Thursday, August 13, 2009 [ sunstar.com.ph ]
By Garry C. Cabotaje and Linette C. Ramos
MANILA - The House committee on good government yesterday decided to hold a congressional inquiry on the joint venture agreement between the Cebu City Government and Filinvest to develop a portion of the South Road Properties (SRP).
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said he will cooperate with the investigation even if he considers it a trap and is already made to appear guilty.
Osmeña said legislators from the Province are manipulating the proceedings on the inquiry, which he described as politically motivated. He said it is meant to discredit him in time for the elections so the Garcias can join Cebu City politics.
Some Cebuano legislators, however, welcomed the committee’s decision, saying they pushed for the holding of the House inquiry in Cebu City for the convenience of witnesses and enlightenment of Cebuanos.
Both Reps. Antonio Cuenco (Cebu City, south) and Pablo John Garcia (Cebu Province, 3rd district) said Cebuanos are entitled to know details of the multi-billion deal.
In his April 20 privilege speech, Pablo John questioned the joint venture, describing it as grossly and criminally disadvantageous to Cebu City.
In yesterday’s hearing, the committee, chaired by Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo, acknowledged the issues raised in the privilege speeches of Garcia and Rep. Raul del Mar. He said these should be resolved in the inquiry.
“The issues have been joined and the committee will determine the veracity or falsity of these charges raised by Garcia during the congressional hearing,” said Cuenco, a regular committee member.
Pablo John said the joint venture agreement and not a mere newspaper advertisement is the best evidence for the committee to study.
The legislator was referring to Cebu City’s advertisements in local newspapers to defend the legality of the contract.
Rep. Raul del Mar (Cebu City, 1st district) reportedly used the statements in the newspaper advertisement when he answered Pablo John’s privilege speech.
But del Mar said his reply was not merely based on the newspaper ads because he consulted City Hall officials.
As to the issue on equity in the joint venture, Pablo John clarified that he only questioned the percentage share of Cebu City with Filinvest, which is lower compared to a similar deal between Taguig City and R II Builders Inc.
“I’m not referring to the revenues or amount but the percentage share, which in Taguig is way higher than that of Cebu City,” he said.
He said Taguig City gets 69 percent in the revenue sharing while Cebu City will get only 10.16 percent.
Pablo John said the committee should request Taguig City to furnish it with a copy of its deal with R II Builders.
Romualdo asked Pablo John for his copy of the contract and said the committee will write Taguig for the document.
During the hearing, Rep. Pablo Garcia (Cebu Province, 2nd district) also assailed the legality of the outright sale of 10.6 hectares to Filinvest, saying it violates Section 3, Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution and Section 60 of the Public Land Act.
The Constitution and the Public Land Act, he said, prohibit the transfer or sale of public domain, even if it is disposable or alienable, without the authority of Congress. What is allowed by law, he said, is only to lease the property. The sale, he said, is void.
In his news conference at Cebu City Hall yesterday, Osmeña said he is ready to defend the fairness, morality and advantages of the deal to the City Government. He said he will leave the legality of the matter to the City’s lawyers.
The mayor, however, said that it is unfair to appear before a hearing where the accusers, prosecutors and judges are the same people, instead of a judge in a regular court.
“No problem, fine, they can question me but alkanse gyud ko kay the accuser, the witness and the judge are the same people.
If this is a case of illegality, the proper venue is the court,” said Osmeña.
“I don’t want to show the Cebuanos that we have something to hide so we’ll just go there and answer their questions, bahala na if it’s a trap. They’re timing all of this for the elections. It’s been months that I’ve been asking them to bring out that Taguig contract... I will insist to them to include that, unless they want to lose their own credibility,” he said.
Cebu City officials have been asking Pablo John to give them a copy of the Taguig City contract so they can review it.
“Why can’t they show that to us when they’re accusing us of lack of transparency? I’m willing to be transparent, we are willing to walk into a trap if only to prove to the Cebuanos that we have nothing to hide. But this is really a trap,” he said.
FLI vice president for Visayas and Mindanao Tristan las Marias said the company would not comment on the matter because they have not received any advice on what transpired during the committee’s meeting yesterday.
Osmeña also believes that politics is behind Garcia’s actions from the beginning, and is also meant to make investors afraid to buy SRP lots. He said he would not be surprised if the Garcias file a case against him before the May 2010 elections.
“They want to fool the Cebuanos. Fine, but I’m not going to suffer. You know who suffers? It’s Cebu. Because if Cebu City will suffer, they think we will be destroyed and makasud gyud sila in glory but they have to burn the place down first so they can take over. And I’m not going to allow them to do it,” he added.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 13, 2009.