Binay suspended for 60 days

- Michael Punongbayan -
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) ordered yesterday the suspension of Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado and all of the city’s councilors.

Escorted by heavily armed policemen, DILG Undersecretary Wencelito Andanar served the 60-day suspension order on Binay and the city officials yesterday morning.

A defiant Binay, however, refused to vacate his office at the new Makati City Hall building.

"I will not follow this illegal order. They might as well kill me here but I will never run away from this fight," Binay, dressed in the fatigues of a Marine reserve colonel, vowed.

Among those who rushed to City Hall to show their support for the embattled mayor were former President Corazon Aquino, former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and several opposition mayors led by JV Ejercito of San Juan and Toby Tiangco of Navotas.

The others ordered suspended were city councilors Erwin Jejomar Binay, Ferdinand Eusebio, Erlinda Gonzales, Ricardo Javier, Monique Lagdameo, Romeo Medina, Ernesto Aspillaga, Israel Cruzado, Elias Tolentino, Divina Jacome, Romana Pangilinan, Nelson Pasia, Nemesio Yabut Jr., Rodolfo Sese, Christine Mercado and singer Ricardo "Rico J" Puno.

Mercado received the order in behalf of the city government and allowed Andanar and the DILG officials to post the suspension order at the entrance of the city hall building where supporters of Binay had set up barricades.

DILG - National Capital Region (NCR) director Rodolfo Feraren was appointed officer-in-charge (OIC) to temporarily run the city government’s affairs.

Feraren will temporarily hold office at the old City Hall building just across the new City Hall where Binay and his supporters are holding out.

Malacañang said the preventive suspension against Binay and the 17 other officials does not mean they are already guilty of any malfeasance.

"This preventive suspension is part of the legal process to hasten the investigation," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

Andanar, for his part, said the suspension order stemmed from the complaint by former vice mayor Roberto Brillante alleging that Binay and the city officials kept "ghost" or non-existent employees on the local government payroll.

Binay, who had been anticipating the service of the suspension order since last week, filed a petition before the Court of Appeals (CA) seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) in the effort to stave off his impending suspension.

The embattled mayor, who is president of the United Opposition (UNO), denied the allegations and accused Malacañang of political harassment.

Binay refused to recognize the suspension order and remained in his office, surrounded by supporters, including Mrs. Aquino.

"My only fault here is being in the opposition," Binay told reporters.

He said they will question the suspension order by claiming it violated several provisions of the Local Government Code.

He said Malacañang and the DILG did not even respect judicial courtesy when they ignored his request for a bill of particulars specifying the names of the supposed ghost employees.

"Since three weeks ago, we have been asking the DILG and the office of the President to furnish us a copy of the bill of particulars where the names of the alleged ghost employees cited by the complainant are indicated," he said.

Binay claimed the suspension order "is faulty since we were not even given our constitutional rights to due process."
‘Strong evidence’
Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the suspension order against Binay and the city officials was based on strong evidence.

Brillante alleged that Binay and the rest of the officials conspired to defraud the city government by collecting salaries totaling P113.1 million of 650 "ghost employees" placed in a payroll from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2005.

Brillante claimed 585 more "ghost workers" had been added from Jan. 1 to June 30 of this year.

Brillante also filed a complaint accusing Binay and his wife, Elenita, of the irregular purchase of furniture worth P231 million for the new City Hall from 1999 to 2001.

The purchase was allegedly made during Mrs. Binay’s administration as city mayor.

Malacañang on Monday confirmed the furniture issue against Binay is now being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman.

In the three-page directive made by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, the Office of the President ordered the suspension of Binay and his fellow city officials over the ghost workers issue to remove doubts that their continued presence in their respective offices would put pressure or influence on witnesses or result in possible tampering and mishandling of evidence.

Under Section 63 of the Local Government Code, a preventive suspension may be imposed against an erring official if there is probable cause and the evidence is strong.

Puno said the complaint against Binay and the officials was filed since the first week of August and was reviewed thoroughly by the Office of the President.

"It is not something that cropped up yesterday," he said. "It is something like three months already when the complaint was filed and since then the Office of the President has actually reviewed the complaint... and from there they went to the processes... where the respondents in the case were asked to file their comments and their answers."

Puno said a further examination revealed the evidence was significant to warrant the preventive suspension of the Makati officials "and prevent further dissipation of public assets, which are the subject matter of the charges that have been filed."

While Binay and the 17 officials are serving the 60-day suspension, Feraren would act as caretaker of the city government "to avoid any self-serving issue," he said.

"Although we have a City Development Officer of Makati (Carpio Ranola), we decided to reassign him for the meantime (during) the 60-days suspension because his office might be affected by the investigation," Puno said.

"So to avoid self-serving issues, we decided to reassign him and then designate the regional director as concurrent city director in the person of Feraren," Puno said.
‘Evenhanded application’
Puno clarified that Binay and the other city officials, during the period of suspension, will in effect, nullify the exercise of their positions.

Puno took exception to claims made by Binay that he was being singled out by the administration because he is an opposition leader.

He said other local officials allied with the administration mayors were also suspended for various violations.

Puno cited the suspension of Baguio City Mayor Braulio Yaranon, Sta. Rosa, Laguna Mayor Jose Catindig Jr., Mayor Jerry de la Cerna of Davao Oriental and Jose Galario Jr. of Valencia, Bukidnon.

He said the mayors who have been suspended the past weeks were actually supporters of the administration.

Last month, the Ombudsman suspended Pasay Mayor Wenceslao "Peewee" Trinidad for allegedly approving illegal contracts for the collection and disposal of garbage.

Malacañang maintained there is no political persecution against Binay but only an "evenhanded" application of the law based on the complaints against him.

Bunye said Binay has no recourse but to defend himself before the courts.

"What’s important is that we follow the law and if there are complaints, (these) should be investigated according to existing laws and the appropriate actions will be taken," he said.

Bunye also appealed to supporters of Binay to be sober and uphold the law.

Lawmakers also called on Binay to respect the rule of law and abide by the suspension order.

"He is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And we sincerely hope that the good mayor will be able to prove himself innocent of the charges against him in due time. But the legal process must be followed including its consequences," Majority Leader Prospero Nograles (Davao City) said.

Bacolod City Reps. Monico Puentevella and Leyte Rep. Eduardo Veloso also urged Binay to heed the order to "prevent chaos and impasse."

The two congressmen dismissed as "unfair and untrue" opposition claims that the 60-day preventive suspension was aimed at harassing and persecuting members of the opposition.

"There is a legitimate complaint against Binay which is being given due course by the government. He should defend himself via legal processes and avoid political antics which may only result in chaos and deadlock," the two congressmen said in a joint statement. -With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero, AP











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