Makati mayor's lawyers to seek SC intervention

Mike Frialde (The Philippine Star) - October 8, 2014 - 4:44pm

MANILA, Philippines - The lawyers of Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin "Junjun" Binay on Wednesday said they would elevate the issue of jurisdictional challenge before the Supreme Court.

Binay’s lawyers added that they would also ask the High Court to issue an injunction against the hearings now being conducted by a sub-committee of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee into the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall Building 2.

“At this point, our clients’ Constitutional rights are already at stake and are being violated. The only recourse left to us is to seek the intervention of the Judiciary. In any democracy, a person denied of his rights to due process may turn to the Supreme Court, which is the ultimate arbiter of the law,” Claro Certeza, one of Binay’s lawyers said.

Certeza said Binay’s legal team will finalize a petition at the soonest possible time and file it with the Supreme Court to seek an injunction or temporary restraining order on the ongoing inquiry being conducted by the Senate sub-committee.

Certeza said they would also refer to the resolution read by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III in Wednesday’s hearing in preparing their petition to the Supreme Court.

“Out of respect for the Senate, we have been exhausting all means to resolve the matter at the Senate level, but to no avail. So in bringing the matter to the Supreme Court, we mean no disrespect for the Senate,” the lawyer said.

He cited a parallel case (Neri versus Blue Ribbon Committee) in which the Supreme Court said that while the Senate has the power to conduct an inquiry, it is always limited to the extent that it should always be in aid of legislation, it is with due respect to the Constitutional rights and it is done in accordance with the published rules.

“The published rules of the Senate clearly state that an inquiry will be stopped should there be a jurisdictional challenge. The rules do not make a distinction as to whether a jurisdictional challenge is groundless or strong,” he said.

On Tuesday, Certeza sent a letter to Pimentel, chairman of the sub-committee, on behalf of Binay and eight other city officials whom the latter has required to ‘show cause’ why they should not be cited in contempt for not appearing in the hearings on September 25 and October 2.

Certeza asserted that their clients were not liable for contempt as they were “merely exercising the remedies available under the Senate Rules.” He said that the city officials “were constrained to file their respective jurisdictional challenges because their Constitutional rights were being violated and will continue to be violated by the ongoing inquiry.”

He said that an inherent limitation on Congressional inquiries under Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution is to respect the rights of the persons appearing in or being affected by the inquiry.  The jurisdictional challenges were filed before the Senate blue ribbon committee on September 25, 2014.

“As confirmed by Hon. Teofisto Guingona III, Chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, until the jurisdictional challenge is resolved with finality, it is only logical and proper that the hearings on Senate Resolution No. 826 be held in abeyance,” Certeza said.

The lawyer said Binay’s right to due process of law was violated as the ongoing inquiry has clearly “gone beyond the scope of its original purpose.” Certeza said the city officials are also being required to appear at the hearings without being informed of the issues to be inquired upon them.

He also quoted Senator Antonio Trillanes IV as having said their clients do not “need to know at all” the issues to be tackled in their mandatory appearance before the sub-committee.

Certeza said Binay’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty was also violated in the ongoing Senate hearings. He said that on several occasions, the Makati city officials were described by members of the Sub-Committee as “nanloloko” (or deceiving) in open session.

“On the other end, the individuals who admitted their criminal wrongdoings but made bare, inadmissible and malicious accusations against our clients of ‘rigging’ all the bids in Makati City and receiving ‘kickbacks’ were cuddled by immunity under the Witness Protection Program,” Certeza said.

“Even a resource speaker who admitted to perjury was recommended for admission to the program instead of being cited for contempt,” he added.

“The actuation of the Sub-Committee, especially with respect to who are being recommended for admission to the Witness Protection Program, is a virtual indictment of our clients in further violation of their right to be presumed innocent,” Certeza said.

Certeza said the presumption of guilt made by the sub-committee on their clients and other persons appearing at the hearings has also been evident when members of the Commission on Audit Technical Unit, engineers, architects and other witnesses were called liars and threatened (“bubuhusan”), while giving testimony that belie the claim of overpricing in the construction of the Makati City Hall Building II.

Certeza said that in proceeding with the inquiry while their clients’ jurisdictional challenges were still pending, the sub-committee has also violated their “right to have an inquiry conducted in compliance with the published Senate Rules.”  Section 3 of the Senate Rules says that in the event that a jurisdictional challenge is filed, the same must be resolved first before proceeding with any inquiry.

The lawyer said their clients’ “right not to be subjected to a congressional inquiry if the same is not in aid of legislation” has also been violated in the ongoing investigation.

“From the start, members of the Sub-Committee have repeatedly made statements that the purpose of the ongoing inquiry is to determine (ii) the fitness of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, to run as president in the 2016 elections; and (ii) whether Vice President Jejomar C. Binay and our clients have violated any laws or committed any crime or irregularity,” Certeza said.

In requiring Makati City officials to submit documents even on matters clearly outside the scope of Senate Resolution No. 826, Certeza said the sub-committee has also violated their clients’ “right against unreasonable searches and seizure.”

“Indeed, the Sub-Committee has been using the ongoing legislative inquiries to illegally obtain fabricated and malicious condemnatory evidence from questionable individuals who have been enticed to make bare and inadmissible accusations against our client by immediately giving them immunity under the Witness Protection Program,” Certeza said.

“Premises considered, our clients should not be cited for contempt. Moreover, based on the foregoing, it behooves the Sub-Committee to immediately terminate the ongoing inquiry as it has violated and will continue to violate Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution, to the great damage and prejudice of our clients,” Certeza concluded.

In separate letters all dated October 2, 2014, Pimentel had required Mayor Binay and eight other respondents to show cause why they should be cited in contempt for failing to appear in the September 25 and October 2 Senate hearings. The other respondents were Atty. Eleno Mendoza, Jr., Engr. Mario Badillo, Danilo Villas, Vissia Marie Aldon, Engr. Line dela Peña, Ebeng Baloloy, Prof. Tomas Lopez, Jr., and Marjorie de Veyra.

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