December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Graft court finds probable cause for Binay, Jr.’s trial

THE SANDIGANBAYAN has found probable cause to proceed with the trial of Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin S. Binay, Jr. in connection with the allegedly overpriced P2.2-billion Makati car-park building.

In a 66-page resolution dated April 18, the Sandiganbayan Third Division said the elements of falsification and graft are present in the charges against Mr. Binay and his co-accused.

According to the resolution, Mr. Binay was the Head of the Procuring Entity (HoPE) and had the duty to evaluate the documents submitted by the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) and the authority to approve or reject the recommendation of the committee on valid and reasonable grounds.

Mr. Binay and his co-accused allegedly made it appear that an invitation to apply for eligibility and to bid (IAETB) was published in a news publication.

Both the prosecution and the defense submitted copies of the July 7, 2011 issue of Balita. The one submitted by the defense showed that the IAETB was published, while the one provided by the prosecution showed that there was no IAETB but a Sudoku loco game printed where the IEATB appeared in the copy submitted by the defense.

“After the said examination, the Court agrees with the finding of the OMB (Ombudsman) that the purported IAETB seems to have been merely superimposed (on) the copy of the said newspaper,” the resolution read.

Mr. Binay argued that a newspaper is “not a public document,” hence, they cannot be held liable for falsification under Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code. But the said provision does not specify the kind of document needed to be deemed falsified, the court said.

“To be sure, although the subject newspaper was originally a private document, the same attained the character of a public document when it became part of the record of the bidding process for the procurement of the construction of the MCHP (Makati City Hall Parking) Building,” the court said.

The court also said Mr. Binay’s duty as HoPE was not “ministerial” with regards to the approval of the BAC resolutions, as he had the power to reject bids, declare a failure of bidding or to not award the project at all if the BAC failed to observe the proper bidding procedures.

“Notably, accused Binay, Jr. approved the subject resolution on the same day it was issued by the BAC on August 8, 2011. In any case, the presumption of authorship of falsification is equally applicable to him as he is charged in conspiracy with his co-accused,” the court said.

Mr. Binay had argued that he shouldn’t be indicted for graft as his “mere act of signing” the BAC resolutions for the car park building “cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be construed as basis for the crime charged.”

But the court said the issues he raised are “all matters of defense” which are best ventilated during the trial.

“A finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that, more... likely than not, a crime has been committed and that it was committed by the accused,” the court said.

The anti-graft court set the arraignment of the accused on May 18.

Mr. Binay is facing six counts of falsification of public documents, four counts of graft and one count of malversation. The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed him as city mayor in October 2015 over administrative liabilities in the said project. -- Raynan F. Javil