Mercado finally takes witness stand in Elenita Binay graft case
MANILA — There’s no turning back, former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado said as he finally took the witness stand in the P72.06-million graft case against former Mayor Elenita Binay.
In an interview with reporters, Mercado said: “Inalis ko na yung atras ng kotse ko, kaya puro abante na lang (I got rid of the reverse gear in my car and it’s all driving forward).”
It was the first time Mercado was allowed to testify on the Commission on Audit’s findings of irregularities in connection with the purchase of office furniture and partitions for the Makati City Hall in 1999.
State prosecutors wanted to present Mercado to explain how an original copy of an audit report ended up in his possession. Binay’s defense team tried to block him from testifying, saying he was not in the position to authenticate the report and speak about its factual veracity.
The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division in July 2015 originally denied the prosecution’s motion to present Mercado as witness. But in January 2016, it granted an appeal and ruled that presenting Mercado would be well within the prosecution’s discretion.
The court also said Mercado was competent enough to testify because he took part in preparing the “management comments” section where the city government explained its side regarding the audit observations.
During the Fifth Division’s Wednesday hearing , Mercado said he received the audit report in 2002 from no less than then-Mayor Jejomar Binay, Mrs. Binay’s husband and predecessor and successor as mayor.
Yet, at the sidelines of the hearing, he said that his testimony was “not against the Binays.”
“Ang testimony naman ay kung ano nangyari doon sa CoA report. So pangit sabihin against the Binay… kasi hindi naman kami magkalaban (The testimony is about what happened to the CoA report. So, it’s not proper to say against the Binay because… we are not the ones fighting here),” Mercado told reporters.
The case is the last surviving graft charge against Mrs. Binay in connection with the alleged irregularities in the purchase of city hall furniture from 1999 to 2000. She had won three other criminal cases related to these purchases.
The Second Division on Apr. 7, 2011 dismissed a P58.04-million graft case on demurrer, which meant that even without rebuttal, the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to sustain the case. The Fifth Division last Oct. 28 also granted the demurrer against a separate P21.7-million case.
The Fourth Division, meanwhile, acquitted Binay last Nov. 17 after her P13.25-million graft case went through a full-blown trial.
Binay also faces four graft and malversation cases pending before the Third Division over the purchase of P45 million worth of hospital beds and sterilizers for the city-run Ospital ng Makati in 2000 and 2001.
As these cases continue, the Third Division has allowed Mrs. Binay to travel to Tokyo and Osaka from April 1 to 8, subject to the payment of a P420,000 travel bond. SFM
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