The Lord of Makati: Can Binay explain his wealth?
Editor's Note: Since allegations of corruption were again thrown the way of Vice President Jejomar Binay recently, netizens have been citing this Newsbreak report – published in 2001 and awarded the top prize in the Jaime V. Ongpin Award for Investigative Journalism in 2002.
Newsbreak came up with this report on March 28, 2001, just when Binay was set to run again for Makati mayor after a 3-year “break” due to term limits. In the succeeding years, the allegations in this story or shades of these would again surface – now the subject of a complaint before the Ombudsman and a Senate investigation.
MANILA, Philippines – In less than a decade, Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, former chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and former mayor of Makati, accumulated at least P80 million worth of real estate properties in Makati and Batangas, which he kept undeclared, our investigation shows. The amount excludes P12 million in declared investments, as well as other businesses that he and his friends reportedly control through dummy corporations.
In addition, Binay and his wife, Elenita, current Makati mayor, also own at least two Hidalgo condominium units, located inside the posh Rockwell Center in Makati. A 208-square meter unit in Rockwell, like the ones occupied by each of the two Binay daughters, costs around P28 million.
The three properties alone, worth at least P79 million, were never declared in the couple’s statement of assets and liabilities.
This is in violation of Republic Act 6713, which mandates all officials to file every year the acquisition cost and the assessed and fair market values of their real property. They are also required by law to list other personal property, investments, cash on hand or in banks, financial liabilities, and their business interests and connections.
Violation of the law carries certain penalties – a P5,000 fine and disqualification from public office. Unfortunately, officials take the law lightly as none of them have been put behind bars for their transgressions. Former President Joseph Estrada himself was previously caught committing the same mistake.
We interviewed at least 15 contractors, former employees and farm hands, sources privy to transactions, and local residents who saw Binay inspect the properties, and who all confirmed his ownership of these properties. Without these testimonies, it would be difficult to trace ownership to him because documents, if they are available at all, do not link him or his family members to the properties.
Appointed MMDA chair in 1998 and replaced early this year after the Edsa 2 uprising, Jojo Binay wants to go back to City Hall. Perhaps the most popular politician among Makati City’s poor who constitute the majority of the city’s voters, he is the natural target of political opponents.
Makati’s coffee shops are bursting with stories about Binay’s alleged unexplained wealth, which he supposedly acquired during his three consecutive terms as mayor from 1988 to 1998 (he served as OIC mayor in 1986 until the 1988 local elections).
And he has a lot of explaining to do, considering that, as mayor, Binay received a monthly P32,000 salary, and as MMDA chairman, he received P46,000. Elenita received the same salary as mayor.
“These charges are a rehash of old election issues,” says Binay in a written response to questions, brushing aside the allegations of misdeed.
In a city where there is an accumulation of tremendous wealth, it is said that Binay himself had amassed riches by tolerating the collusion between the city’s building contractors and permits officials. It is common knowledge in Makati that permits that City Hall gives to builders of condominiums sometimes come with a hefty, under-the-table price.
The local opposition says they have the goods on the former mayor. In fact, it spent a hefty sum on recent paid ads in the Inquirer that alluded to Binay’s posh residences in and out of Makati City.
But the tough-talking, sometimes brusque Jojo Binay is unfazed. He says he does “not feel alluded” in the ads anyway.
The Binays acquired the first chunk of the land – 16.6 hectares – in 1991. Former farm hands recalled having started working there in 1993, disclosing that they saw the former mayor there almost every week at the time.Two hours away from Makati City, in the agricultural town of Rosario in Batangas, a sprawling, modern, 66-hectrae farm is owned by the Binays of Makati. A conservative estimate of the land’s worth is put at P23 million, excluding the improvements made in recent years such as the construction of two huge houses, a piggery, orchidarium, a cock farm; and the paving of a hilly road that would connect the farm to other areas in the town.
But the couple never declared this in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities (SAL) of 1996, 1997 and 1999, which Newsbreak obtained. The Office of the Ombudsman did not have a copy of his 1998 SAL. The Binay couple is scheduled to file their new SAL next month, as mandated by law.
As of December 1999, the couple declared a net worth of only P20.06 million. In the same period, they declared P12.24 million in business investments – without identifying which these are. In fact, the Binays said their real properties are worth only P3,183,445 as of December 1999.
The only real estate property that the Binays declared as acquisitions since Jojo Binay became mayor in 1998 was a residential property in Alfonse, Cavite. Acquired in 1994, its fair market value as of 1999 was pegged at P59,580. The couple, however, declared in their 1999 SAL that they spent P3 million in improving the Cavite residence.
The other real assets declared by the couple in their most recent SAL were either inherited, purchased, or mortgaged to them before they dabbled in public service. Two of these properties were inherited – one in 1951, in Cabagan, Isabela; and the other, with an unspecified date, in San Pascual, Batangas. Three were purchased – Alabang Hills, Muntinlupa (1964); Mariveles in Bataan (1965); and San Antonio Village in Makati (1977).
Of the eight declared properties, three are classified as agricultural while five are residential. The residential properties include the ones in Cavite; Makati; Muntinlupa; San Pedro (acquired in 1964) and Calamba (1984), Laguna. The Bataan, Isabela, and Batangas properties are agricultural.
Their 1999 SAL does not say when the San Pascual, Batangas, property was inherited.
San Pascual is in the second district of Batangas, very near Batuan, where Binay’s father was born (Binay’s mother comes from Isabela, which should explain his Isabela property).
Along the main road of Barangay San Roque in the Rosario town proper, a huge blue-and-white sign sits in front of heaps of huge fruit baskets. It says: “Jobin B. Mango Station.”
COA finds fault
Jejomar Binay had said in his 12 years as mayor of Makati that he would want to run the city government like a corporation, with all its innovative and entrepreneurial connotations.
However, three years since he left the office and temporarily entrusted it to his wife, the management of city affairs has been far from corporate, or at least professional.
The Binays certainly will not make it to the corporate world, if their track records are to be assessed.
The latest findings of the Commission on Audit (1999) on Makati’s fiscal standing shows why:
• There is a P57.96 million discrepancy between the city’s cash in bank and the balance recorded by the city’s accountant.
• Some officials and employees of city hall have yet to liquidate their cash advances totaling P33.68 million.
• Additional cash advances were granted to people who were no longer employed by the city government.
• There is no way to check if over P10.51 billion in declared fixed assets really exist. City government has not been conducting annual physical inventory of fixed assets.
• Disallowed purchases—or expenditures already made or approved but later determined by COA to be unallowable—amounted to P627.8 million.
• The city government has no annual procurement program, so supplies and properties were purchased in small volumes, thus forfeiting discounts given on big volume purchases.
• Funds were open to loss or misuse because accountable forms were not kept for check and balance and for monitoring.
A caretaker of the Jobin B. Mango Station, an old man, refused to answer queries about his benefactor. The most he could say was that “taga-Maynila ang kapitalista (the capitalist is from Metro Manila).” At harvest time in June, he said, they bring the mangoes to business establishments in Binondo. This is the first time workers will harvest from the capitalist’s mango farm, whose location the caretaker gestures to be far-flung – he acquired in only recently.
Three barangays away, nearly a hundred mango trees line the mountainous expanse of greens and dirt roads. “Kabibili lang niya ng manggahang iyan (He has just bought that mango farm),” said a farmer-resident of Barangay Maligaya. By “he” the farmer meant, “si Binay, iyong mayor ng Makati (Binay, the mayor of Makati).”
Barangay Maligaya is just one of three barangays that Binay’s farm traverses. The other two are Mayuro and Bayawang.
The Newsbreak team saw that within the same property is a sprawling farm known in the area as Binay’s property. The undeclared property is in the fourth district of Batangas. Although Binay traces his father’s roots to Bauan town, and inherited from his uncle a feed mill in the farther town of San Pascual, he acquired the Rosario land only in 1991. He bought the first 16.6 hectares from a certain Donato Almeda, a brother of the Makati assistant city treasurer who resigned his job two years before the sale.
Through Renato Comla, one of his security aides who hailed from Rosario, Binay learned about the parcels of land which were up for sale around his property, according to a relative of Comla himself.
Binay expanded the land over the years by buying out neighboring farms. Former employees in the farm and residents of the barangays also told Newsbreak that among those who sold their properties to Binay for about P35 per square meter were the Patulays, the Goyenas, the De Toreses, the Quezons, and the Aldays. Except for the Patulays, none of these families are natives of Batangas.
Comla’s relative recalled that it was Comla himself who recruited farmers, including some of his other relatives from the surrounding barangays, to work in Binay’s farm.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Binay’s former farm hands complained that each time Binay bought the parcels of land, these would be put under their names and they would be made to sign documents to that effect. Binay got all the documents, however, they said, depriving them of the right to pursue their claims. The agrarian reform law bars a landowner from owning five hectares of agricultural land. Beyond that, he or she must distribute the land to his workers.
By 1993, Binay had already acquired 38 hectares of land in the area. It was also then that he started his own hog raising business with 60 pigs.
The following year, Binay decided to build honest-to-goodness structures in the farm, which required him to secure a building permit from the municipal government. At the time, the “owners” of his properties – farmworkers, actually – were no longer employed in his farm and therefore refused to sign any documents that would facilitate the release of the permit.
“Pineke nila ang pirma namin. Tuwing kailangan, ‘yon ang ginawa nila,” said one of those formerly assigned to the piggery. “May kakutsaba sila sa munisipyo.” (Binay’s aides just forged our signatures. Every time these were needed, they would just forge them. Somebody in the municipal hall connives with them.)
A Manila-based source, one of those who sold his property to Binay, in fact, warned that the moment inquiries about the property are made in the assessor’s office in Rosario, Binay is immediately tipped off.
The vacation house inside the farm, which according to a farm insider, is “being patterned after the Palace in the Sky” project of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, rose simultaneously with spacious pens to house about 10,000 hogs, an expansive orchidarium, and hundreds of teepees for fighting cocks.
The property, based on farmers’ estimates, now spans 66 hectares and, at P35 per square meter when the first parcel was bought, should be worth at least P23.1 million.
Comla resigned as caretaker of the farm a few years ago due to his frequent conflicts with Elenita Binay’s aides. “There was a time when Doctora visited the farm more often than the mayor did because she had to check on her flowers. And her aides were commandeering people around, something which did not sit well with Ato,” a friend of Comla recalled.
Former farm workers recalled that, in 1999, suspected communist guerrillas raided the farm because Binay reportedly maintained an armory there. They seized 10 different types of guns, according to farm employees at the time. Comla’s brother, his friend said, happened to be a member of the New People’s Army in the province.
The farm is now heavily guarded, a farmer in nearby barangay said, with security guards coming all the way from Makati and General Santos City. Farm workers from surrounding barangays have been replaced by aetas from Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales and Tarlac who stay in quarters inside the farm. “Batanguenos complain a lot,” a former farm worker said, recalling the reason they were dismissed from their jobs.
He said they were made to work from 7 am to 5 pm every day, and were made to choose between two salary arrangements – P150 a day without free food, or P3,000 a month with free food.
To further secure the farm, Binay’s chief chief security, Lito Glean, frequently visits the place and has been befriending local leaders in the area. The chairman of Barangay Maligaya, Danilo Recto, is now Glean’s kumpare after he stood as sponsor in the wedding of Recto’s daughter.
At present only one Batangueño, Pepito Carrido, remains employed in the farm.
Carrido, who started out as bookkeeper in the farm seven years ago, is, by all indications, now a trusted man of Binay, in charge of releasing the salary of farm workers. Even if Carrido was present when we visited his house one Sunday evening, his wife, who had orchids as fine as Mrs. Binay’s in her mini patio, said her husband was out, that she did not know the number of his cellular phone, and that they never talked about his work in the farm.
Carrido lives in a middle-class subdivision in Barangay San Roque. A stone’s throw away from the gate of his village is the Jobin B. Mango Station.
Without these testimonies from residents of Rosario and former workers of Binay, it would be difficult to trace the ownership of the land to the returning mayor.
This is the same difficulty that Newsbreak encountered when it investigated reports that Binay, through dummy corporations, also owned several business establishments in Makati. However, people privy to the transactions or who have seen the Binays in posh residences in the city have spoken with Newsbreak to confirm his ownership of these companies and residences.
The papers of incorporation were mostly unavailable at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and, in instances that documents could be accessed, they listed non-incriminating names. Land titles remain in the names of former owners or fronts, according to people privy to Binay’s style, but the documents are all with him for safekeeping.
The Makati properties
A real estate broker, who had just shared the elevator ride with the doctora, was impressed that she seemed to be on a condo-buying spree. For that was the impression created by the Saturday afternoon visit some six months ago. The mayor at the time had just visited two of her daughters occupying two units on the 19th floor.Wearing a house dress which indicates her domestic familiarity with the place, Mayor Elenita Binay emerged from the elevator at the lobby of the Hidalgo condominium building at the plush Rockwell Center. The security guard acknowledged her with a respectful nod, which she returned with a casual inquiry, “May units pa bang for sale dito?” (Are there other units for sale here?)
These days, the family reportedly already owns four units in the P100,000-per-square meter structure. However, Rockwell employees could confirm ownership of only two of these. Company officers declined to talk about the matter.
Only one of the daughters, the Ateneo law student, stays in the place now. The other was asked by her parents to go back to their old house on Caong Street in Barangay San Antonio.
The Binay couple still live in the same house and in the same tough neighbourhood where the father grew up. Orphaned at an early age, Binay was raised by his uncle who exposed him to simple living.
But said a former trusted aide of Binay, “He keeps cash by the millions in that house.” And that is not his only house.
Residents of Bel Air Village 2 attested that the “yellow house” at number 212 Orbit Street belongs to Binay. “It’s some kind of a safehouse, a place for meetings,” said a resident. “There are days when the place is quiet, and there are days when so many cars are parked outside the house.”
Over in the less affluent Barangay West Rembo, a huge house, known to residents as being occupied by Binay’s newlywed daughter, has also been built. Just last February 24, squatter families were alarmed at the sight of engineers surveying the area for a possible widening of the road that leads to what they will call the “mansiyon” (mansion). Paving the roads means a possible demolition of their shanties.
However, except for the fact that these houses are either occupied or frequented by members of the Binay family, there are no documents to show that they indeed own them.
How could he have done it?
Non-governmental organizations campaigning against Binay asked realtors to explain the most likely scheme that Binay, a former human rights lawyer, must have used to hide his ownership of these houses.
The realtors explained it this way: He forms a company, which buys or builds the house for him. He then lists down unknown names from different addresses as incorporators of the company. After buying the property, registration papers do not bear his name. Instead, the original owner is asked to either issue a mortgage in Binay’s favor or sign a paper bestowing him with a power of attorney over the property. Only Binay has copies of the pertinent documents, such as deeds of sale and land titles.
A former aide of Binay who worked with him for three years under the Aquino government claimed that the former mayor used this scheme to acquire more than 10 houses and lots in Dasmariñas Village, all of them being rented out.
“There are these people from Bulacan whose names he’s been using [to acquire some properties],” the source, now retired from government, said. “In fact, he and Doctora are special guests of those people during fiestas.”
Homeowners, however, could not confirm whether Binay indeed has properties in the neighbourhood. SEC records of holding companies involved in recent purchases of properties in the village did not point to Binay or any of his close associates.
A contractor said the “usual SOP” is that, in exchange for a building permit, contractors give a representative of the office of the mayor one condominium unit. This is aside from the requirement for most contractors, until 1998, to hire the services of excavation contractor NJ Bautista Enterprises, which, according to three contractors interviewed by Newsbreak, is owned by the couple Noel and Celine Bautista. Both are said to be close to the Binays.
Another contractor, who built at least two buildings recently, said his company had to give an undisclosed amount of money to an unidentified City Hall official before it got “accredited” to do work in Makati during Binay’s last term.
He said the condominium payoffs, although made several years ago, remains “a very sensitive issue” which he could not discuss in detail.
Despite persistent talk, however, nobody has come out to openly accuse Binay of pocketing commissions from these deals. The returning mayor has repeatedly denied this, claiming that his first mission was precisely to clean up the permits unit at City Hall.
Pointing out that “everybody’s hassling everybody” in City Hall anyway, a third contractor contacted by Newsbreak said, without elaborating, that his company has opted to just comply with Binay’s extra-legal requirements so it could continue building in Makati. By doing so, he said, “we have not encountered problems so far.”
Called Apex, the five-story commercial complex on the corner of JP Rizal Extension and Sampaguita Street sits where a city government-owned sports complex used to stand. It houses on its first floor a Chowking restaurant, a Mercury drugstore, and a few RTW stalls. A bookstore occupies part of the second floor, while two cinemas share the third floor with a computer school, which also occupies the rest of the building.Just beside the barangay hall of Comembo, residents of Makati’s poorer communities have their own Glorietta to troop to.
What makes the mini-mall popular among residents is that they know it belongs to former Mayor Binay. The name of the company, JOBIM, is a dead giveaway. City Hall insiders said it stands for Jojo Binay, Irasga (the last name of Nelson, his former chief city engineer and trusted aide with whom he had a falling out in 1998), and Mercado (the last name of former councilor Ernesto, who is widely recognized in Makati as Binay’s alleged bagman).
The Chowking branch on the first floor of Apex which opened in 1996 is registered under the name BIMECH Food Chains Corporation, which, reliable sources said, again stands for Binay, Irasga, Mercado, and , possibly, one Lilia Chavez, whom SEC papers showed is a resident of Barangay Guadalupe in Makati. Chavez owns the most number of shares in the corporation, which, in 1998, reported a total net income of only P181,644, which dropped to P59,390 in 1999.
However, as in the case of his alleged houses, documents on the ownership of these and other business establishments do not bear the name of Binay or any of his close political allies. In some cases, there are no papers of incorporation at the SEC at all. And as in the case of the houses, only employees and people privy to Binay’s business deals will attest to his ownership of the companies.
For instance, two McDonald’s outlets along JP Rizal – one at the corner of Reposo Street, very near the City Hall, and another at the corner of Pasong Tamo, near the Sta. Ana Race Track – are widely known in Makati as Binay’s. A check on the papers, however, revealed that the franchise of the said outlets remains with McGeorge Foods Corporation, the mother company of McDonalds in the Philippines.
A source knowledgeable about the deal said Binay earns from McDonald’s because he owns the lots on which the said outlets stand and also leases them to McGeorge. The Makati assessor’s office refused to reveal the identities of the owner of the said properties.
The Dreyers ice cream booth in Glorietta at the Ayala Center, the franchise for which is pegged at P1 million, is also widely known to be Binay’s. The company’s name, BIMET Manufacturing Corporation, is quite similar to the JOBIM acronym of a mall that Binay reportedly co-owns with Mercado. The SEC, however, has no records on the company.
No registration papers could be dug up either at the SEC for two more widely known businesses of Binay: the two-story Areflor Funeral Homes on JP Rizal Extension, and the Christine’s water purifying plant in Barangay Pembo. A Montessori school and a number of shanties were torn down to provide space and an access road to the said plant.
The Binay couple reported in their SALs from 1996 up to 1999 that they had investments in business which grew at an average of P2 million annually. No details on the nature of these investments were given.
Corruption is an issue that has been raised against Binay in every election since 1988, including the one held three years ago, when he fielded his wife while he was waiting for his term limit to pass.
Each time, the charges – bloated payrolls, overpriced equipment and supplies, grease money demanded from businessmen, and hefty commissions from projects and purchases – would prove immaterial to voters, as Binay would always win hands down.
To the poor who compose almost half of Makati’s 505,203 population, Binay is the champion who has delivered to them the goods and services by pounding on the rich to pay their taxes.
The local opposition recognizes that it would be a “difficult climb” trying to downplay what Binay has given the poor, patronage politics being a concept that voters do not seem to regard as negative.
Free education in a university that would shame private institutions in terms of structures and equipment, access to free medical care in the expensive Makati Medical Center, burial assistance for families who have lost loved ones, basketball courts and paved roads – as long as they benefit from these, residents of depressed barangays are unlikely to question whether these are their rights and not acts of goodwill from Binay.
“We cannot deny the fact that Binay has been delivering to Makati’s poor more than what they ever had before,” said Councilor Mark Joseph, one of the only two oppositionists in the local legislative body. “What our constituents should be made aware of is what he is not delivering. Where people need medicine, they are given roads. Where people training for livelihood, they are given cement.” – Rappler.com
This report was first published in Newsbreak magazine on March 28, 2001.