The 6th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) on Friday ordered officials involved in the suspension of Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr. why they should not be cited for contempt for defying an injunction it earlier issued.
In a two-page resolution, the CA gave Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd and several others three days to comment on the contempt case filed against them by Binay.
Aside from the three officials, also named respondents were Regional Director Renato Brion of the Department of the Interior and Local Government-National Capital Region (DILG-NCR) office, police Director Carmelo Valmoria of the NCR Police Office, Chief Supt. Henry Rañola of the Southern Police District that has jurisdiction over Makati City, ground commander Senior Supt. Elmer Jamias and Makati City Vice Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña.
Binay accused the officials of defying the 60-day restraining order issued by the CA to stop implementation of the six-month preventive suspension order issued by the Ombudsman against the Makati mayor in connection with the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2.
“In the face of the persistent and wanton refusal of respondents to honor and comply with the lawful order of this Honorable Court, there is therefore an urgent need to cite respondents for indirect contempt and immediately mete out the appropriate punishment on them until they shall have complied with the TRO [temporary restraining order],” the petition read.
Binay said the officials’ refusal to obey the TRO “is a clear defiance of [the CA’s]authority and dignity and tends to bring the administration of justice into disrespect.”
“Such action should not be countenanced by this Honorable court,” it said.
The Ombudsman, the DILG and the Department of Justice said the TRO was already moot and academic as Binay’s suspension was already carried out and Peña has already taken his oath of office as acting mayor.
Makati City, which is regarded as the Philippines’ financial capital, has been plunged into chaos because of the bitter stand-off that was triggered by graft claims.
Its mayor has been holed up in City Hall since the Ombudsman suspended him last week because of an investigation of allegedly corrupt practices.
Insisting that the graft accusations are trumped-up, Binay has refused to cede power to his rival, Peña, who insists he is now “acting mayor.”
The Binay family has said the mayor’s suspension is politically motivated as his father–Vice President Jejomar Binay–continues to dominate presidential polls, ahead of the presumptive nominee of Aquino’s party for the 2016 elections, Interior Secretary Roxas.
The power struggle is widely seen as a battle between the nation’s ruling Liberal Party and the main opposition group–United Nationalist Alliance–led by the Vice President.
Peña is a member of the Liberal Party headed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
The stand-off threatens to delay the salaries of 8,000 government workers and payments for utilities and services.
Makati’s courts closed on the first day of the crisis last week, and some judges have continued to postpone hearings to avoid the crush of Binay supporters outside the building, Binay’s spokesman Joey Salgado told Agence France-Presse.
Salgado said welfare recipients had also been unable to collect benefits, and warned there was a looming crisis over who had the authority to sign the city’s checks.
If banks do not honor checks signed by the mayor, street lamps and traffic lights will be shut down, taps in government buildings will run dry and garbage collection will stop, according to him.
“This is a very dangerous situation, if their [national government’s]actions result in delays in salaries, utilities,” Salgado said.
“Any perception of instability would have an effect on the country. They are sending the wrong signal to investors. Makati is the financial center of the country.”
From an adjacent old building, with hallways that reek of leaking toilets, Peña issued a memorandum also on Friday to all City Hall employees asserting his authority.
“All ordinances, official documents and official actions must be submitted and referred to the undersigned for approval and/or appropriate action,” he said, referring to himself.
Usurpation of authority
The Binay camp said they are seriously studying the filing of usurpation of authority charges against Peña.
“If he signs it as acting mayor, it will be illegal. It will be in violation of the court order,” Patricia Alvarez, one of Mayor Binay’s legal counsels, said.
Alvarez added that the ruling of the court must be respected and that the acts of the DILG and Peña are an “insult” to the court.
“If the vice mayor does not comply or if the persons enjoined under the CA resolution do not comply with that order, then they will be liable for contempt,” she said.
The lawyer clarified some reports being circulated about “interpretations” of the TRO on how it is applied.
“There can be no varying interpretations of a TRO. The Supreme Court says it only means one thing,” she said.
“According to the Supreme Court, the TRO is for maintaining the status at the time of the filing of the case, which is Junjun Binay as the mayor. That has been upheld in several court decisions; that the TRO will uphold the status quo, not at the time it was issued, but at the time that the case or the petition or the application for TRO was filed,” Alvarez added.