The Fearful Senators

In the more than ten hearings of the Blue Ribbon Sub-Committee on the alleged anomalous transactions of Jojo Binay and his son as mayors of Makati, only Senators Sonny Trillanes, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Sub-Committee Chairman Koko Pimentel have been attending. But when the Senate Committee on Public Order called for an investigation of the Mamasapano incident, 14 senators showed up. That prompted me to post the blog that many of them are afraid of Vice President Binay that is why they do not attend the hearings on the Binays.

Well, in Wednesday’s hearing of the same committee, to my surprise, four other senators showed up: Bongbong Marcos, Serge Osmeña, Sonny Angara, and Chiz Escudero. However, their presence hardly changed the impression that senators are afraid of Binay. Because he came late,Marcos asked about something that had been discussed at length and in depth. Angara was very gentle as always. His questions did not pry out information pertaining to the supposed anomalies. Escudero showed up towards the end of the session – it seemed to just pay his respects to Alphaland chair Bobby Ongpin, one of his ninongs at his wedding. Only Osmeña, who Cayetano referred to as the Finance expert in the Senate, made the hearing interesting with his provocative questions.

The hearing was about the allegation that the deal between the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP), which owned a 1-hectare land in Makati, and Alphaland, which undertook the development of the property, was a sweet heart deal in favor of Alphaland for which deal Jojo Binay, president of the BSP, was supposed to have been paid about P500M as kickback for facilitating the deal.

Ongpin and Alphaland president Babes Oreta and BSP vice president Wendel Avisado were the principal resource persons at the hearing. Avisado, Ongpin, and Oreta, all said in their opening statements that the deal was above board and that the BSP is going to earn more than what it was initially projected to earn. Ongpin added that he has filed a libel suit against Ernesto Mercado, who brought up the issue in previous sessions, and that he and Oreta will pursue the suit aggressively.

I now wonder if Ongpin and Oreta would pursue the libel suit as aggressively as Ongpin said they would. I think the hearing Wednesday afternoon provided Mercado a formidable line of defense against the charge of libel.

When Osmeña asked Ongpin why he gave Oreta a 5% share in the project, Ongpin said it was to entice him to accept the position of president of Alphaland. Mercado had claimed that the 5% share given to Oreta was subsequently given to Binay as the kickback. When Osmeña asked Ongpin why the shares representing the 5% share of Oreta were valued at par when they were being traded at six times the par value, Ongpin said at the time they were given, Alphaland shares were not listed in the Philippine Stock Exchange. Whereupon, Osmeña told him “You are not telling us the truth. What is wrong with you?” Ongpin clamped up after that.

Cayetano asked Oreta if he paid income tax on the shares of stocks given him by Ongpin. Oreta said he paid capital gains tax. Oreta, a lawyer (by his own claim he was a successful law practitioner and his Law firm was THE Firm during the Cory Aquino administration {his law partner was Tanjuatco, a first cousin of Cory}) knows that capital gains tax is not the same as income tax. The BIR representative in the hearing said that the shares of stocks Ongpin gave him were income and therefore subject to income tax.

Osmeña also pressed Oreta against the wall when Osmeña asked him to explain the loss of P80 M from his assets. He asked his accountant to explain, who in turn said the external auditor can explain. Osmeña could not believe why Oreta, who again by his own claim has been in property development (big time, judging from the enormity of his projects) for years, did not know how he lost P80 M. But it can be inferred from the line of questioning of Osmeña and Cayetano that the unexplainable loss was part of the supposed kickback to Binay.

The Scoutmasters and the thousands of Boy Scouts who may have followed the hearing must now be thinking that Avisado has failed to protect their interest big-time.

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