho insisted the companies that were awarded service contracts went through strict bidding and postaudit processes.

He said the COA scrutinized the contracts after the companies had completed them.

“It was just now under Senator Trillanes who has many consultants that it was being alleged that there were anomalies in these transactions,” Quicho said.

Quicho also asked whether the people should believe Trillanes who was “really lying and that was why the Vice President had filed a suit against him.”

“For us, what is believable here is the agency that was established by the Constitution [and that] had said there [were] no anomalies in these transactions,” he added, referring to the COA.

Told that there were claims that the resident COA auditor in Makati was conniving with Binay, Quicho said that was always the allegation of Trillanes and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano.

Quicho insisted that the resource persons presented by Trillanes, and Trillanes himself, were all telling lies and that they were “all in conspiracy to destroy the Vice President.”

He said Binay’s lawyers had requested a deposition from the court showing the Vice President intended to go through the case he filed against his accusers.

“We will prove that all these are lies and [the] people will see that in the end the Vice President’s programs in Makati City were aboveboard,” Quicho said. Christine O. Avendaño, With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and Maricar B. Brizuela

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TAGS: Arturo Cruto, Binay camp, ghost senior citizens, Jejomar Bnaym, Joey Salgado, Rico Quico, Violeta Lazo, witnesses
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