Except for a three-year stint by his wife, Elenita, and the current reign of his son, Jejomar Jr. (Junjun), Jojo was mayor of Makati for 21 years. Throughout the Binay dynasty’s hold on power, Jojo relates that the city coffers grew tremendously, with more than a billion pesos in surplus (as of 2010) and a stellar no-deficit record. He called this growth “inclusive,” as the poor were not left behind, gaining access to basic services such as health care and education. From birth to death, they could count on City Hall. These communities have since become firm supporters of Jojo Binay.
In 2010, Jojo set his sights on a national post and won as vice president, a surprise victory. He overtook the frontrunner, President Noynoy Aquino’s then-running mate Manuel “Mar” Roxas, through a quiet but strategic campaign.
Buoyed by his consistent high popularity ratings as vice president and his clear position as frontrunner among the perceived candidates for 2016, Binay has recently declared his intention to run. The election is still more than a year away but, with his open announcement, the campaign has started in earnest.
And here’s where the other part of the Binay narrative began to surface. As he embraced the poor and made their lives better, he, too, the widespread rumor goes, enriched himself and his family, systematically siphoning off from public funds through rigged biddings, overpriced supplies and excess purchases, all apparently documented by the Commission on Audit.
The perception of corruption gained traction a few months ago when a whistleblower emerged, an insider who worked with Binay for close to two decades. Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, who had a falling out with him, revealed before a Senate committee probing corruption in Makati shocking details about huge multimillion- peso commissions from construction contracts—cash stashed in duffel bags—and delivered to Binay’s home. These went to his wife and himself for his personal and campaign funds.
Photographs of a sprawling 150- to 350-hectare estate in Batangas, south of Manila, believed owned by the Binays, showed a lavish lifestyle, from a maze garden patterned after the Kew Palace to a lush orchid farm to a state-of-the-art piggery. Records of at least P60 million ($1.34 million) in bank accounts, undeclared in Binay’s asset statement, have come to the fore as well. (As mayor, his monthly salary had been about P32,000 or $712.)
This scandal has hurt Binay tremendously. For the first time since he became vice-president, his ratings plummeted. A Pulse Asia survey conducted in September showed that his lead in a presidential poll dropped to 31 percent (from 41 percent in June 2104). He lost support across the board—from Luzon to Visayas and among all classes, including the lowest-income groups who make up the majority of voters. Still, he remained on top among presidential wannabes, with rivals Interior Secretary Roxas and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago a distant second and third.
Binay has committed missteps since the scandal erupted. He refused to appear before the Senate to answer the allegations and, instead, challenged Senator Antonio Trillanes, who initiated the probe, to a debate. Trillanes, an amateur compared with the vice president, readily said yes. But after the hyped preparations, Binay suddenly backed out.
The question that’s being asked now is: Will Binay back out, too, of the presidential race in 2016?
Most people believe he won’t. Those who know Binay say that he has no choice; his back is against the wall. To Senator Allan Cayetano, a political enemy of the vice president, a victory in 2016 will be Binay’s get-away card.
There are horrendous legal obstacles to hurdle. For one, Binay faces a plunder case before the Office of the Ombudsman, which is determined to go after corrupt officials. For another, wife Elenita is fending off graft and malversation charges before the anti-graft court. The Senate may refer its findings on Binay’s unexplained wealth to the Ombudsman who can ask the Anti-Money Laundering Council to dig into Binay’s bank accounts. In the lead up to 2016, more revelations are expected in this great unraveling of the vice-president.
The road to 2016 is no longer smooth for Binay. The public is looking at other contenders in a race he has dominated for some time. And in a country with feeble political parties, popularity of personalities is key.
The Senate, a traditional source of presidential candidates, is where the speculation begins. Grace Poe, who topped the senatorial race in 2010 and is an ally of President Aquino, is often mentioned as a viable administration candidate. She has taken on important advocacies such as the freedom of information act and a vigorous nationwide school-feeding program to address hunger.
Some do not count out the unpredictable and outspoken Santiago, who has kept a following because she is never boring, often displaying quick wit and fiery temper. However, she has health problems.
Others consider Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. a potential bet of the opposition. It has been reported that he has not hidden his ambition to follow in the footsteps of his father.
In the Cabinet, the ruling Liberal Party’s sentimental bet, Roxas, is struggling to rise in the ratings ladder. He is handicapped by his indecisiveness in handling crises, as seen in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
At this point, it is still quite early to say who will join the contest in 2016. In Philippine politics, a year can be an eternity.
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