MANILA, Philippines-The Court of Appeals (CA) on Monday granted Mayor Jejomar Erwin "Junjun" Binay Jr. a 60-day reprieve from a six-month preventive suspension order issued against him by the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II.
Jubilant supporters, chanting "Binay! Binay! Binay!" and dancing to the beat of Queen's iconic "We Will Rock You" blaring on a stage on the municipal grounds, welcomed the temporary restraining order (TRO).
The son of Vice President Jejomar Binay came down from his 21st floor office where he had holed up for five days, waved to about 1,000 supporters gathered there a copy of the court order and thanked them for their "tremendous sacrifices" in massing to prevent the issuance of the Ombudsman's suspension directive.
Binay said in a televised news conference the Ombudsman's directive was part of a grand plan to derail his father's bid to seek the presidency in 2016. "So there might be one case after another," he said.
The CA's Sixth Division, in a five-page resolution written by Justice Jose Reyes Jr., granted the TRO "in view of the seriousness of the issues raised in [Binay's] petition for certiorari and the possible repercussions on the electorate who will unquestionably be affected by the suspension of their elective official."
Associate Justices Francisco Acosta and Eduardo Peralta Jr. concurred in the ruling.
The CA also ordered Binay to post a P500,000 bond (S$15,600).
The court set on March 30 and 31 the hearing of the application for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction, which would hold off Binay's suspension while the suit is being heard.
The court likewise ordered Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to file their comment on the certiorari case within a nonextendible period of 10 days.
In granting the TRO, the justices cited the Rules of Court allowing its issuance.
"It is a provisional remedy that a party may resort to in order to preserve and protect certain rights and interests during the pendency of an action. Its purpose is to ensure the protection of a party's substantive rights or interests pending the final judgment in the principal action so as not to render useless the outcome of litigation," they said.
Claro Certeza, Binay's lawyer, maintained that his client was not yet the mayor of Makati when the alleged transaction on the controversial building was hammered out.
Status quo order
The CA justices cited a 2009 case, Garcia v. Court of Appeals, wherein the Supreme Court deemed proper the issuance of a TRO after finding it "serious and urgent" the question, among other matters, of whether the alleged acts were committed in the previous term of office of the petitioner.
"This is because if it were established that the acts subject of the administrative complaint were indeed committed during petitioner's prior term, then following settled jurisprudence, he can no longer be administratively charged. It further declared imperative on the part of the appellate court, as soon as it was apprised of the said considerable grounds, to issue an injunctive writ so as not to render moot, nugatory and ineffectual the resolution of the issues in the certiorari petition," the resolution said.
The Supreme Court also pointed out, the CA justices said, that the basic purpose of a restraining order was "to preserve the status quo … for the protection of substantive rights and interests."
In his petition, Binay said the Ombudsman's March 11 order to preventively suspend him should be nullified and set aside "for being violative of established law and jurisprudence." He also called his suspension "illegal and unfounded."
Binay said his suspension "will deprive the Makati City electorate of the services of the person they have conscientiously chosen and voted into office."
The mayor insisted that all his actions on the project were "aboveboard and compliant with applicable laws and rules."
Like father, like son
Wearing a blue floral long-sleeved shirt, Binay faced reporters in a conference room just a few steps away from his office where he had ensconced himself since the Ombudsman ordered his suspension last Wednesday.
"I thank the residents of Makati who had tirelessly supported me. I owe them for giving me their trust," said a smiling Binay.
"The important thing now is for us to return to work and bring back normalcy in the affairs of the city. We should all work for the good of the people of Makati," he said.
The embattled mayor of the country's financial capital was defiant and held his ground even after the Philippine National Police sent hundreds of antiriot policemen, including 200 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos, to serve the Ombudsman's order against him in the morning.
Like his father, the mayor refused to hoist the white flag and give up his office as his civilian supporters gathered in front of the shuttered City Hall to protect him.
Upon receiving the copy of the TRO from his lawyer, Certeza, Binay was joined by his political supporters, among them Cavite Vice Gov. Juanito Victor Remulla and Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, inside his office to celebrate his judicial triumph.
"We were all teary-eyed and we were jumping [for] joy. We're happy, but there's also sadness because I was unable to attend the graduation of my daughter," Binay said.
He said he was watching the video of his daughter's kindergarten ceremony that he had failed to attend last week when Certeza arrived around noon and gave him the copy of the court's resolution.
'Oplan Stop Nognog'
Binay told the Inquirer that his suspension was part of "Oplan Stop Nognog 2016," said to be a plot drawn up by the Vice President's rivals to derail his presidential bid.
"I hope this would be the [last]. But our sources said there is a grand plan. So there might be one case after another," Binay told the Inquirer.
"We're hoping that this kind of politics will finally end. It's always like this when elections draw near. It's really sad because we have seen this during the time of my father. This is just a repeat of 2006," he said.
Then the mayor of Makati and leader of the opposition, the older Binay was ordered by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to temporarily relinquish his post due to a graft case brought against him and other City Hall officials.
Mayor Binay said the family was bracing for more attacks from their political rivals.
"More cases will be filed [against us]. This is a sequence of events. We really expect that to happen. They will pick on me, my mom," he said.
His mother, former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay, is facing a slew of graft cases in the Sandiganbayan.
They love the Binays
Cristy Cristobal, 42, of Barangay (village) Poblacion, said that the people were elated because they love the Binays. "They had helped the Makati residents in so many ways, especially the senior citizens."
Makati City Hall remained locked down until Monday afternoon with only the basement open to the elevators that took employees, supporters and media crews to the mayor's office.
In the afternoon, ice cream cones were given to the remaining supporters who loitered around. A band was still playing while the music system was being dismantled.
Sen. Nancy Binay lambasted Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, her father's potential presidential rival in next year's elections, for deploying 2,000 antiriot policemen, including 200 SAF commandos.
"This is not a war zone, unless for Secretary Roxas, this is a war for him against the Binays. We're not 'high-value targets' for them to send this large number of policemen," the senator said.
Joey Salgado, Binay's spokesman, said policemen armed with shields and bamboo nightsticks barricaded City Hall and barred employees from entering the building.
"The police locked down the entire building which disrupted the delivery of services to the people," Salgado lamented.