Plunder charges filed over P41-B land sale

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Consumerism activists belonging to the United Filipino Consumers and Commuters (UFCC) and the Water For All Refund Movement (WARM) have filed plunder and graft charges before the Office of the Ombudsman against incumbent and former officials of the Public Estates Authority (PEA) plus top officers of a private developer over their alleged conspiracy to defraud the government in a 1988 sale for a pittance of a four-hectare reclamation property along Roxas Boulevard in Parañaque City (Metro Manila) now valued at over P41 billion.

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The UFCC, represented by its lead convenor Rodolfo Javellana Jr., recently filed the case against the PEA officials and executives of the Manila Bay Development Corp. (MBDC) for violation of the anti-plunder and anti-graft laws (Republic Act 3019 and RA 7080, respectively) over the MBDC’s failure to develop a seaside estate beside the Cavite Expressway (Cavitex), nearly three decades after both parties signed an agreement covering its sale and supposed conversion into a Greenhills-type commercial center.

Javellana, also lead convenor of WARM, accused the respondents in his 14-page complaint-affidavit of “conspiracy” to defraud the government and the people of expected accumulated earnings from what is probably the country’s “biggest scam of asset disposition,” involving the reclamation lot believed to be worth P41 billion at current market prices, at MBDC’s Central Business Park II.

He noted in the affidavit-complaint that the deed of absolute aale has proven to be “grossly disadvantageous” to the government and the people because MBDC has until now reneged on its commitment under both parties’ 1998 agreement to acquire the lot for a relatively small amount, on condition that this firm would fully develop it into a business-commercial complex in five years; and past and incumbent PEA management and its board have “done nothing” to take punitive steps against MBDC such as canceling the contract for this serious breach.

Respondents in plunder-graft case are incumbent PEA chairman Roberto Muldong and its general manager Peter Anthony Abaya; PEA board directors Virgilio Ambion, Manuel Medina, Edilberto de Jesus, Reynaldo Robles and Rene Enrique Silos; and former PEA general manager Eduardo Zialcita, who executed the deed of sale in 1988.

Also respondents are MBDC president George Chua, who signed the contract with Zialcita in 1988, and the unnamed board directors of the private developer.

Although the allegedly anomalous deal happened almost three decades ago, Javellana pointed out in his affidavit-complaint that it is not covered by the mandatory 10-year prescription period for the filing of plunder charges against guilty parties and the 20-year prescription period covering graft complaints, because “the Filipino people [only]became aware of the deed of sale just recently when the issue became public.”

“Hence, the filing of these cases against the former and [current]officials of PEA as well as against the owners and officers of MBDC is within the period allowed under the rules,” he said.

Javellana noted in his affidavit-complaint that the “highly irregular deal” and alleged conspiracy of PEA and MBDC officers surfaced only recently when the Uniwide Sales Realty & Resources Corp., in its ongoing court battle with MBDC, came out in 2014 with a newspaper advertisement appealing to PEA to take back this property worth P41 billion that MBDC had purchased for only P420 million.

He recalled that Uniwide used to be the country’s biggest retail company, but subsequently went through dire financial straits after agreeing in the 1990s to lease MBDC’s reclaimed lot and then build there its Coastal Mall, which “now stands as nothing more than a ghost of a mall” that is used as a bus terminal.

“MBDC promised Uniwide a commercial complex around the Coastal Mall area comparable in scale to the Greenhills shopping area” but “that never happened,” Javellana said, “making commercial development untenable,” especially after the subsequent construction of the Macapapagal Boulverad that cut through Uniwide’s leased area.

According to Javellana’s charge sheet, Zialcita had sold to MBDC the Roxas Blvd. reclaimed property totaling 410,467 square meters by viture of President Decree 1084 that created PEA in 1977 as overseer-agency for commercial development of state-owned reclamation estates.

This property was sold to MBDC, as represented by Chua, on August 23, 1988 for just P1,100 per sq. m., or a total of P472,037,050, but on condition that the private firm would develop the lot into a business or commercial complex within fiveyears, based on the approved Parcellery Plans and Urban Design Guidelines attached to both parties’ deed of sale.

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