Not many expected Vice President Jejomar C. Binay to come to the Cabinet meeting last week after President B. S. Aquino 3rd said he was free to leave if he disliked the way he was running the government. They prayed he would accept the challenge, and were sorely disappointed when he did not. But I am sure some explanations are forthcoming.
Binay has been savaged at the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee for alleged corruption when he was still mayor of Makati, which he ran for more than 20 years. On valid constitutional grounds, he has refused to appear before the committee to answer the charges. And Senators Antonio Trillanes 4th, Alan Peter Cayetano and Aquilino Pimentel 3rd have kept the heat on, despite rising public disapproval of the rank misuse of their questionable powers.
Some readers who have no use for constitutional and legal niceties are angry that Binay has refused to put himself under the subcommittee’s jurisdiction. They are angry that a number of independent columnists are critical of the accusers rather than the “accused.” They think that by harping upon the rule of law and the separation of powers, the columnists are actually declaring Binay immune from any possible accusation or prosecution. This is all wrong.
The Times’ chairman recently wrote on this page that the issue here is the rule of law rather than Binay’s innocence or guilt. This is not to say that Binay’s innocence or guilt is not an issue at all–it is, but this is for an impartial judge in an impartial court to decide, not for the Senate, least of all a Senate subcommittee with his most rabid adversaries on it. We cannot miss this point even for a second.
If we are to exist as a civilized society, we must learn to sit on a chair and eat on a table rather than sit on a table and eat on a chair; we must allow Congress to make just laws, and let our courts decide the innocence or guilt of accused persons. Since Binay has been accused—both before the Ombudsman and the bar of public opinion—-we should give him the opportunity to answer the charges. But we cannot subject him to an arbitrary process initiated by his adversaries, which at the very outset violates the Constitution and the rules of the institution hearing the allegations.
This is the heart of the matter, from which I shall digress for the time being.
No sensible observer can possibly believe that the use of the Senate to attack Binay is without Malacañang’s guidance, or at least consent. All the visible signs point to it. Yet nothing and no one could seem to persuade Binay that Aquino is personally involved in it. This could be mere tactic: Lee Kuan Yew once said, “to name the enemy is to make him.” And Binay does not want to name PNoy, he wants to avoid a head-on collision. But, one cannot be too careful, it could lead to a self-imposed blindness or incapacity for action.
So Binay came to the Cabinet meeting, looking a little tired and harassed than usual, not to announce his resignation as presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers’ Concerns, and chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, and of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Trafficking, etc., but rather to reassure Aquino that he remained “a team player.”
And in wicked appreciation, Aquino put him in charge of the slow-moving housing program in Tacloban and Eastern Visayas, which were completely disfigured by super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda last November, but which have suffered even more from the Aquino government’s studied indifference and neglect, dramatically illustrated by Aquino’s decision to visit Guiuan, Eastern Samar but to omit Tacloban next door, on the first year’s sorrowful anniversary of Yolanda’s landfall.
This was a task Aquino had previously given to former Senator Panfilo Lacson, whom he had tried to raise to the position of “czar,” only to be demoted into “presidential assistant,” with no clear mandate or job description. Lacson has spent the past year waiting for the necessary support from the national government, but not only has the government failed to deliver, it has also failed to account for the various financial donations it has received from foreign governments, multilateral institutions, and other donors.
Who will do what now? Who will be on top of whom? That is not very clear. But it appears that what Lacson and the various agencies tasked with recovery and rehabilitation had failed to accomplish in one year, Binay will now be expected to accomplish in two months, in time for Pope Francis’s apostolic visit to Tacloban in January 2015. Doesn’t this remind you of the Old Testament scene where King David sends Uriah the Hittite to the front so he could get killed and leave Bathsheba, his beautiful widow, to the adulterous king?
Aquino could have found no more amazing way of dealing with his “team player” had he sent him to Liberia instead to single-handedly prevent the Ebola virus from spreading across West Africa’s borders. But even as Aquino gave additional duties to the Vice President, Binay’s accusers, all allies of Malacanang, continued to bombard him with new accusations, this time involving allegedly unexplained dollar deposits in some foreign havens.
Should Binay therefore answer his accusers now? With or without any new charges, I say he should answer, though not in the Trillanes-Cayetano-Pimentel Blue Ribbon subcommittee investigation. He should answer on the Senate Floor, in plenary session. And he should do it, either by himself or through a Senator who has a right and a duty to speak for and in his name. This only means Sen. Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay Angeles, his eldest daughter, who was elected in 2013, will have to sharpen her tools and rise in defense of her father.
Under the Rules of the Senate, any member may rise after the roll call, a quorum being present, to speak to a question of personal or collective privilege “affecting the rights, privileges, reputation, conduct, decorum and dignity of the Senate or of its Members as well as the integrity of its proceedings.” Only a motion to adjourn shall have precedence over such a statement.
Certainly the attacks on the Vice President have affected the reputation of his senator-daughter, and the impropriety of the committee investigation has affected the integrity of the Senate proceedings. She has all the reasons to speak to these issues, and in the process answer the charges against her father, point by point.
Or she could use the “privilege hour” to deliver a “privilege speech,” which is different and distinct from “the statement of personal or collective privilege,” and try to achieve the same thing. Under the Rules, a senator may speak for one hour on matters of public interest, after the Senate shall have considered the matters contained in the Calendar for Special Orders.
Or the Vice President himself, as a Cabinet member, upon his own initiative and with the prior consent of the President, could appear before the Senate during the Question Hour, and say what he wants to say about his office; in the process, he could refer to the accusations against him. He could answer questions from the senators, under the full protection of the Rules. Under the Rules, no question shall contain arguments, include offensive or unparliamentary language or expression, or pertain to sub-judice matters. This will protect him from the boorishness of any senator.
Alternatively, since the Binay camp has identified Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas as the principal instigator of the attacks on the Vice President, Sen. Binay could summon Roxas for the Question Hour to answer questions relative to the campaign to destroy her father. Properly executed, this could reverse the situation for Binay vis-à-vis his arch-rival.
Indeed, the problem is not without a solution. The opportunity is there, waiting to be taken.