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House probes Sobrepeña’s books

by Julito G. Rada
[ ] March 16, 2012

The House will subpoena the books of Sobrepeña-led companies to investigate their business practices and unpaid obligations to the government, state-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority said Thursday.

BCDA said the House committee on bases conversion, headed by Kalinga Rep. Manual Agyao, approved a motion to subpoena the financial records and conduct an independent unit of Camp John Hay Development Corp. and all related firms.

CJHDevco is owned and managed by Fil-Estate Corp., chaired by Robert John Sobrepeña, who also owns and manages the College Assurance Plan, the pre-need company known to have defaulted on its obligations to plan holders, and the Metro Rail Transit Development Corp., which currently owes the Transportation Department more than P1 billion.

The motion was filed by Ilocos Sur Rep. Eric Singson during a hearing on Wednesday.

CJHDevco currently owes P3 billion in unpaid lease rentals for leasing a portion of the government property in the John Hay Special Economic Zone in Baguio City.

The city government will receive P750 million if BCDA, the government agency that governs the economic zone, is able to collect the unpaid lease rentals of CJHDevco.

Singson said in a statement that CJHDevco’s debts “place the government and the city of Baguio in a very disadvantageous position.” The John Hay lessee has not filed its financial statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission since 2008.

CJHDevco claimed losses while operating in the JHSEZ, and cited these as reasons for defaulting in their payment. BCDA, however, revealed that CJHDevco has been declaring dividends while defaulting on their payments to government.

“They have not disclosed their books to us,” BCDA president and chief executive Arnel Paciano Casanova said.

“At the heart of this is transparency. We want a private sector partner who we can trust and who is transparent to the public. CJHDevco has been claiming losses without presenting proof and without stating the billions of revenues it generated as well,” said Casanova.

CJHDevco has claimed losses in business opportunities due to the Supreme Court ruling nullifying tax incentives in the JHSEZ in 2003.

CJHDevco also cited as reason for non-payment, the delay in the processing of their permits by the One-Stop Action Center.

BCDA refuted such claim because the ruling was already cured when BCDA actively lobbied in Congress, resulting in the signing of Republic Act No. 9399 and RA 9400, two laws that granted tax amnesty and restored the tax incentives to JHSEZ locators.

Hence, CJHDevco did not suffer any damages as it never paid any tax, it said.

Casanova said the reason for the non-issuance of the permits to CJHDevco was a result of their own neglect. “They have not filed their income tax return and submitted financial statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission since 2008,” Casanova said.

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