MANILA–Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has named six prosecutors who will conduct investigation and review of the contract between the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the Tagum Agricultural Development Company (Tadeco) owned by Davao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr.
Aguirre has issued Department Order no. 225 dated April 4 which designated Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III, as the chairman of the panel while the other members of the panel are Director Maria Charina Buena Dy-Po (vice chairman, technical staff), State Counsel Precious Pojas (legal staff), State Counsel Melvin Suarez (legal staff), State Counsel Noel Adriatico (technical staff) and Catherine Angela Maralit (technical staff).
The panel was created upon the request of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Aguirre said that panel will look into the 25-year joint venture agreement between the two entities for the lease of 5,300 hectares of the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) to Tadeco.
”The department has created a committee to conduct investigation on the matter. The said committee shall be tasked to focus on allegedly illegality of the agreement and the consequent disadvantages it brought to the government,” Aguirre said in a response to House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez letter dated March 30, 2017.
Alvarez asked the DOJ, which has administrative supervision over the BuCor, to cancel the allegedly disadvantageous contract after filing a graft complaint against Floirendo before the Office of the Ombudsman and filing a House resolution seeking a probe on the deal.
The DOJ chief said the panel would specifically look into the alleged disadvantages of the contract to the government and repercussions on the proposed termination of the contract.
Aguirre vowed a transparent probe on the matter, adding that the DOJ would ensure that “all subsequent agreements to be entered into by the government shall comply with all the requirements set forth by the Constitution and by the laws.”
”A report shall be submitted indicating the appropriate measures and the proper legal remedies to be undertaking order to protect the interest of the government,” Aguirre said.
For his part, Tadeco president Alex Viloria welcomes the DoJ probe which he considers a chance to address all the malicious, baseless and downright false accusations being hurled against the company.
Viloria said the contract forged in May 2003 with the government is aboveboard, contrary to the allegation of Alvarez that it could lead to some PHP25 billion in losses on the government’s part.
”We welcome the investigation of the Department of Justice as it will be a chance for us to properly address all the malicious, baseless and downright false accusations being hurled against Tadeco. We will be able to show that our contract with the government is above-board as it has been repeatedly upheld by different government agencies,” Villoira said in a statement.
”The DOJ probe will likewise enable us to show how Tadeco has been helping the Philippine economy and our countrymen for many decades through job opportunities, taxes and social upliftment of communities,” he added.
Tadeco, one of the country’s largest banana export firms, had converted the vast prison colony in Panabo, Davao del Norte into a banana plantation.
In a statement, Alvarez said that Tadeco was paying only a guaranteed PHP5,000 per hectare for the 5,308-hectare penal lands. This amounts to PHP26.541 million per year or PHP663.525 million from 2003 to 2028.
Alvarez said plantations with the same development scale would fetch as much as PHP200,000 per hectare. This means Tadeco should be paying PHP1.061 bilion per year or PHP26.525 billion for the entire 25-year contract.
Based on this estimates, the government would lose a total of PHP25.464 billion.
“(The JVA) was entered into without legal basis and authority on the part of BuCor, the terms and conditions of which are grossly disadvantageous to the Philippine government,” Alvarez said in his letter to Aguirre.
The House Speaker said the granting of the lease agreement, which was initially approved by BuCor in 1979 and was extended for another 25 years in 2003, was “contrary to law and public policy.”
Since “the Subject JVA was entered into contrary to law and public policy,” Alvarez told Aguirre who has direct control and supervision of the BuCor that “there exist clear grounds for its immediate declaration as null and void.”
Under the JVA between the BuCor and Tadeco, the company was allowed to extend the use of up to 5,308.36 hectares of the Dapecol for 25 years as a banana plantation. During which, the BuCor will receive profit shares of around PHP26.5 million every year.
“However, this based on the low lease rates of around PHP5,000 per hectare per year, compared to the prevailing lease rates of PHP35,000 per hectare per year of underdeveloped land, in the same area,” Alvarez pointed out.
Apart from this, the lawmaker indicated that the 25-year deal is “contrary to industry practice of only five to 10 years.”
Alvarez also indicated that his close friend and ally, Floirendo, was a legislator and at the same time a shareholder of the Tadeco, which is under the control of the family of the latter, when the JVA was made in 2003.