Sandiganbayan orders trial of Binays to proceed
The Sandiganbayan has found sufficient basis to proceed with the trial of former Vice President Jejomar Binay over alleged irregularities in the first three phases of construction of the Makati City Hall Building when he was the mayor.
In a resolution dated Aug. 31, the antigraft court’s Third Division also issued a finding of probable cause against his son, then Councilor and later Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr., as well as 17 other city officials and two private persons.
The court affirmed the sufficiency of the Ombudsman’s indictment and found that “more likely than not,” the crimes of malversation, falsification of public documents and violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act were committed.
“There is probable cause to issue warrants of arrest against all the accused and to hold them for trial,” the court ruled.
But, since most of the accused, including the Binays, have posted bail, the court no longer saw the need to issue warrants of arrest. Instead, the accused would be arraigned on the morning of Sept. 29.
Daniel Subido, legal counsel of the Binay camp, said the court resolution meant that the case would go to trial in which the prosecution must present evidence.
“We anticipate that prosecution’s so-called evidence would be weak and insufficient. Thus, the case will eventually be dismissed,” Subido said.
Prosecutors said the Binays and their coaccused manipulated the bidding for the contracts in favor of Mana Architecture and Interior Design Co. and Hilmarc’s Construction Corp.
The construction contracts awarded to Hilmarc’s cost P1.486 billion (broken down into P387 million, P499.36 million and P599.4 million for the first three phases), while the architectural design and engineering services contract awarded to Mana amounted to P11.01 million.
The court affirmed the regularity of the Ombudsman’s investigation even if it was done without “adverse findings” by the Commission on Audit (COA).
“A finding of probable cause does not derive its veracity from the findings of COA, but from the independent determination of the Ombudsman,” read the resolution penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane T. Fernandez.
The court said the Ombudsman sufficiently showed the questionable publication of bid invitations for the Makati City Hall car park building, which also cast doubt on whether a public bidding was really held as claimed by the bids and awards committee. Yet, Hilmarc’s received the payments despite the apparent irregularities.
The payment to Mana was questioned because of procurement violations and the firm’s alleged failure to deliver the approved plans and specifications under the contract.
The court said “it would appear” that Mana was “preselected” and Binay Sr. was “privy to the plan to ensure the award of the contract,” citing the sworn statement of the former general services division head, Mario Hechanova.
Prosecutors also amply showed documents to support the allegation that the payments were released despite Mana’s failure to deliver on its obligations.
The accused invoked good faith and the presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties. They also said that their tasks were passive, supportive and clerical in nature.
But the court said those arguments were “matters of defense which are best threshed out during the trial of the case.”
The Binays’ coaccused include City Administrator Marjorie de Veyra, city legal officer Pio Kenneth Dasal, city budget officer Lorenza Amores, city engineer Mario Badillo, city accountants Cecilio Lim III and Leonila Querijero, acting city accountant Raydes Pestaño, city treasurer Nelia Barlis, central planning management office (CPMO) chiefs Virginia Hernandez and Line dela Peña, CPMO engineer Arnel Cadangan, CPMO project inspector Emerito Magat and general services division computer operator Norman Flores.
As for the bids and awards committee, the following members were charged: vice chair Ulysses Orienza, secretary Giovanni Condes, secretariat head Manolito Uyaco and technical working group head Rodel Nayve.
The accused private individuals were Mana senior partner Orlando Mateo and Hilmarc’s chair Efren Canlas.
The cases regarding the first three phases of the City Hall car park building’s construction was the second batch of charges filed by the Ombudsman.
These were brought to the Sandiganbayan only on July 14, 2016, after Binay Sr. lost his immunity from suit upon the end of his vice presidency.
The charges concerning Phases IV and V of construction, which cost P790.73 million and implemented under the mayoralty of Binay Jr., were earlier filed on Feb. 19, 2016, since the father still had his immunity.
The Sandiganbayan Third Division on April 18 this year found probable cause to proceed with the trial regarding this set of cases.
Science High building
On Aug. 1, the Ombudsman found probable cause to indict the Binays for new graft and falsification cases in connection with alleged procurement anomalies over the P1.3-billion Makati Science High School building. The cases have yet to be brought by prosecutors to the Sandiganbayan.
The alleged procurement anomalies hounding Makati’s public infrastructure projects came to the fore during a long-running inquiry by the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee as Binay Sr. prepared for his presidential candidacy. He placed fourth out of five candidates in the May 2016 elections.