A former chief of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has denounced an alleged government conspiracy to “cover up” an anomalous land deal between former officials of the National Police Commission (Napolcom) and the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) with a private consortium where the government stands to lose tens of billions of pesos.
Retired BFP director Rogelio Asignado, in an interview with The Manila Times, said it has been an uphill and lonely battle for his group against the “lopsided” land deal forged between the government and Megaworld Corp. under businessman Andrew Tan involving more than seven hectares of property at the former Fort Bonifacio (now Global City) where the Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) used to stand.
“There is obviously a syndicated move to suppress the truth. The judiciary is sleeping or sitting on the case and nobody in Congress would dare touch it, probably because Mr. Tan is a known campaign contributor to many top officials,” Asignado noted.
The billionaire Mr. Tan has business interests in real estate, liquor and fast food. In 2011, Forbes magazine rated him fourth on the list of the “Philippines 40 Richest” with an estimated net worth of $2 billion. As of this year, he is estimated to have a personal fortune of over $5 billion and ranks 3rd in the country.
Asignado said the land deal, forged during the incumbency of then Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno who was also chairman of Napolcom, shortchanged the government because Tan’s group would only spend a paltry compared to the 50-year “perpetual alienation” granted to him to use the questioned property, which is said to be worth more than P20 billion at present.
“This is an anomaly far bigger than the pork barrel scam and yet we’re alone in this. We continue the struggle no longer for the government to repossess the land but to expose this lopsided and highly disadvantageous deal,” Asignado said. He was referring to the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam involving misuse of public funds that was investigated by Congress.
The legality of the deal, which Asignado described as grossly unconstitutional, was first questioned before a Taguig City (Metro Manila) court where his group sought to nullify the supposed joint venture between the government agencies concerned and the consortium led by Megaworld Corp.
The PPSC is a training ground of the police along with the fire and jail bureaus. Since the college was evicted from the property, it has disintegrated into several units that are forced to pay rent. Asignado was former vice president for administration of the PPSC.
Joining him in the petition lodged before the Taguig Regional Trial Court are Supt. Gerardo Ulanday; lawyer Ernesto Pagdanganan, chief of the Inspectorate and Legal Office of the PPSC; retired Brig. General Michelangelo Siscar, PPSC-accredited lecturer; Instructor II Pacifico Talplacido; and lawyer Emmanuel Tiu Santos, chairman and chief executive of International Academy of Management and Economics.
Named respondents were Puno who was then Napolcom chairman, retired Gen. Narciso Abaya who was then chief of the BCDA, Megaworld Corp., Empire East Land Holdings and First Centro Inc., businesses that are attached to Tan.
The petitioners said the PPSC had been legally occupying the property on Lawton Street, Fort Bonifacio, since 1993 under the Department of Interior and Local Government Act through Circular 93-28, vesting the school possessory rights. On March 27, 1998, then President Fidel Ramos issued Proclamation 1187 granting ownership of the property to Napolcom despite the existing law.
Later, the property was placed under the BCDA administration and development through Proclamation 1356 issued by President Gloria Arroyo on August 13, 2007, through the workmanship of Puno.
Asignado said this proclamation “was only made known, albeit in an unofficial manner, to the PPSC sometime in September 2008.” As stipulated, the 7.1-hectare property “shall be developed under the vision of a seamless, integrated, world-class development within Bonifacio Global City.”
Worse, he charged, the deal was “tailor fit” for Tan’s eventual ownership of the property which, in 1997, already had a market value of P100,000 per square meter. He explained that the joint-venture development agreement (JVDA) between the parties is akin to a contract of sale and that it contains provisions that are grossly disadvantageous and injurious to the government in the long run.
For one, Asignado also noted that the Constitution provides only for a lease agreement of 25 years, extendable only for another 25 years. The use of the seven-hecatre property was in exchange for a “consideration that is equivalent to the fair market value of the property” that was never remitted to the National Treasury, Asignado alleged.
The BCDA countered that there was no circumvention or violation of the law because the joint venture was not a sale. and that titles will not be transferred to third parties, not even to Megaworld but will remain with the Napolcom.
Citing documents they culled from the joint venture proceedings, Asignado said Megaworld’s proposal amounted to only P3.2 billion or P45,000 per square meter when the actual value of the property at the time of the forging of the deal was pegged at more than P100,000 per square meter.
Also in exchange for the right to possess the property and gain profit from developing it, Napolcom will obtain 2,000 square meters for office space in a portion of the lot and an office building with an area of 24,995 square meters at the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City where the DILG offices are now housed.
Megaworld has also lined up a 600-unit condominium building near the proposed Quezon City Napolcom building to be sold for P850,000 per unit to Napolcom and DILG beneficiaries.
Asignado claimed that these pieces of property would not be transferred to the government in time because the agreement only allows for “sole and exclusive use” by the Napolcom. He said Megaworld shall remain as the rightful owner of the pieces of property it “lent” to the Napolcom and DILG while the housing units for its personnel will be paid by the employees themselves, not given for free.
“The worst part is the government has no right to share profits from these ventures with Megaworld. It only spent P500 million for the construction of the DILG offices on EDSA. Clearly, Megaworld stands to rake in tens of billions of pesos from the lopsided deal while the government gained only a few billions,” he pointed out.
Asignado also alleged that the case they filed before the Taguig City court was being manipulated by powerful hands in the government who have benefited from Tan in one way or another.
He further claimed that they filed a case of malversation and large-scale graft and corruption against the same personalities before the Office of the Ombudsman. The case, however, was “temporarily dismissed” pending the outcome of the Taguig City court case.
“The Taguig court dismissed our case on September 22, 2010. Immediately we sought a declaratory relief through a motion for reconsideration but the case has since then stagnated. Under the law, the court should act on our motion within the prescribed period of 90 days. How come it has been five years already and the court does nothing? And who in Congress has dared investigate this? There were attempts by some lawmakers in the past but did not last long,” Asignado said.
Left with no other recourse, he added, his group decided to bring the matter before the Supreme Court (SC) to complain about the delays in the lower court. They, however, were discouraged by court officials to continue.
“We filed an administrative case before the SC. Sadly, it was returned to us because they were asking for all sorts of documentations,” Asignado said.
The Manila Times looked up the Internet for similar land deals in the posh commercial district and found out that the Social Security System (SSS) has awarded its 8,300-square-meter property in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, to Clark Quay Holdings Inc. for P2.3 billion in late 2013.
The bid tendered by Clark Quay Holdings–a Filipino corporation primarily engaged in real and personal property investment–was a 4.12-percent premium over the published minimum bid price of P2.24 billion.
On the other hand, a subsidiary of Robinsons Land Corp.–Altus San Nicolas Corp.– has been awarded a contract to develop a 5,000 square meter prime lot located along Lawton Avenue at P560.8 million.
Asignado said these two recent deals further prove that the one forged with Megaworld was truly disadvantageous to the government.
Megaworld to invest P65B
The Manila Times tried to reach officials of Megaworld and was able to talk only with Harold Geronimo, director for strategic marketing and communications, but he would not give any comment on the multibillion land deal.
A check with the company’s website, however, led to information that Megaworld expects to invest around P65 billion to develop the property into its Uptown Bonifacio project.
“The Company is developing Uptown Bonifacio, an approximately 15.4-hectare property in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, Metro Manila. Uptown Bonifacio is comprised of a residential portion in the northern part of Fort Bonifacio, and a portion for mixed-use, comprising office and retail space, on a parcel of land owned by NAPOLCOM,” the company said.
“The Company will develop Uptown Bonifacio under joint venture arrangements with BCDA and NAPOLCOM. Condominium developments within Uptown Bonifacio include One Uptown Residence and Uptown Ritz Residences. The Company expects to invest approximately Php65 billion in Uptown Bonifacio,” it added.
Meanwhile, the BCDA has begun distributing housing documents to beneficiaries of the housing program that is provided under the land deal.
The documents distributed by the BCDA Management and Holdings Inc. (BMHI) will enabe several policeman-beneficiaries to move into their new homes at the Pamayanang
Diego Silang in Taguig City.
The government-run housing project, also called Pamayanang Diego Silang Village, consists of 2,190 units with floor areas ranging from 36 to 56 square meters.
The units have been awarded to Philippine National Police personnel through a
Lease-to -own agreement with the BCDA. The recipients would be paying monthly rentals of P1,500 to P4,000.
A salient provision of the contract enjoins the beneficiaries to maintain a clean service record, otherwise the award would be canceled and the unit to be given to another qualified applicant.
The BCDA has been defending the deal as aboveboard and legal. In fact, its president Arnel Casanova, who was the agency’s corporate secretary at the time the agreement was approved, issued the Secretary’s Certificate indicating that Abaya had been designated by the BCDA Board to act as Napolcom’s attorney in fact.
The board, according to the certificate Casanova signed on August 7, 2008, gave Abaya “power and authority to enter into and sign on behalf of Napolcom and for the approval of the final Joint Venture/development Agreement with the consortium of Megaworld Corporation, Empire East Land holdings Inc. and First Centro, Inc to sign and execute the [JVDA].”
The three private firms are all led by Mr. Tan. In fact, he signed the JVDA in his various capacities as chairman and president of Megaworld, chairman of Emire East and attorney-in-fact of First Centro.