MANILA, Philippines - The Senate didn't bend backward when it let go of Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. hours after serving the arrest order on him, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said on Thursday.
In its briefest hearing yet, the blue ribbon subcommittee released the mayor after allowing him to speak for a few minutes, avoiding a protracted legal drama with the family of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
"There's a script here," Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was overheard as saying.
As soon as he arrived in his SUV, the younger Binay holed up at the detention room of the Senate Sergeant at Arms for more than two hours, virtually holding the subcommittee hostage.
When finally escorted to the session hall, packed with allies including former Senators Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag, the mayor remained defiant, saying he had said everything, and saw no reason in taking part in the hearing.
"No reason to appear here," he told the committee.
The blue ribbon committee issued orders for the arrest of Binay and five others for skipping the subcommittee's hearings on the allegations of corruption and ill-gotten wealth against the elder Binay.
"Not really," Pimentel, subcommittee chair, said when asked if the Senate bent over backward for the Binays, "because he was arrested, and the order is to arrest him, and bring him to the hearing."
The reason for the issuance of subpoena was for Binay to air his side, react and refute charges against him in connection with the allegedly pricey buildings in Makati, including a carpark and a Science high school building, the senator said.
All these were satisfied, he added.
If at all, the subcommittee sent the message across: "Whoever you are, you have to comply with lawful processes and procedures," Pimentel said.
"This is democracy at work. It's not productive in terms of hearing, because we made a lot of people from BSP (Boy Scouts of the Philippines) attend. It's productive in terms of messaging: You can't ignore an arrest order from the Senate," he added.
While waiting for Binay's arrival, Pimentel began the hearing around 10:30 a.m. mainly to tackle charges of irregularity against the Vice President involving BSP, of which he is the national president.
After quizzing Pag-Ibig Fund president Darlene Berberabe and Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Teresita Herbosa, he suspended the hearing at 10:50 a.m. to wait for Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who was a no-show.
Then it became clear, Binay, who had by then been escorted to the detention room at the Senate basement parking, didn't want to attend the hearing, prepping the media for the drama that was about to unfold.
Lawyer JV Bautista and Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla, former spokesperson of the Vice President, told reporters that the mayor was ordered to be detained, but not to appear at the hearing.
Besides, they added, the mayor respected the Senate as an institution, but not the subcommittee.
"This is not a stunt," Remulla said of Binay's acceptance of the arrest order and refusal to appear at the hearing.
During the lull, Pimentel went down to the detention room to talk to Binay and his lawyers, and then Arroyo and Saguisag strode into the session hall supposedly as the mayor's lead counsels.
"We will be asking questions on the substance, but honour the subpoena. Don't be apprehensive about what will be done to you. You will not be disrespected. I have some questions, but I will not force you to answer them," Pimentel recalled assuring Binay during their one-on-one talk.