MANILA - Close aides and associates of Vice President Jejomar Binay ordered arrested for snubbing the long-running Senate hearings on corruption allegations against him were nowhere to be found in their registered residences and business addresses, the chamber's sergeant at arms chief, Jose Balajadia, reported on Wednesday.
Balajadia said teams from his office had failed to locate the people whom Senate President Franklin Drilon had ordered detained on recommendation of the chamber's blue ribbon committee.
He said his men would continue the hunt and would seek the help of the police and the National Bureau of Investigation in the effort, if necessary.
Fourteen people were ordered arrested on Monday: Binay's longtime aide Gerry Limlingan and associates Vissia Marie Aldon, Danilo Villas, Aida Alcantara, Hirene Lopez, Irene Chong, Imee Chong, Kim Tung Chong, Iris Chong, Erlinda Chong, Kimsfer Chong, Anne Lorraine Buencamino-Tiu, and brothers James and Antonio Tiu.
On Wednesday, the committee deferred the arrest of Antonio Tiu, Aldon, Villas, and Makati City engineer Line de la Peña after they submitted motions for reconsideration and promised to appear at the next hearing.
There are also arrest orders issued earlier for three other Binay aides-his personal secretary Eduviges Baloloy, Bernadette Portallana and De la Peña.
Balajadia told reporters that it seemed to him that the wanted people were evading arrest deliberately. An address for one of the people even seemed to be fake, he said.
"When we arrived, the owner of the house said, 'Why are you dragging me into that issue? I don't know that person,'" he recalled. He said the addresses submitted for the subpoenas were wrong.
In some of the addresses that his team visited, there was no one to answer their calls or the persons who opened the door said that the person they were looking for was not there.
In one house, the occupant initially tried to stop Balajadia's people from going in. But after an appeal, they were allowed to enter but failed to find the wanted person.
In another house, the Senate staff were told that the person they were looking for had not gone there for a week.
'Bullying and scaring'
Binay on Wednesday slammed the arrest orders against his associates. He said some of them did not get the summons.
Others, he said, were "entitled to know what are the questions to be asked" of them by the senators and were waiting for these questions to be given to them.
Binay said the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee of Senators Aquilino Pimentel III, Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter Cayetano investigating him were "bullying and scaring" people summoned to the hearings.
Binay was in Panabo City, Davao del Norte province, on Wednesday. A transcript of his interview with local reporters there was distributed to media people in Manila.
The Vice President also complained that some of the resource persons had already testified several times in the subcommittee and asked why they were still being summoned. So far, the subcommittee has conducted a record 20 hearings.
Not for prosecution
Legislative hearings are not an investigation to gather evidence in a court proceeding but are supposed to be in aid of crafting legislation, said Binay, a presidential aspirant whose popularity rating has dropped significantly after his bashing in the Senate.
"That's why I'm wondering why these senators are saying 'thieves, guilty of graft and corruption" (during the hearings) when the court is supposed to be saying that," Binay said.
He said those attending the hearings had not committed crimes, they were just supposed to be there as resource persons.
Binay also reiterated that the 242 bank accounts in the Court of Appeals' freeze order did not belong to him and that he had only five bank accounts.
He said the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report to the court made it appear that he was richer than American billionaire Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft.
He also said that the court order for a six-month freeze on the bank accounts did not mean he had committed wrongdoing. He said his money in the bank accounts was legally acquired. "It is clean money," he said.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas shrugged off Binay's claim that the Liberal Party was behind the issuance of the arrest warrants.
"This is proof that Vice President Binay does not understand our system. The Senate is independent… and (the senators are) 24 independent republics," Roxas told reporters at Camp Olivas, where he distributed police patrol vehicles.
"How can he say that there is an architect behind all this? I think the senators are just doing their jobs and that's their focus," he added.