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DOJ to join probe on Binays' wealth

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Philstar/AJ Bolando

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday said that she is getting curious about the details revealed by former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado in the Senate about the alleged illegal wealth of Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family.

De Lima said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is likely to join the Office of the Ombudsman in the conduct of inquiry into the assets of the vice president as well as the separate case involving the allegedly overpriced the Makati City Building II.

“Ordinarily, it’s a separate [investigation] but there’s a point where it can be consolidated,” De Lima said after the Senate hearing on the DOJ’s proposed P1.1 billion budget for 2015.

“The more we are interested to look into this. All of it, including the mansion and on the aspects of overpricing,” De Lima added.

De Lima cited as a precedent the joint investigation conducted by the DOJ, and the Ombudsman regarding the plunder cases involving suspended Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr.

Interviewed after the hearing, De Lima shielded Mercado from criticisms on why he was allowed to board a chopper and take pictures of the alleged 350-hectare property of the vice president in Batangas, which were later presented during the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing.

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"It's part of the arrangement with the WPP (Witness Protection Program)," she said, apparently referring to the gathering of evidence by witnesses.

It was Mercado who provided the Senate with details on how money supposedly changed hands between the Binays and contractors in connection with the building projects in the city.

Mercado claimed he was operating within the circles of the vice president, former mayor Elenita Binay and the couple's son, incumbent city Mayor Junjun Binay.

According to De Lima, the former vice mayor -- whom she finds a reliable whistleblower -- did not seek permission from her when to gather “evidence” against the vice president in connection with his alleged vast property in Rosario, Batangas.

De Lima explained that while Mercado is now under the WPP, he can be allowed from time to time to get out of the safe house to gather evidence and bolster his testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

“It would be unreasonable not to allow [Mercado] lalo na if ang kanyang justification para masuportahan iyong testimony niya kasi ongoing pa rin before the Blue Ribbon,” De Lima said.

“Kung sabihin niya kailangan kong gawin ito dahil gusto kong ma suportahan or ma-corroborate or mas ma strengthen yung mga evidence, ma-suportoahan iyong mga ebidesnya, so pwede siguro payagan,” the secretary explained.

Mercado, however, has revealed to the media that he goes around with bodyguards and is not actually holding up in a government safe house, which allows him to move around freely.

NBI helping serve Senate subpoena

As this developed, De Lima said her office is coordinating with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to locate the personalities who are now the subject of subpoena by the Senate.

The Senate has tapped the NBI to find Binay’s alleged finance officer, Gerardo Limlingan, Erlinda Chong, Marguerite Lichnock, Kimsfer Chong, Kim Tung Chong, Irene Chong, Imee Chong, Irish Chong, who are incorporators of the Meriras Realty and Development Corp.

De Lima, meanwhile, warned Mercado and other witnesses under the WPP to follow the rules imposed by the unit to ensure their safety.

“At first we warn them to avoid unnecessary activities because of the danger. So its your choice, many witnesses follow the rules. There are also those who do not obey the rules, and there are some problematic ones,” De Lima said.

“There are also violations, which when we resolve, [results to the] termination of the coverage under the WPP. That’s very clear under the law and the IRR (implementing rules and regulations),” the secretary said.

De Lima said she would not want any of the witnesses to suffer the fate of Alfred Mendiola, who was killed in an ambush in Bulacan. Mendiola was under the WPP but he escaped his security detail and later tracked down by his assalants sometime in May 2012.

Mendiola was the principal witness in the carjack-slay of Venson Evangelista in January 2011.

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