MANILA, Philippines–The controversies just keep coming, it seems. On Wednesday, Vice President Jejomar Binay’s group brushed off the allegations made by former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado that the VP owns a 350-hectare farm in the province of Batangas province, dismissing these fresh accusations as baseless and an “amateurish attempt” at copycatting.
The Binay camp’s version of the story is that the property in the township of Rosario is not owned by the Vice President, as claimed by Mercado, but that he merely rented 9 hectares of the said parcel of land for his piggery and his wife ex-Makati Mayor Elenita’s flower farm.
Atty. Martin Subido, Binay’s legal counsel, clarified that the farm property is not 350 hectares but 145 hectares, and that the Binay’s started leasing the 9 hectares in 1994.
Subido detailed that of the 9-hectare property, Binay’s piggery occupied some 3 hectares. The flower farm of Mrs. Binay, meanwhile, covers 1 or 2 hectares. There is also a detached office building for the flower farm, while the remainder is open space.
The lawyer further stated that Binay sold his piggery to Agrifortuna Inc. – owned by Laureano Gregorio, in 2010 – and that what now remains under their lease is the land occupied by Mrs. Binay’s flower farm.
Binay and his wife were once incorporators of Agrifortuna, but sold their shares to Gregorio in 1995, making Gregorio the 97-percent majority owner of the company, Subido added.
“The house, swimming pool and garden mentioned in reports are not owned by the Vice President. They are owned by Laureano Gregorio,” he said.
It was also pointed out by Subido that Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp., operator of Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park, is the current lessor of the property owned by Gregorio. Sunchamp’s ownership of all the property rights of Gregorio was properly disclosed to the Philippine Stock Exchange and the investing public in October 2013 and July 2014, Subido said.
“At present Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp., is the absolute owner of the improvements and facilities mentioned in [Wednesday’s hearing]. In fact, Sunchamp has likewise introduced new improvements such as an asparagus farm, greenhouses for high-value crops, hotel, all in line with its vision to create an agri-tourism park,” Subido stated.
Binay’s political spokesman, Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla spoke out against Mercado for what he said was an “amateurish attempt” by the latter to copycat the recent exposé on the property of Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima.
“The detractors showed an aerial video and photos of the property, an amateurish attempt to do a repeat of the Purisima exposé. Any doubt that the Senate probe was after legislation on the Makati City Hall Building II has been erased by today’s hearing,” Remulla said.
Meanwhile, businessman Antonio Tiu, owner of Sunchamp, categorically denied that he is acting as a “front” or “dummy”for Binay, calling these allegations “baseless.” He added that he would willingly cut short his business trip to Spain in order to face the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee to clarify the matter.
“Unbelievable that I have to be dragged into the political circus. Everything I own through Greenergy and Sunchamp is aboveboard and disclosed to the public. I will cut short my business trip to face these baseless allegations,” Tiu said.
Binay was interviewed by reporters while he was in General Santos City. He refused to answer questions about the allegations, and simply said: “Let’s just see.”