March 2007
New Political Dynasties

Makati’s mayor fortifies his fort

MAKATI Mayor Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay does not believe in the issue of political dynasties. [[Photo by Jaileen Jimeno]]

BY MAY this year, four of Makati Mayor Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay’s seven-member household (in-laws, grandchildren, and helpers excluded) would have joined the family’s business in Makati: politics. The latest addition would be Mar-Len Abigail or Abby, a 31-year-old lawyer, who is eyeing the congressional seat in the city’s second district.

Binay’s son, Jejomar Erwin or Junjun, 29, who began his political career as Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) official at the age of 15, is now a councilor of the city’s first district and is running for reelection. Binay’s wife, Elenita, warmed the mayoralty seat for the family patriarch for three years after he reached his term limit in 1998. For a man orphaned at a young age and worked hard to go through law school, activism and then, politics, life has indeed changed radically for Jojo Binay. He exudes power and shows he can keep and expand his political clout — by fielding his wife and children in elections.

Binay dismisses accusations that he is building a political dynasty in the country’s financial and business capital. Instead, he sees his family’s efforts to add on to its political strength as proof of a healthy democracy. “Hindi ako naniniwala sa dynasty-dynasty na iyan (I don’t believe in that dynasty thing),” he says. “Where’s the spirit of democracy if there’s a prohibition (to run) based on family relations?”

Binay, now 64, first came to power a few days after the ouster of the Marcoses in February 1986. He was the first to be named officer in charge (OIC) by the Aquino administration. Through the years, he fortified his grip on city hall despite skirmishes with the city’s elite who saw him as an “outsider.” It is quite refreshing, though, that in a city known for attracting the chi-chi crowd and having gated communities lorded over by kastilaloys, the mayor is a short, dark-skinned indio from Culi-Culi in old Makati (which he is proud of being, by the way).

Location map of Makati courtesy of Wikipedia

For an interactive map of the city, click HERE.

“Jojo really loves politics,” says former Senator Rene Saguisag, Binay’s long-time friend and fellow human rights lawyer with the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism (MABINI). The two forged a friendship in the turbulent milieu of the ’70s. But while Saguisag shunned public office after his “transitional stint” in the Senate in 1992, Binay gleefully soaked up being a bigshot in Makati’s politics. When Binay reached the limit of three consecutive terms in office, he campaigned for his wife to take his place. She served for one term and then Binay took another shot at his old post. He is now the longest-serving mayor of Makati since 1901, with a total of 19 years in office.

No wonder then that Binay has managed to consolidate power in Makati. His is a power base that is likely to make it easy for his children to move in, and up, in Makati’s political totem pole. Only two of the 33 barangay captains are not allied with the mayor, one of them businessman Jose Concepcion, barangay captain of Forbes Park. Of the 16-member council, only Nemesio ‘King’ Yabut Jr. does not belong to the mayor’s camp. Yabut Jr. is the son of Binay’s predecessor.

Binay downplays the inherent influence he may have on voters — many of whom grew up knowing no other mayor aside from him and his wife — in boosting his children’s political fortunes. “Hindi naman porke kamag-anak mo, mananalo (A candidate’s being an official’s relative is no guarantee of a win),” he says. Binay cites the example of Kim Atienza, son of Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, who was fielded by his father for a congressional seat in 2004 but lost.

IT’S AN observation that Binay’s critics share, but with decidedly more venom. Echoing other observers’ prediction that Abby and Junjun Binay would not go further than their father in politics, former Makati vice mayor Roberto ‘Bobby’ Brillante, who has filed several cases of corruption against Binay, says dismissively, “His children are not likeable. They have no charm, especially Junjun.”

The towering, 22-story Makati City Hall complements Binay’s desire to run the city like a corporation. (photo by Jaileen Jimeno)

Perhaps compared to their father, Abby and Junjun may indeed be lacking in the charm department. Yet at least the mayor has made sure they would be equipped with something else other than their now-famous surname. Abby, for instance, has a law degree from the Ateneo de Manila University; she has also been active in legal and street actions against charter change. Junjun, meanwhile, graduated cum laude from his Philippine Studies course at the University of the Philippines. Recently, he finished his master’s degree in public administration at the state university. Moreover, Junjun holds the distinction of being Makati’s youngest ever councilor in 2004. Then again, he had been in the council since 1992, having occupied the seat reserved for the city’s Sangguniang Kabataan president.

But there’s another — more important — factor that could make voters overlook Abby and Junjun’s perceived deficit in the charm department: their father’s much-vaunted accomplishments. Of which, to the Binay children’s luck, there are several.

When Binay took over Makati in 1986, for instance, the town’s income was only P274 million. In two decades, that figure has risen to over P8.4 billion, or an increase of over 30 times. Makati also became a city under his watch, despite opposition by major businessmen who were concerned with the higher tax rate — often the root of skirmishes between the Binay city hall and big business. Thus, unlike other local governments, Makati is not dependent on its Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), which in 2006 amounted to less than P500M. “Maliit lang (It’s small),” says Binay.

Through the years, with the city’s treasure chest filling up, Binay embarked on projects that have endeared him to the city’s poor population. Makati’s public schools are well provided for, both in infrastructure, teaching materials, even food and mineral water. Over 100,000 heads of families of Makati’s half a million population are members of the Makati Health Plus program, which issues “yellow cards” that qualifies holders to subsidized health care. Binay also set aside funds for the city’s elderly, granting them free entrance to the city’s movie houses. Senior citizens also get free cakes during their birthdays or golden wedding anniversaries. Traffic rules within the city are strictly observed.

In 2001, Binay moved to Makati’s new city hall. The towering, 22-story building dwarfs the old five-story municipio, and blends with the business skyscrapers that dot Makati’s landscape. The sleek and spiffy city hall reeks of business, dovetailing with Binay’s desire to make Makati run like a corporation. Binay says it has cost the city P3.8 billion in loans, but he says these are scheduled to be paid in full anytime now.

“It’s the only city hall na ganoon kaganda (that is that beautiful),” says Saguisag. “And his office is high enough to enable him to spit on the Ayalas. Makati truly works. Because of him, or partly because of him, or despite him, this place is jumping. Give the guy credit that he really has leadership ability. May imagination.”

“Makati works,” repeats Saguisag.

BINAY’S CRITICS, however, say these accomplishments do not entitle him and his family to more power at city hall. “No one should have monopoly of power,” says Brillante. “It should be rejected in these modern times.”

CORRUPTION is an oft-repeated charge against Binay, but he has so far managed to weather the allegations. (Photo by Jaileen Jimeno)

At the core of the argument, however, are reports and cases of corruption against Binay. This early, his children are being watched for the same reasons.

Saguisag refuses to comment on allegations of corruption against his mayor-friend, saying he is often consulted on Binay’s court defense. But Brillante, who saw action in the anti-Marcos activism of the ’70s just like Binay and once considered the mayor his friend, minces no words in saying that Binay turned his back on good and honest governance immediately after coming to power in 1986. A councilor at the time, Brillante filed graft charges against Binay in 1988 for alleged payroll padding, illegal disbursement, overpricing, ghost delivery, misappropriation of public funds, and falsification of public documents in transactions amounting to P137 million.

“He’s a recidivist,” says Brillante of Binay, explaining that every year, the Commission on Audit has adverse findings on city hall’s use of funds, mostly on overpricing of goods. He adds that Binay “was not psychologically ready to handle power. It corrupted him.”

Brillante warns that with multimillion deals at city hall, and with the incumbent mayor and his wife dragged into cases of alleged corruption, the Binay children may have no good example to follow.

Like Brillante, Councilor Oscar Ibay was Binay’s friend during the martial law years. In the upcoming elections, Ibay — now also a Binay critic — admits Junjun’s chance of retaining his seat is a foregone conclusion. But Abby he gives a “50-50 chance” in her bid for Makati’s congressional seat against Erwin Genuino, the 25-year-old son of Efraim Genuino, chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.

The younger Genuino is still a student at the U.P. College of Law. But Abby Binay is also a political neophyte like him. In filing their certificates of candidacy at the Commission on Elections, it was clear what the two young candidates are riding on: Abby was with her father and the Makati Performance Team — councilors and other officials loyal to Binay. Genuino, for his part, was with Senator Lito Lapid, who is running for mayor, and starlet Anne Curtis, who is said to be his girlfriend.

The prospects of having either one sitting in Congress is making economics professor and TV personality Solita ‘Winnie’ Monsod throw up her arms in frustration. “What awful choices,” says the long-time resident of Dasmariñas Village, an exclusive Makati enclave. “What have they done to represent the people of Makati?”

Mayor Binay says, though, that unlike Genuino, his daughter has had exposure in Makati’s political circle and with the masses, having handled legal actions against charter change, as well as pro bono cases. And since last year, Abby has been actively doing the rounds of the second district, introducing herself to voters. “But more than that, ang biggest factor doon, is anak ko siya (the biggest factor is that she is my daughter),” says the mayor. “Sapagkat anak ko iyan, 101 percent na iyong plano ko para sa Makati, ay itutuloy niya (Because she is my daughter, it is 101 percent sure that she will continue my plans for Makati).”

He explains he wants his children to follow his trail in “government service,” convinced they will pursue the programs he has initiated. “Kung hindi ako napatagal sa puwesto, siguro kung saan-saan din napunta ang aming missions and visions (If I hadn’t been at this post for this long, one can only guess where our missions and visions would have ended up),” he says. “But since I was elected and reelected for so many times, my ideas are implemented.” He says he supports his children’s political ambitions so that Makati would avoid going the way of other local governments: “Bagong hari, bagong ugali (New king, new way of doing things).”

The mayor says it will be easy for him to campaign for his children as president of the United Opposition (UNO). “As head of our slate, I will have the longest speech on stage,” he says.

BINAY, HOWEVER, admits that it is his unico hijo — his only son — Junjun, who is his choice as successor at city hall. “Junjun already has a wide experience in local politics,” he says. “Number one councilor pa nga iyon.”

The problem is that despite his more than 10 years of experience in local politics, Junjun is not expected to win if he runs for mayor so soon. For unlike Jojo Binay who is a veteran slugger in local and national politics, the son has yet to step out of his father’s shadow and show his mettle on his own.

Ibay says the city hall’s door was wide open for Junjun in 2004, with him as opponent. But Junjun was not fielded against Ibay. At that time, Ibay was the number one councilor and Junjun was number six. It was Jojo Binay who faced — and defeated — Ibay.

City hall insiders say as early as last year, there were plans to field Junjun, who is already married and a father himself, for mayor. But the entry of Senator Lapid, who is allegedly backed by Malacañang, changed all that. Last week, Lapid filed his certificate of candidacy, challenging Mayor Binay.

Brillante, who is now running for Congress under the party-list Sulong Barangay, blames Makati’s rich for Binay’s political staying power. He says despite charges of corruption against Binay, the city’s rich has been silent. “They keep on complaining, but do nothing,” he says.

To be fair, Makati’s elite have tried to take part in managing the city. This was when Binay was still known as ‘Rambotito,’ the human-rights lawyer who was a mascot of then President Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino’s perfumed clique. Conchitina Bernardo was Binay’s vice mayor in 1988. Consuelo Puyat-Reyes ran for Congress the same year. In 1992, socialite Nenita Licaros was recruited by Binay to run for councilor. But all three broke ties with the mayor, disillusioned. All three accused Binay of corruption. In 1992, Bea Zobel, matriarch of the clan that owns and controls much of Makati’s central business district, campaigned against Binay.

Corruption is an oft-repeated charge against Binay, a dark cloud that hovers over whatever he declares are his achievements at city hall. It is also a festering issue against him this election season.

For several days in March, a full-page newspaper ad placed by the Save Makati Movement reminded the public that there are pending corruption cases against Mayor Binay, his wife Elenita, and several Makati officials. The group, led by Ibay, questioned the Ombudsman’s alleged inaction on the pending cases against Binay that include plunder, estafa, and unethical conduct. The cases stem from alleged overpricing of hospital equipment, fraudulent purchases of office furniture, and maintaining ghost employees.

“If you are able to point me an honest official in the country, then puwede nang mamahinga si Diogenes (then Diogenes can rest),” says Saguisag. “He’s my client. But if he’s not an angel, I’ll give you a month to tell me who is.”

BINAY HIMSELF calls Ibay an “ex-future mayor,” referring to Ibay’s failed mayoralty bid in the previous election. He dismisses the full-page ads as Ibay’s attempt at getting media attention to boost his candidacy as congressman of Makati’s first district, now being held by Rep. Teodoro ‘Teddy Boy’ Locsin Jr. He also scoffs at Brillante’s aggressive efforts to pin him down on corruption, saying the cases are a product of city hall’s novel programs that do not fall under current government accounting practices. Binay cites as an example his program to provide breakfast and lunch to city hall employees as an incentive.

In October last year, Binay, along with his vice mayor, Ernesto Mercado, and all Makati councilors, were handed a 60-day preventive suspension order for allegedly padding the city payroll with over a thousand “ghost employees” in connection with one of the cases filed by Brillante. Within hours, however, hundreds of people, including former President Aquino, arrived to show support for Binay. The Makati mayor had been at the forefront of protests against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the suspension was seen as political harassment by the Palace.

A temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals stopped the implementation of the preventive suspension. But the suspension order may have been a blessing in disguise for Binay. Aside from Aquino, former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and his other MABINI friends who had been inactive in the post-Edsa 1 years showed up. Their mere presence boosted his public image and helped portray him as an oppressed oppositionist.

And while some may want to see a new Makati chief executive, the plan to pit Lapid against Binay may backfire and solidify support for the latter, as well as for his children.

Monsod, who admits to never having voted for Binay, says she may vote for him this time, if there are no alternatives other than Lapid. (This was before someone named Elias Olalia, a virtual unknown, filed his candidacy for mayor of Makati.)

“There’s no question about it,” she says. “In terms of serving the poor, this guy (Binay) does it. That’s why he’s unbeatable.” Monsod notes that like Binay, Lapid faces questions about his wealth and is trailed by accusations of corruption while he was governor of Pampanga. “But at least Binay has worked for good public schools, the health card, and benefits for senior citizens,” argues Monsod. “That’s why despite allegations that he is kurakot (corrupt), they forgive him.”

Observers say, however, that Binay may have to wait until 2010 before he finally gets his wish to see at least two of his children in Makati’s top electoral posts. But that would not mean the veteran mayor would let go of politics. Although he may eventually leave city hall to his son — or daughter — Binay may gun for a Senate seat, says Ibay. Binay himself says that he sees his appointment as Makati OIC as part of his destiny, and a post higher than CEO of Makati, he says, is again “a matter of destiny.”

His wife Elenita probably didn’t consider being mayor her destiny, since she has sworn off politics. She also faces allegations of graft. But Jojo Binay thinks there are still other members of his family who would go into politics.

“Siguro iyong mga apo ko (Perhaps my grandchildren),” he says. “Inaasam-asam ko na may mga magpapatuloy ng mga adhikain ko (I am hoping that someone among them would continue what I have started.”