The Senate blue ribbon committee on Wednesday temporarily lifted arrest orders it issued against four of the 14 individuals who were earlier cited in contempt for their continued refusal to attend a congressional inquiry into allegations of corruption against Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, blue ribbon panel chairman, ordered the Senate sergeant-at-arms to hold in abeyance until Monday next week the arrest orders of Makati City Hall officials Vissia Marie Aldon and Danilo Villas after the two promised to attend the committee’s next hearing on May 28.
Guingona also ordered to hold in abeyance the arrest order of Makati City Engineer Line dela Peña, whose arrest and detention order was earlier issued by the chamber.
Dela Peña was not among the 14 individuals but he has a pending arrest order, having been cited in contempt ahead of the group.
Guingona acknowledged receipt of a letter from businessman Antonio Tiu asking the panel to reconsider its serving of an arrest order against him.
He relented and the blue ribbon committee decided to give the four until Monday also next week to appear before the committee secretariat and make a pledge that they will be attending hearings.
“The arrest orders against the four are hereby ordered held in abeyance until they comply with the said instructions,” Guingona said.
While James Tiu and Anne Lorraine Buencamino-Tiu, according to the senator, also sought reconsideration, they did not indicate if they will be attending the next hearings.
Guingona said since the couple did not say if they will be attending the hearing on May 28, the arrest orders against them still stand.
Security personnel from the Office of Senate sergeant-at-arms who were designated to effect the arrest orders failed locate any of their subjects.
Senate sergeant-at-arms Jose Balajadia said these subjects are now considered “wanted” after they “deliberately” evaded arrest.
He added that the Senate’s security personnel were immediately sent out to serve the arrest and detention orders against the 14 individuals, who could not be found in the addresses they gave to the Senate.
“We went home empty-handed. About one or two of them were not in the addresses they gave to the Senate. And that’s the reason why their subpoenas could not be served because no one knows them in the fictitious addresses they gave,” Balajadia said in Filipino.
The 14 individuals “wanted by the Senate” are Antonio Tiu, Gerry Limlingan, Vissia Marie Aldon, Danilo Villas, Aida Alcantara, Hirene Lopez, Irene S. Chong, Imee S. Chong, Kim Tun S. Chong, Irish S. Chong, Erlinda S. Chong, Kimster S. Chong, Anne Lorraine Buencamino-Tiu and James L. Tiu.
Ready to fight
Vice President Binay said they were ready to fight the charges being hurled at them.
“The accusations against us started when I was still mayor [of Makati City]. This [hurling of charges]is not new,” Binay told reporters who sought his comment on a freeze order issued against his bank accounts based on a report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
“What is unfortunate here is that the basis of the Court of Appeals [for the freeze order]is very, very wrong because the evidence presented by the AMLC is incomplete,” he said.
Binay insisted that he only had five bank accounts, not 242.
“It seems that I’m richer than Bill Gates if they claim I have 242 bank accounts. No one owns 200 banks in the Philippines. But to be honest, they froze only five,” he said.
The amounts deposited in the bank accounts, according to him, were his earnings as a lawyer and those of his wife, Elenita Binay, a physician.
“Meron naman kaming negosyo kahit na papaano, so ‘yun ay legal na pera [We have businesses, that’s why that money is legal],” he said.
Although the Vice President is an impeachable official, he is not immune from suit.
This was the statement issued on Wednesday by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
De Lima said Binay could still be charged with a civil case, which does not require him to leave his office.
She cited jurisprudence and decisions of the Supreme Court that said only the President and members of the diplomatic corps are immune from suit according to international laws.
The President of a nation is immune from suit so he could govern his country, while diplomats are exempted under the doctrine that diplomats are governed by laws of their countries.
De Lima said the AMLC may file a civil case against the Vice President.
She added that a civil case will not hinder Binay from doing his duties because charges will not result in his expulsion from his post.
Commenting on the statement, Binay’s political spokesman Rico Quicho said de Lima “should understand the rule of law and what it means.”
“The law states that the Ombudsman cannot investigate impeachable officials for an alleged crime except for purposes of impeachment. The Constitution also says that a person is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. It is not right for the government or any of its officials to accuse an impeachable official like the President, Vice President, a Supreme Court Justice or an official of a constitutional office, of a crime like plunder and tell him to explain his innocence. Putting the burden of proof of innocence on the impeachable official accused of a crime trashes the Constitution and the legal limitation on the powers of the Ombudsman,” he expalined.
“Any such notion from supposedly responsible government officials betrays lack of understanding of the rule of law. The statement is nothing more than a cheap sound bite to generate attention to one’s self, especially if the said official harbors political ambitions,” Quicho said, aluding to de Lima’s supposed plan to run for a Senate seat in the 2016 elections.
WITH JAIME R. PILAPIL