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Mercado: It’s my money; should I stay in my room?

Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado  INQUIRER PHOTO/JOAN BONDOC

Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado INQUIRER PHOTO/JOAN BONDOC

“WHAT’S wrong with spending my money?”

This was the reaction of former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, a state witness in the government’s corruption cases against Vice President Jejomar Binay, on reports that he was spotted gambling in a casino.

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“Would you say that because I’m under the WPP (witness protection program), I should just stay in my room?” Mercado told reporters.

Mercado expressed befuddlement at being asked about reports that he bumped into the husband of Sen. Nancy Binay in a casino at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.

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“You know… nothing is wrong with that. What is wrong is when you steal,” he said.

“I am also a businessman. I have my own money, too. My response to that is simple: There’s nothing wrong with engaging in business,” Mercado said, when asked whose money he was using to gamble.

“I have always admitted that I go to cockfights; sometimes I go [gambling in casinos]. That’s just a diversion. What’s wrong is when you steal from the public coffers,” he said.

“Second, I am not even a candidate, so why do they keep attacking me? They only attack me so I will stop talking about their corrupt ways. It’s that simple,” he said of the Binay family.

He challenged Senator Binay to ask her husband if he really saw Mercado inside the casino. “Did he see me inside the casino or in the lobby where I was eating and meeting with someone?”

“Wasn’t it clear from the report in the Inquirer? They saw me in the lobby, near the elevator. It’s a hotel and casino. It doesn’t mean when you go to a hotel and casino, you would go gambling. So ask Nancy Binay to ask her husband,” Mercado said.

At LP rally

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Mercado showed up at the rally of LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas and running mate Leni Robredo at the Makati Coliseum Monday.

His daughter, Karla Mercado, is running for Makati vice mayor under the Liberal Party, teaming up with Makati Mayor Kid Peña, also an LP member.

Asked if he, as a witness under government protection, had asked for the Department of Justice’s permission to attend the event, he said he did not.

“I don’t need to ask for permission because I’m only in Makati,” he said.

But Mercado admitted he also did not ask permission when he went to Clark as he was “only meeting someone.”

Senator Binay and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) Monday called on the DOJ to look into the public sightings of Mercado considering that he is under the government’s witness protection program.

They also questioned Mercado’s presence at the LP rally in Makati Monday.

‘WPP must explain’

Reelectionist Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who went to the Royce Hotel for lunch after a meeting in the province, said the WPP had a lot of explaining to do as he saw no good reason for Mercado to be at the casinos.

“How can you protect a witness in a casino?” said Lacson, who is also a guest candidate on the UNA senatorial slate.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas said the Aquino administration does not tolerate or condone state witnesses going to casinos.

But he said it had yet to verify whether Senator Binay was accurate in her claim that Mercado went to a Pampanga casino with his bodyguards from the witness protection program.

In a statement issued by Malacañang, Caparas said: “We are still confirming that report involving former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado. It’s all speculation at this point.”

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TAGS: casino, Ernesto Mercado, gambling, Jejomar Binay, Nation, News
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