MANILA—Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Friday said the Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco) still has not presented any convincing proof that its land deal with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is legal.
In a statement, Alvarez said there is only one more hearing left before the House of Representatives closes its probe into the deal between BuCor and Tadeco, a banana firm owned by the family of Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr.
The first joint hearing of the House Committee on Good Government and the Committee on Justice was held on Monday on the basis of the Speaker’s House Resolution 867 calling for a probe into the alleged “grossly disadvantageous” joint venture agreement (JVA) between Tadeco and BuCor.
During the first hearing, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the land in question is inalienable land of the public domain and cannot be the subject of a JVA.
Even if the law allows lease of the land, Aguirre said the Tadeco-BuCor JVA is unconstitutional since no public bidding was conducted and the contract area of 5,308.36 hectares exceeds the 1,000 hectare-limitation under the 1987 Constitution.
According to Alvarez, if Tadeco is paying rental, then it is clearly a payment for lease of the BuCor land and not a JVA as the company claimed.
“Malinaw naman na yung PHP5,000 (per hectare) na ibinibigay sa gobyerno, iyon ay rental at yung share ng government na mahigit piso ay yun yung kunwari, in addition to the rental,” Alvarez said.
“Malinaw naman yung sagot nila. Dahil sinagot nila na yung PHP5000 talagang rental yun ibinibigay sa gobyerno. So kung talagang rental yan, e di lease, di ho ba?,” he added.
Alvarez insisted that Tadeco’s rental fee of PHP5,308 per hectare and the PHP1.80 government share per box of bananas is “prejudicial” to the government.
The Speaker said the concerned committees may recommend the filing of plunder charges if they find sufficient evidence the government lost at least PHP50 million as a result of the BuCor-Tadeco land deal.
“Kung mapatunayan natin na talagang yung gobyerno ay talagang napagsamantalahan ng pinakamababa yung PHP50 million ay baka pwedeng pumasok sa plunder since this involved a government official also in cahoots with other family members,” Alvarez said.
Aguirre, during the hearing, recommended to the BuCor the revocation or rescission of its flawed contract with the Floirendo-owned banana firm and to file appropriate charges in court.
“I believe that it is only the BuCor that could question this particular constitutionality or validity of this contract because BuCor is one of the contracting parties,” he explained.
The Justice chief, however, said that the “fastest way” to end the anomalous deal was for President Rodrigo Duterte to cancel the contract.
“I believe it is the President who could declare this as illegal and cancel the contract immediately,” Aguirre said.
During the same hearing, Tadeco president Alex Valoria stressed that the JVA is valid and legal as it passed through 14 Justice secretaries, all of whom upheld its validity.
Valoria said that the banana operations under the JVA created “30,000 jobs in direct, indirect and ancillary roles” and also benefited inmates inside the Davao penal farm through jobs and reformation.
Alvarez slammed Valoria for making it appear that the primary objective of Tadeco in its lease agreement in the penal colony is the inmates’ rehabilitation, when in fact its aim is to earn profit.
“I think it is clear because the primary purpose of a corporation naturally is for profit,” Alvarez said.
Floirendo recused himself from attending the hearing as a member of the House justice committee “to obviate any perception of personal interference or influence on the outcome.”