The struggle for power: Keeping up with the Binays

BY MARY JOY FERNANDEZ


“Ganito kami sa Makati.”

Thus was the famous line of the Binay clan throughout the past elections. Now dubbed as the financial capital of the Philippines, the city boasts of skyscrapers home to high end businesses. Makati is also proud of the benefits it gives to loyal residents such as free movies and birthday cakes to senior citizens and free tuition to students. But behind the coat and tie of everyone who gets stuck in traffic on the way to the dream city is the grim reality of deception and corruption not seen by outsiders, and even by some who live within the confines of the perfect city.

As former allies became enemies, accusations were thrown back and forth, and legal charges were filed, now, for the the first time in 29 years, Makati is not under the jurisdiction of a Binay.

With things going a different turn in the second half of 2015, one begs to ask: what now of the Binays?

But behind the coat and tie of everyone who gets stuck in traffic on the way to the dream city is the grim reality of deception and corruption.

From being a human rights lawyer for political prisoners during the Martial Law, the incumbent Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay  was able to win the hearts of Makatiños. He was appointed by President Corazon Aquino herself to serve the remaining term of former Makati mayor Nemesio Yabut who died in 1986.

He was later able to win the local elections in 1988, 1992, and 1995, earning him three more full terms. Because he could not run for office due to term limitations, Elenita Binay, his wife, also ran and won as the next Makati mayor from 1998 to 2001. By 2001, Jojo Binay was again eligible to run for office – which he did, extending his mayoral seat by three more terms, from 2001 to 2010.

The Binays reigned over the city for almost three decades. Soon, they were able to climb their way from local public positions to the national offices.

Jojo Binay won as vice president in 2010 with only a margin of 700,000 votes. The next generation of Binays also successfully penetrated politics, with Nancy Binay, Mar-Len Abigail “Abby” Binay, and Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr. are now in the Senate, Congress, and local government of Makati respectively, with the political machinery of their father.

For the the first time in 29 years, the City of Makati is not under the jurisdiction of a Binay.

It would seem the senior Binay would just glide smoothly on his road as the next president of the country. After all, since Jojo Binay filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) last October, the approval ratings he got from public opinion polls were consistent. According to Pulse Asia Survey, Binay maintained his third spot in the presidential preferences in 2015 with 19 percent of respondents in the September survey favoring him. In the Social Weather Stations (SWS) December results, Binay tied with Senator Grace Poe on the top spot, with both of them getting 21 percent.

The satisfaction results are a different story though. In its last survey of the year, SWS results revealed that Binay got his all time lowest net satisfaction rating as vice president with only 24 percent this December. His satisfaction ratings started to take a plunge when the controversies began.

The seemingly unshakable power of the Binays started showing signs of faltering in July 2014. Atty. Renato Bondal, political opponent of Junjun in the 2013 elections, and Nicolas Enciso VI filed before the Office of the Ombudsman a graft and plunder case against the father and son for the alleged overpricing of Makati City Hall building II.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee then began investigating the controversial building which was constructed in 2007 when Jojo Binay was still the mayor. The 11-storey building in question actually consists of five floors of offices, five floors as parking spaces, and a basement.

Citing a 2008 city ordinance, Bondal pointed out the city government allocated P2.7 billion for the construction when only P1.5 billion was declared as the total cost. Bondal added this translates to a cost of P84,000 per square meter as opposed to P7,691 per square meter, the average construction cost according to the National Statistics Office.

“Lumalabas na ito na yata ang pinakamahal na parking building sa buong mundo,” Bondal told GMA News.

The seemingly unshakable power of the Binays started showing signs of faltering after the filing of legal charges against them. 

Junjun Binay cried foul and dismissed the case as a political move by another party, saying that Makati City Hall building II was not just a parking building.

“It is like comparing apples to oranges. Ang City Hall Building 2 ay isang dream office building. It is of world-class quality… It is designed to withstand earthquake with certain level of intensity” GMA quoted Binay.

Experts, on the other hand, disagreed with the younger Binay. Quantity surveyor Greg Jackson said the building just used standard materials.

“As I advised, it’s an average standard office building. I’d say it’s a modern building of average standard, but I wouldn’t consider it to be world-class standard,” Jackson told GMA.

Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado also revealed he and Jojo got kickbacks from the construction of the building.

The public bidding was also rigged, according to Engineer Mario Hechanova, chairman of the Bids and Awards Committee.

Pertaining to city engineer Nelson Morales, Hechanova told GMA, “Pinatawag ako ni city engineer, sabi niya: ‘Mario, gaya ng dati alam mo na kung sino ang dapat manalo sa project na ito.’ Sabi niya na Hilmarc’s Construction (Corporation).”

Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado revealed he and Jojo got kickbacks from the construction of the building.

The Office of the Ombudsman found out there was no publication for the invitation of public bidding in order to favor the Mana Architecture and Interior Design Corporation (MANA) and Hillmarc’s Construction Corporation. The contract was awarded to the companies after only an hour of negotiation, a process that investigators found was done in “extraordinary speed,” according to a report by the Philippine Star.

According to Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Act, there should be transparency in the procurement process, as well “competitiveness by extending equal opportunity to enable private contracting parties who are eligible and qualified to participate in public bidding,” which is done to get the best services in the most reasonable price.

In the case of Makati City Hall building II, however, the Office of the Ombudsman said it only took the Makati City council 11 days to complete the process of procurement, with allegedly seven bidding companies participating even with the absence of publication of invitation to bid. Fraud was also established with the Makati government releasing payment to the firms even without completing their deliverables, according to the investigation.

As the probe continued, Mercado said the Binays allegedly received condominium units in about 60 to 70 percent of buildings in Makati in exchange for speedy processing of permits. However, the whistleblower was only able to present to the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee the evidence of the Binays’ ownership to six condominiums. Mercado also alleged that Jojo Binay got P200 million kickbacks in the joint property development venture of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and Alphaland Corp. in Makati City.

Aside from the Makati City Hall building II, Bondal said to the plunder case investigation committee that the new building of Makati Science High School was also overpriced by P862 million, making it the “most expensive high school building in the Philippines.”

Fraud was established with the Makati government releasing payment to the firms even without completing their deliverables, according to the investigation.

With the blow by blow accounts given by whistleblowers, Jojo Binay was invited by the subcommittee to answer the allegations. The vice president however never heeded, citing full schedules as the reason for choosing not to attend.

Binay’s poll ratings fell down, and verbal challenges were exchanged between Vice President Binay and head of Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. The public saw no fruition, however.

The father and son continued to ignore the series of summons of the senate probe team regarding their cases which later on resulted to Junjun being arrested to attend the investigation hearing. A suspension order on Mayor Junjun Binay followed suit on March 2015 over the allegations of overpricing the Makati City Hall building II. Binay’s camp however was quick to respond on the same day with a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals.

On June 22, 2015, Vice President Binay formally resigned from his position as Presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers and Chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. Binay, whose announcement of his presidential bid came a day after the 2010 elections, said he felt like the “odd one out” among the Liberal Party-filled administration.

Despite the tug of war between the suspension order of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Mayor Junjun’s appeal for temporary restraining order, the Ombudsman finally ordered the dismissal of the mayor on October 30. In her 103-page decision, Morales said Junjun neglected his obligation to fair contracts that are reasonable for the government, an act which merits dishonesty and misconduct.

The father and son continued to ignore the series of summons of the senate probe team regarding their cases.

Following the decision to dismiss the mayor, Junjun is perpetually barred from holding any public office.

Since then, the Binays are scrambling to pull the strings together to retain their bulwark in Makati. This is evident as Abby Binay already filed her COC for the position of Makati mayor, just in time as her third term in the congress as the representative of the Second District of Makati expires in 2016. Abby’s husband, Luis Campos, will be running in the position she will vacate.

“Walang dahilan para matalo po tayo dito dahil ang puso at damdamin ng mga taga-Makati, ang pananalig nila [ay nasa mga Binay pa rin]”, Junjun told Rappler.

Meanwhile, the senior Binay is still standing strong in the ratings as one of the frontrunners in the presidential elections, consistently placing second or third, if not first, in different polls.

“Walang dahilan para matalo po tayo dito dahil ang puso at damdamin ng mga taga-Makati, ang pananalig nila [ay nasa mga Binay pa rin]”, Junjun Binay said.

It took two whole years – and the list of allegations against the Binays just keeps on getting longer and longer. Such is the consequence of a political dynasty gone awry. And yet, majority of the city residents still await for their comeback on the 2016 elections.

And in the bigger picture, it is not only in Makati that a single name has the monopoly on power, as other cities and provinces in the country have their own Binays, too.

But one must think, is it still worth turning a blind eye on the glaring monopoly on power in exchange of a mere birthday cake? ✒️

Header image from kickerdaily.com

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