Corruption probe on VP Binay marks first year in Senate

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It's been a year now since the Binay family is being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee over corruption allegations. In this photo, Mayor Junjun Binay, Vice President Jejomar Binay, and Sen. Nancy Binay sit next to each other.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Thursday (August 20) marked the first anniversary of hearings on the corruption accusations against Vice President Jejomar Binay, and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin "Junjun" Binay Jr.

The hearing – the Senate Blue Ribbon Subcommittee's 23rd on the issue – began with Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III recounting the 13 issues covered so far, including the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building II and questionable Pag-IBIG housing loans.

Pimentel then asked for the whereabouts of Gerry Limlingan, Binay's alleged bagman.

National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officials present at the hearing said they were still looking for Limlingan.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, one of Binay’s staunch critics in the Senate, tried to extract information from Limlingan’s brother, Victor, who attended the hearing.

Trillanes asked Victor on Gerry's whereabouts. But he was not successful in getting any useful information the brother.

“His life is in danger," Victor said. "For me, it’s better not to know too much about his whereabouts. I might be the cause of his getting killed. I don’t want that on my conscience.”

In an interview, the vice president reiterated that he did not know about Gerry Limlingan's whereabouts.

Binay said that, as far as he knew, Limlingan was a very sickly person, and  it would do his health no good if he were to attend the Senate probe.

On Pimentel's statement that hearings would not stop without Limlingan appearing, Binay also said he had expected it to happen.

New witness: 'Ghost senior citizens' benefit from Blu Card Program

A new witness has been brought forward against the vice president and his son.

Arthur Cruto, head of the Makati Action Center, presented initial findings from a survey conducted in 14 barangays in Makati this year. He revealed that more than 40% of senior citizens in Makati were "ghost citizens" still receiving benefits under the Blu Card Program.

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“Sa dalawang pinakamaliit na barangay pa lamang makikitang 40% to 52% ng senior ciitizens ang hindi rehistrado sa Comelec. At hindi makita sa address na ibinigay sa listahan ng Makati Social Welfare Department,” Cruto said.

[Translation: "In the two smallest barangays alone, we saw that 40% to 52% of senior citizens are not registered in Comelec.  We also can’t find them in the addresses that were given by the Makati Social Welfare Department."]

According to Cruto, out of the 68,000 senior citizens in the city, more than 40% projected are seniors who are already dead, nonexistent. or not residents of Makati.

Yet, they continued to receive an average of P11,750 worth in cash and benefits, such as birthday cakes and free medicines, as Blu Card holders.

Makati, added Cruto, is spending about P799 million on the Blu Card Program.

“Ang nawawala kada taon ay aabot sa P367.5milion na nakatago sa likod ng senior citizens’ Blu Card Program,” he said.

[Translation: "The yearly loss is about P367.5 million, which can be attributed to senior citizens’ Blu Card Program."]

But Vice President Binay denied there are ghost senior citizens in Makati.

"May proseso naman. Hindi ka naman basta basta maging senior citizen beneficiary. Kelangan makita iyong warm body," Binay said.

[Translation: "There's a process. You cannot just become a senior citizen beneficiary. There has to be a warm body."]

Binay also said that the program iwas just his city's way of giving back to senior citizens.

"Iyan ay pagpapatuloy ng utang na loob. Lagi ko pinapaliwanag, naisip ko bigyan attention ng senior citizen, kasi noong inyong kabataan, kayo ay nakatulong sa bayan. Bakit naman ngayong tumanda na ay nakalimutan na?" he said.

[Translation: "That's our ways of showing our gratitude. As I have always explained, I want to give attention to our senior citizens because when they were young they helped the country. So why should we forget about them just because they are now old?"]

The subcomittee will also issue a show-cause order to the Chong family who did not appear today. In one of the previous hearings, former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado said the Binay family has close ties with the Chong family.

Mercado said the Chong family owns the business – in which the Binay children were incorporators –  that supplied birthday cakes for senior citizens in Makati.

Mercado also accused Binay of using the Chongs as dummies in acquiring prime real estate properties.

Binay insisted on his innocence in the corruption allegations against him.

CNN Philippines’ Anna Estanislao and Joyce Ilas contributed to this article.