Falling from relevance

Published January 12, 2021, 6:00 AM

by J. Albert Gamboa

Dignity and Compassion: The Life Story of Jejomar C. Binay was one of the books I received during the holiday season that has just ended. Fresh off the press, the 320-page biography is co-authored by Joey Salgado and Krip Yuson.

While I was reading the book last weekend, the former Vice President’s column in this paper titled “A Good Start” popped up on my news feed after being shared by a Facebook friend. Surprisingly, the entire column was devoted to Alan Peter Cayetano, former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Binay wrote about the alleged sins of Cayetano that led to his ouster from the speakership last October – zeroing in on three issues that bedeviled the congressman from Taguig: his role in orchestrating the rejection of ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise renewal bid; “fat” budget allocations for himself and his allies; and “overpricing” of projects for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) hosted by the Philippines.

I searched in Google for Cayetano’s response to these allegations and easily found them. Regarding ABS-CBN, he said press freedom was not the issue in the denial of the broadcast giant’s franchise application. According to him, having been resolved “after fair, thorough, and impartial proceedings conducted by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, it was nothing more than a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise.”

As for the budget allotments, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) outlined how it created the 2021 National Expenditure Program and distributed it to the members of the Lower House. First, the regional and district offices submitted their priority programs to the congressional planning service during the budget call period. Then, the deliberation and review followed. Finally, the results were sent to the DPWH Secretary for approval. Thus, the ex-House Speaker claimed he had no hand in how the funds were allocated to each congressional district.

With regard to the SEAG projects, the national government allotted P6 billion under the General Appropriations Act of 2019, of which P4.52 billion was remitted to the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service while P1.48 billion was provided by the Philippine Sports Commission in several tranches to the Philippine SEAG Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) chaired by Cayetano. After the last tranche was remitted in September 2020, Phisgoc reportedly settled the obligations incurred for the hosting of the 30th SEAG.

What’s puzzling though was Binay’s assertion that Cayetano is a “self-styled moral crusader and Scripture-quoting hypocrite whose grandiosity is fueled by naked ambition.” This looks like a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, since both of them had their share of corruption allegations in the past which must have cost them their respective runs for the presidency and vice-presidency in 2016.

In fact, Binay was driven by ambition when he declared his intent to run for President ahead of everyone else in 2014, opening the door for people to scrutinize his track record while he took an early lead in the surveys. Chapter 14 of his biography is titled “A Target for Demolition” in which his youngest daughter Anne recounts how Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado “kept coming up with preposterous allegations” that triggered Senate hearings lasting almost two years. It may be recalled that throughout Binay’s 20-year stint as Mayor of Makati, Mercado was his loyal ally.

By January 2016, Senator Grace Poe had taken the lead in “presidentiable” surveys and one month before the May elections, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte surged ahead. It was only then that Binay started taking notice of the long-time southern mayor and urged voters not to vote for Duterte whom he called a “liar” and “merciless killer.” At that time, Cayetano ran for the vice presidency as Duterte’s running mate.

At the tailend of the campaign, Duterte countered by accusing Binay and his family of corruption, saying “hindi lang ikaw, pati asawa mo, pati anak mo.” When the final election results were announced, Binay ended up in fourth place after Duterte, former Senator Mar Roxas, and Poe.

Perhaps Binay’s tirades against Cayetano were meant to avenge the latter’s role in probing him for corruption during the senatorial hearings. He repeatedly described the former Speaker as falling into disgrace, but he himself seems to have fallen into irrelevance. For a consummate politician, that is the hardest fate to accept.

What a way to start the New Year: mounting political skirmishes here in the run-up to the 2022 elections as well as in Washington D.C., where the followers of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol. And to think 2021 is not even two weeks old.

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