SENATORS’ efforts to link Vice President Jejomar Binay to the owner of an agritourism park in Batangas province have failed, but damaged the institution in the process, legal and political analysts said.
Ramon Casiple, a respected political analyst, particularly mentioned Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th who he said is “performing an investigation in aid of elections.”
Casiple said Trillanes cannot prove Binay’s connection to businessman Antonio Tiu, the real owner of the vast Sunchamp Park in Rosario, Batangas, because “there’s no smoking gun.”
“There’s no direct connection to VP [Vice President] Binay in terms of ownership of [pieces of property]or participation in the alleged practices. Material evidence is lacking,” he noted.
Other observers shared the views of Casiple, also noting that the way senators are handling the investigation of the allegations against Binay is doing the chamber more harm than good.
They said the “lynching” of resource persons during previous hearings could boomerang on them.
“There should be open-mindedness. Instead, conclusions have been made,” said Dr. Antonio Contreras, a political analyst and professor of law at the Dela Salle University.
In a radio interview, Contreras said members of the Senate blue ribbon sub-Committee–Senators Trillanes, Aquilino Pimentel 3rd and Alan Peter Cayetano–have clearly shown bias against invited guests who are presumed to be identified with Binay, including Tiu, who was alleged to be Binay’s “dummy.”
Contreras observed that when former Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado and other “witnesses” spoke, there were no interruptions and they were allowed to finish their statements.
“But when Tiu was talking, they [senators]butted in,” he said.
Contreras added that Filipinos are not stupid and many already frown on the lawmakers’ “antics,” which may cause damage to the Senate.
Meanwhile, Dean Amado Valdez of Far Eastern University Law School said the sub-committee was looking at the wrong angle in attempting to connect Tiu with Binay. He pointed out that the explanation given by Tiu was more believable under common practice and the law.
“What Tiu as a businessman is doing is consolidating property, and purposely not getting deed of sale outright because he will be going against provisions of the agrarian reform program. But from a practical point of view, this is what businessmen are doing to compete against big international players who hold hundreds of hectares of land parcels in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etc.,” Valdez explained.
In the Philippines, he said, one cannot own more than five hectares at a time “so you compile land to compete against international business.”
“You purposely veer away from being the nominal owner so as to not run afoul of the Philippines’ agrarian reform law. But you have all the right to use, transform, destroy, etcetera, the property being the lawful owner,” Valdez added.
Even the photos exhibited by Mercado, he noted, have no value in court because the case would be solely based on the argument that he used to be an employee or colleague of the Binays.
“There are many versions of occupying a property, not necessarily owning it. The court will most certainly delve deep into this, and not take at face value any testimony of a single witness, which is what the Senate sub-committee is doing,” Valdez said.
Contreras agreed with Valdez’s observation that Tiu had explained that he is yet to secure the land title because of an existing mortgage.
“When you’re paying off a mortgage, you don’t have your TCT [transfer certificate of title]at hand. But when asked, yes, I live and use this property… I paid a down payment. I am currently paying amortizations. Yes, I own the land,” he said.
The analyst cautioned the investigating lawmakers against making life harder for Binay because the Vice President may eventually win the sympathy of voters.
Contreras likened Binay to former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who himself was subjected to a lot of accusations and name-calling before winning the presidency in 1998.
“But the bigger issue is that the process of investigation, of inquiry, is being compromised by the demeanor of the senators in the sub-committee. And all this badgering, bullying, will backfire on them, and on the institution of the Senate, in general,” the law professor said.
In Malacanang, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. on Sunday said over state-run Radyo ng Bayan the much awaited debate between Binay and Trillanes is welcome, calling it a part of a healthy democracy.