Breaking Down VP Binay’s “Presidential” Speech

by Jego Ragragio, as originally posted on Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles

Vice  President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay finally answered the accusations of graft and corruption hurled against him by his critics and former Makati city officials. Well, sort of.

Before a crowd mostly comprised of Binay supporters, the Vice President delivered a prepared speech, which sums up to the following points:

  1. Binay has a rags-to-riches story worthy of a Maalaala Mo Kaya episode. Or two.
  2. Makati City, under in more than two decades of his leadership, has become a “model city.”
  3. Generally, all of the accusations of graft and corruption are old and recycled.
  4. Specifically, the “evidence” so far offered before the Senate inquiries involving kickbacks from various construction projects in Makati City are “hearsay” and would not be admissible in court.
  5. The Commission on Audit conducted regular audits on city projects, particularly the now-infamous Makati City Hall Building 2, and no anomaly was ever found.
  6. The accusations are of a political character, because Binay has announced his intention to run for President in 2016.
  7. Binay’s struggle is the struggle of all Filipinos who are poor.

As much as Vice President Binay wants this speech to settle the issues raised against him, his speech raises more questions than it provides answers. First, Binay made it clear that he struggled throughout most of his life, and even as a lawyer he did not enrich himself. Aside from a single business declared in his 2103 SALN, Binay has declared no other source of income. Yet if some old reports are to be believed, Binay has amassed a vast amount of property throughout the time he served as Mayor of Makati City. Even if these unconfirmed reports are set aside, it certainly cannot be said that Vice President Binay and his family are not rich now. So the logical question is: if he didn’t make money out of his law practice, and he has no other source of income, then where did his wealth come from?

As for Makati being a “model city,” Winnie Monsod raises a strong counterpoint: Makati developed through a confluence of factors, such as location, a relatively small population, the efforts of the Ayalas in establishing the Central Business District, and the development of its high-value residential villages. All Binay had to do was sit back and collect the taxes – and if the allegations are to be believed, millions in kickbacks – to supply ample government services. Not to mention free cake.

Responding to allegations of corruption during his tenure as Mayor, Binay brushed them aside as “hearsay,” claiming such statements would not be admissible in court. There are several problems with this response. First of all, this is the second time he has changed his angle on these allegations, and the third version of his position. The first time around, his camp claimed that the Makati City Hall Building 2 was not overpriced, and was in fact “world class” and a “green building.” After being confronted with evidence – including damaging testimony from former Vice Mayor Mercado and the absence of a LEED certification for the so-called “green” building – the press release shifted to one that admitted to possible overpricing, but from which only Mercado and the other witnesses profited. We have to wonder, as more and more information surfaces, how many more times will Vice President Binay change his tune?

But more on the “hearsay” angle. The Rules of Court defines “hearsay” evidence under Sec. 36, Rule 130, as testimony on matters that the witness did not derive from his own personal knowledge or perception.  Does the testimony of Mercado and former BAC Chair Mario Hechanova amount to hearsay? Certainly, what they communicated was information they gleaned from their own personal dealings and experiences, so in that sense what they stated is not “hearsay.” And they’re not done. Perhaps Vice President should hold off on dismissing the evidence until the investigation ends.

Similarly, the Binays should probably hold off on insisting that the Commission on Audit has cleared their construction projects, particularly the Makati City Hall Building 2. Yes, the resident auditor submitted a report in their favor. But that report apparently means squat, since COA Commissioner Tan is keen on reinvestigating the project, saying she has “many questions” about the way the project was conducted. It would be interesting to see how the impending COA special audit unfolds, and how the new findings will contrast with those submitted by the resident auditor.

Are the allegations all just political? Admittedly, it’s easy to see how anyone could interpret it that way, with another Presidential aspirant leading the charge in the Senate, and a losing mayoral candidate leading the charge before the Ombudsman. But then, using the same standard he is now imposing on his critics, such a defense of “it’s just political” would be similarly thrown out in a court of law as being no defense at all. As a lawyer, and a human rights lawyer at that, surely he knows that as the one accused, he cannot just rely on the weakness of the case of the accusers. Moreso at this stage of the Senate investigation, where more evidence is said to be revealed soon.

All told, it seems that Vice President’s speech was less of a response to allegations, and more of a reassurance to his voter base (and his investors?) that he is still the heir apparent to Malacanang. This tack of brushing the controversies aside, however, may yet catch up with Binay. We Filipinos have been burned far too often, by promises of being “para sa mahirap” and that the incumbent “cares,” to let allegations of this scale pass without a solid, definitive refutation. And whether we admit it or not, the call to the “Tuwid na Daan,” to the straight and narrow path of doing the right thing for it’s own sake, has resonated with us, so much so that we use it as a yardstick to measure no less than the person who invoked it as his vision for the country.

Binay can be assured that we will not hesitate to measure him by the exact same standard. When the time comes, he’d better be ready to measure up.

Photo from the Vice President Jojo Binay Facebook page. Some rights reserved.