MALACAÑANG on Wednesday dared critics of Vice President Jejomar Binay to prove allegations that he got kickbacks from the construction of the controversial Makati City Hall 2 building and that his family owns a vast estate in Batangas province.
While keeping a safe distance from the ongoing Senate investigation of the allegations against the Vice President, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Binay’s critics should present evidence to back up their claims.
Lacierda added that the government is not using any of its resources in what appears to be an effort by Binay’s foes to reveal the Binay family’s supposedly undeclared wealth.
“We again go to the basic principle of he who alleges must prove the same. We are not aware of any moves by anyone in government. We are not using government resources as to how these are being revealed,” the Palace official told reporters.
According to him, he was not even sure if President Benigno Aquino 3rd has been following the Senate hearings.
“Like you, this is the first time we are looking at the video presentation of Vice Mayor [Ernesto] Mercado. We can say categorically that we are not involved in any way,” Lacierda said. He was referring to the vast estate in Rosario, Batangas, that includes expensive infrastructure supposedly owned by the Binays.
The camp of the Vice President immediately denied the allegations.
Lacierda maintained that whether the 350-hectare property really belonged to the Binays, those who accuse them and the public are in the better position to evaluate the facts. He said Malacañang’s comment is “immaterial.”
“We will not comment on his statement that it is politically motivated. That is a strategy that he employs on his part and so we won’t comment on that. But if you are asking us if we are involved in any way in this matter, no, we are not,” he said.
“It is not a question of interest. It is not a question of interest of the Palace. It is all laid out in the revelations in the Senate hearing. So whatever is our interest, whatever is our comment on the matter is not material, as this has already been laid out for the entire public to see,” the Palace spokesman pointed out.
Lacierda explained that since the investigation had been launched by the Senate, the lawmakers should do what is right.
“Again, our comment will be immaterial because this is being launched or conducted by the Senate, so they have their own mind as to the investigation proper. Senators [Antonio] Trillanes [4th], [Alan Peter] Cayetano and Sen. [Aquilino] Pimentel [3rd] have already explained the role of the Senate blue ribbon committee,” he said.
But while it is the right of the Senate blue ribbon panel to investigate, Lacierda argued that it is “also the right of Vice President Binay and his family to respond to these allegations.”
Malacañang, according to him, will defer to the Senate action on the case.
“We don’t even know what revelations, in fact, I was not aware of the revelations that they were going to present today. So, it’s up to the Senate blue ribbon committee to decide and we don’t know who their witnesses are,” Lacierda said.
“So, again, we are all observers in these events being played out,” he added.
Gov. Jonvic Remulla, the Vice President’s spokesman on political concerns, said Mercado’s claim that Binay owns an estate in Batangas is a dud.
“It was no surprise that the detractors of Vice President Jejomar Binay will attempt to link him to the property ever since we revealed the helicopter sighting a few days ago,” Remulla added.
“The detractors showed an aerial video and photos of the said property, an amateurish attempt to do a repeat of the ‘Purisima expose.’ Any doubt that the Senate probe was after legislation on Makati City Hall Building 2 has been erased by today’s hearing,” he said.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) earlier disclosed that employees of a piggery and flower farm leasing a property in Rosario, Batangas, reported seeing a helicopter flying around the property last week.
The OVP said based on records, the lessor of the property is Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp., operator of Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park.
Martin Subido, Binay’s legal counsel, said the Vice President had leased, not owned, a property in Rosario for JCB Farms.
“From 1994 to 2010, the Vice President operated a piggery business in Rosario, Batangas.
This piggery business was a sole proprietorship duly reported in his SALN [Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth] and in his ITRs [Income Tax Returns],” Subido added.
“The Vice President did not own any land where his piggery business was operated.
Rather, he was a lessee of around nine hectares of land, with the improvements he introduced for the piggery business duly reported as ‘Leasehold Improvements’,” he said.
Binay sold the piggery farm in 2010 to Agrifortuna Inc., a company owned by Laureano Gregorio. Binay and his wife had been incorporators of Agrifortuna for a paid-up capital of P50,000 but sold their shares to Gregorio in 1995.
“In 1995, or almost 20 years ago, the Vice President and his wife sold their interest in Agrifortuna to Laureano Gregorio who likewise subscribed to additional capital that would allow him to own 60 percent of the company. These are reflected in the filings of Agrifortuna with the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission],” Subido said.
Gregorio made additional investments in Agrifortuna in 2008 that gave him 97 percent ownership of Agrifortuna.
“The house, swimming pool and garden mentioned in reports are not owned by the Vice President. They were owned by Laureano Gregorio,” Subido said.
“At present, Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corporation is the absolute owner of the improvements and facilities mentioned in today’s inquiry. In fact, Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corporation has likewise introduced new improvements such as an asparagus farm, greenhouses for high-value crops, hotel, all in line with its vision to create an agri-tourism park.”
Lawyer JV Bautista, interim secretary general of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), said the Vice President will answer the issues raised against him but not before the Senate.
“Definitely, the Vice President will explain. The people deserve an explanation and he is not running away from these [issues]but he will not do it before the [Senate] sub-committee which is already polluted,” Bautista added.
He said the sub-committee, which is headed by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, has refused to follow its own rules.
The UNA cited the panel’s decision to junk the jurisdictional challenges filed by the Binay camp seeking to stop the Senate inquiry into the Makati City Hall Building 2 for lack of jurisdiction.
The challenges were filed by Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., Ebeng Baloloy, Makati legal officer Pio Kenneth Dasal, former city administrator Marjorie de Veyra, University of Makati professor Tomas Lopez of University of Makati and some department heads of the Makati City government.
Pimentel junked all five motions and push through with the hearing on Wednesday.
“How can a sub-committee decide on matters and questions that have been raised before the mother committee?” Bautista asked.
The Makati mayor reiterated that the inquiry being conducted by Pimentel’s sub-committee is not in aid of legislation but a mere act to determine the fitness of his father to run as President in 2016.
“The ongoing inquiry has clearly gone beyond the scope of its original purpose,” he said.
“If they [senators]think that they can prove that there are irregularities, then they can bring them to the Ombudsman,” the Makati mayor added.