In October of 2006, the then-Makati City Mayor, Jejomar “Jojo” Binay barricaded himself in City Hall and refused to accede to a suspension order issued by the Philippines’ Department of the Interior and Local Government over charges that he was keeping “ghost employees” on the city payroll and enriching himself by pocketing the salaries of the nonexistent staff.
After three days, a Court of Appeal issued a temporary restraining order preventing then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government from enforcing the order. Eventually Binay beat the rap and remained as mayor until he ran successfully to become the country’s vice president in 2010, allegedly lining his pockets as he went.
Today that situation is being played out in remarkably similar fashion by his son and successor as Makati Mayor. Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr has been accused, like his father, of corruption by the country’s Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales. He has barricaded himself in his 21st floor office with father Jojo providing strategy and moral support and about 1,000 people in the streets at various times as a buffer against arrest. His supporters have said they will spend their nights in the quadrangle below the tower.
This is not the first time the country’s capacity for impunity has been tested. It is a particularly Filipino bit of theater. Nonetheless, the current squabble can be regarded as a test of whether the Philippines is maturing enough as a society to arrest and jail the corrupt. The country has had five years of relatively rational government at the hands of President Benigno S. Aquino III after two presidents – Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – were accused of massive corruption.
There has already been one stunning case. Three powerful members of the Philippine upper house have been charged with corruption. Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. have been detained for months at the national police custodial center in Camp Crane; Senate President and legendary political survivor Juan Ponce Enrile, 91, because of his advanced age is at the general hospital also in the camp, the national police’s main headquarters. They have been held after being arrested last year on charges of plunder and graft in connection with the massive Pork Barrel scam that became public in 2012. It is uncertain when, if ever, they will go on trial.
The Binay case is the latest to grab headlines. It may well be that both Binays have profited enormously from corruption. But as a longtime western observer said, there are few completely honest men in Philippine politics and they could well be targeted for their political ambitions. Vice President Binay is leading the polls to be president in 2016.
“The Binay clan are bad but this is all about 2016 [when the Philippine presidential election is to be held]. It has nothing to do with justice,” the western observer said. “The establishment just hates Binay and fears he will be another Erap Estrada, a swaggering dark-skinned goofball who embarrasses the cultured mestizos.”