By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
It’s a sight familiar to many CEOs in Makati, yet also one any local government executive elsewhere would envy: The skyline of the city, as seen from the top office of the highest city hall in Metro Manila.
The coast stretches out on the far right. Low-rises fill the foreground, towered by the skyscrapers that have long given identity to the Philippines’ main business district.
The elements of the first represent the history and people of this 345-year-old town: churches, trees and decades-old apartment blocks.
The structures of the latter capture the progress this city has reached in the past half-century, with more office spaces and condominium units under construction.
This is the view that daily meets Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay, more known as Junjun, at his desk in the city hall’s 21st floor.
For him, this mix of past, present and future, seen in panorama through six-feet-high windows, also represents the legacy of his family to the city, whose helm they have held for 30 years.
It’s a view he is not keen on giving up with ease.
Since March 11, Binay has not left the city hall compound, surrounded in this floor and on the ground floor by supporters willing to physically defend the second-term mayor.
The metal roll-down doors of the building’s main entrances have stayed down the whole time. Two slightly opened roll-downs in front during office hours and at the basement driveway the rest of the day are the only routes in.
At least three of the seven elevators servicing the entire city hall were left operational—and not all to the topmost floors. To get to the 21st many had to walk four flights of stairs in the fire exit.
Binay continues to defy a six-month preventive suspension order from the Office of the Ombudsman following an administrative case against him, his father and several city officials.
Jutting out on the left side of the city hall as one looks down is Building 2, the focal point of the case.
The P2.2 billion annex containing additional parking and offices has also been the subject of a long-winding Senate investigation for supposedly being overpriced.
While transactions and services in the main building were hampered by the standoff, frontline offices at building 2 remained open.
It’s not the first allegation that Binay and his father Jejomar, the former mayor and now vice president, misused public funds. But their camp claims the timing of this case is political persecution by the ruling party designed to hamper the elder’s presidential ambitions.
Five days after the suspension was issued, police attempted to enforce the order. Vice-mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña was sworn mayor the next day, and yet only three hours later, the Court of Appeals paused the suspension.
The tension has nonetheless subsided a week since. Gone are the planks propped up by pieces of timber against the lower fire exits of the first building, put there in fear of a takeover.
Still, the outcome of the legal pingpong involving the city mayorship remains in question.
Both Binay and Peña stand their ground: The first still sleeping in at the 21st floor, the other planning to hold office at the four-floor old city hall directly in front.
Binay’s supporters have held vigil for nights in the parking lot between the old and new buildings.
Free fast food packs abated the hunger; standup comics, dancers, zumba instructors and even boys declaiming poems sated boredom. Statement shirts and slogans on tarp abound.
When asked, the supporters loudly claimed allegiance to the mayor, and also to his father. One said, “Until death!”
Seven days after, tents and supporters no longer occupy the parking lot. But they’ve moved to the ground floor of city hall. Many have laid out pieces of cardboard to sleep in, a number of them barefoot.
The vigils and the standoff are nothing new. Back in 2006, when the Binays were also on the opposing end of the administration, a suspension order stemming from charges of “ghost employees” was leveled on the elder Jejomar.
Holed up at the 21st floor until he also got a temporary restraining order, the elder Binay went on to finish his term and even moved to higher office.
For Binay the younger, holding the fort also means distance from the children he parents on his own.
“It’s a sacrifice on my part, but I have to do it,” he said. “Because this is not for me. This fight is for the people of Makati.”
Dogged for some, hooked to power for others–especially the commenters on social media.
The view from the top hardly reflects the chaos going on at the ground.
No Makati mayor except Junjun and his father has worked facing this skyline. With such a view, a political scuffle sounds like the least of one’s problems.
And if the precedent is any indication, for the next few years a Binay will still be mayor of all he surveys.