Let me share a little story about Jejomar Binay from last February 25, when I recounted this, from the Ayala Avenue march:
Yesterday was about linking arms with poor people, rich people, normally politically indifferent people and activists, people with views different from my own but who, at least, aren’t cowardly collaborators or simple-minded apologists of the current dispensation. It was about moving forward along Ayala Avenue at time inch by inch, foot by foot: seeing, every few meters, the policemen menacingly blocking our way. At one point, I was an arm’s length away from batons being aimed at us from behind riot shields; and then cheering as the shields retreated, only to regroup. It was about feeling a particular kind of fury, at seeing ordinary policemen being given the extraordinary mission of defending Ninoy’s statue from the homage of his widow.
We’d been, as I recounted, inching along, with only four or so rows of people ahead of us. All of a sudden, the first row was confronted by riot police and the riot police began swinging their clubs. The first row staggered back and merged with the second row, even as the third row merged with the second because of its forward momentum. So those of us in the fourth row found ourselves instantly the new second row. You could feel the air being displaced by the billy clubs of the riot police, and I remember observing, rather clinically, that the police were clubbing people rhythmically: whack… then a pause as they lifted their batons… then whack… and their was a kind of rhythmical counterpoint as those in their line of beating thudded against the riot shields of the cops.
The instinct at such times is to link arms even tighter and hunch your shoulders in preparation for being struck; and then to straddle the ground to make sure you don’t topple backwards.
Then there was commotion behind us, and I looked back to see the rows behind us part as Mayor Binay came barreling forward, frantically pursued by supporters. He ducked his head, squared his shoulders, zipped through our line and the line ahead, and single-handledly charged the policemen. Just like an American football player. There was a kind of slap as his forearms collided with the riot shields, and then it was the line of policemen that staggered back -and kept staggering back until some officers jumped in to hold the policemen back. At which point the cheering began from our ranks. Then Binay met with the officers and they pulled back. When they’d regroup to try to stop us again, Binay would charge ahead, the cops would pull back, until finally he negotiated access to Ninoy’s statue.
I have rarely seen such raw, physical courage.
But what of the case against Binay? A friend under bar whose opinion I sought said it was simple: the Local Government Code is pretty inflexible on the matter. If anyone files a complaint against a local official, it’s the duty of the authorities to suspend that official. The idea being, to prevent the destruction of evidence. All the law requires is that proper procedure be applied in the filing of the complaint. It is up to the courts to look into the matter, if appealed to, to determine if there was a grave abuse of discretion involved in the suspension of the official.
The code only protects officials to the extent that there is a fixed duration for suspensions, and that the cause for one suspension can’t be recycled -to prevent an endless series of suspensions to harass an official.
So what’s wrong with the Binay suspension? Read Newsbreak’s analysis of the case -besides questions over the procedures followed, it’s unprecedented in that an entire city administration was decapitated. And since what is legal isn’t necessarily what’s right -something lawyers often forget- the many billions of reasons the action could be flawed, is spelled out in the article, too:
It appears that the Palace acted too swiftly on Binay.
Section 63 of the Code says that a preventive suspension, which should not exceed two months, may be imposed “after the issues are joined,” “when the evidence of guilt is strong,” and when the official’s stay in office may influence the witnesses or dissipate the evidence against him.
Legally, issues are considered “joined” after both parties have presented their side to a specific case. Binay and his council submitted their reply to the complaints on September 27. However, if the term is strictly defined as airing of sides and presentation of evidence, then Malacañang cut short the process – it has not conducted any hearing, which the Code requires should be conducted where Binay and the council holds office.
So why the rush?
The administration doesn’t keep it a secret that it wants to Binay out of City Hall – but not because they perceive him to be corrupt, as his critics and official audit reports have been trying to prove…
But in their consultations, President Arroyo’s political strategists have acknowledged that even if they field a former actor for a candidate, pour in so much money, and engage in special operations during the campaign and election next year (assuming one will be held), they wouldn’t be able to defeat Binay and his slate. Their assessment was that the only way to weaken Binay’s machinery is to keep his hands off the city government’s huge resources before the campaign period, which starts in the last week of March 2007.
To accomplish this, the administration has to race against time.
For one, local government units propose their budgets for the following year in October of the present year. Since 2007 is an election year, its budget that has to be studied and prepared starting this month will be open to discretionary items that could be used in campaign-related matters. Makati is the richest city in the country in terms of collection (excluding its share in the internal revenue allotment). It has reportedly been registering an average of P3 billion in surpluses annually since 2001.
For another, Section 62-c of the Code says that no probe for administrative charges should be held, and therefore no preventive suspension can be served, within 90 days before an election. Since the next local elections is scheduled for May 14, 2007, there can be no investigation or preventive suspension against Binay starting mid-February next year. The Palace therefore has to start the probe now.
If the 60-day preventive suspension expires while the OP has yet to complete its investigation, Binay is reinstated. Although his return to office doesn’t stop the investigation, the Palace’s fear of the mayor using his seat to influence witnesses and destroy evidence against him may be realized.
There you have it. As I said in my column for today, it’s about Having the cake.