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BAGUIO CITY – A Pasig City regional trial court judge ordered yesterday the arrest of the former chief executive officer and six other former and current directors of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) pursuant to a January 2013 libel indictment.
The indictment stemmed from a complaint, seeking ₱100 million in damages, filed in July 2012 by the chairman of CJH Development Corp., erstwhile developer of the long-stalled and since-rescinded multibillion-peso Camp John Hay public-private partnership (PPP) development project.
Ordered arrested by Judge Maria Paz Reyes-Yson were BCDA’s former president and CEO Arnel Casanova, former chairman Felicito Payumo, former directors Zorayda Amelia Alonzo, Ma. Aurora Geotina Garcia, Elmar Gomez, and Maximo Sangil, and holdover director Ferdinand Golez, who were all appointed during the previous administration.
The indictment resulted from the “malicious” nationally-circulated two-page newspaper ad placed in April 2012 by Casanova and company, alleging that CJHDevCo was involved in “questionable business practices,” primarily over the so-called “double sale” of an allegedly previously-sold ₱20 million log cabin.
The log cabin was one parcel in a lot of five properties worth ₱180 million remitted to and accepted in 2008 by BCDA as rent payment in kind. CJHDevCo chairman Robert Sobrepeña said a prospective buyer, Wilson Sy, backed out in 1999 and the unencumbered title to the log
cabin remained in CJHDevCo’s name.
The ad touted a March 2012 BCDA estafa complaint filed with the Dept.of Justice over the alleged cottage re-sale. Apparently, uninvestigated to date, the estafa complaint has not been dismissed despite the court submission of an affidavit by Sy disclaiming ownership of the log
The libel complaint and indictment were then the latest incidents in a contentious PPP, signed in 1996 but hindered until 1998 due to lack of an environmental compliance certificate, which BCDA said it would help secure, and by BCDA’s long-delayed demolition and clearing of existing structures, completed only in 2003.
This was followed by the Supreme Court’s 2003 voiding of tax and fiscal incentives granted CJHDevCo as one of the prime incentives during the BCDA bid, a clear case of default by BCDA. The incentives were partially restored by legislation in March 2007, by then causing irreparable damage and unnecessary expenses for CJHDevCo. More obstacles emerged through the years.
The project has been stalled since 2003—when Casanova was named general counsel—after CJHDevCo suspended payments over BCDA’s withholding of various permits and its refusal to negotiate or voluntarily enter mediation.
The developer sued to compel arbitration, granted in April 2005 but avoided by BCDA until July 2008, when a memorandum of agreement, the PPP’s fourth since 1996, was signed, in order to give BCDA a chance to remedy their numerous defects.
The MOA stipulated a waiver of BCDA liability for damages and acknowledgment of developer debt of ₱2.4 billion, mostly incurred during the period of the BCDA default, conditioned on BCDA’s establishment of a “One-Stop Action Center” that would issue
all required permits within 30 days.
Barely a year later, after remitting nearly ₱600 million to the BCDA, CJHDevCo accused the latter of reneging on the 2008 MOA and suspended payments anew.
The ensuing standoff was played out in a media war of words, nuisance suits, a 2011 payment proposal rejected by BCDA, another court-ordered arbitration in July 2012, a Feb. 2015 arbitral ruling and contract rescission, and appeal upon appeal. The last word on the subject now pends before the Supreme Court.
The arbitral verdict ordered BCDA to refund CJHDevCo ₱1,421,096,052, representing the total amount of rent paid, wiped out the developer’s liability for all debt claimed by BCDA, and told CJHDevCo to leave the premises after the refund is paid. Sub-leased properties, which BCDA wanted to annex outright, were decreed untouchable by the Court of Appeals, a ruling pending review with the SC.
Despite ₱5 billion invested and the nearly ₱1.5 billion in payments, CJHDevCo was authorized to build less than 25% of the allotted 18-hectare tourist-oriented commercial hub even in accordance with BCDA’s own master plan.
Along with an iconic golf course and clubhouse, the former American military rest-and-recreation facility houses three hotels, a 2,500-seat convention center, strip malls, horse and hiking trails, restaurants, and picnic grounds, amid a nearly 600-hectare forest, Camp John Hay—lock, stock and barrel—was contracted to revert to Baguio City in 2046.
President Duterte, shortly after assuming office, replaced Casanova with VivencioDizon, an economist and professor. Perhaps dismayed by the endless litigation and years-long retention of a private law firm to litigate for and against both BCDA’s and Casanova’s lawsuits, Dizon ordered a legal audit of the state corporation. Bail for Casanova and his co-accused was set at ₱10,000 each.
By Dexter A. See