John Hay execs sacked over hunt for treasure

Diggings made under historic structure ‘breach of trust’

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BAGUIO CITY—Administrators of Camp John Hay here confirmed that a tunnel had been dug under the historic Bell House in an apparent hunt for the fabled Yamashita treasure, leading to the termination of two of its top officials who were implicated in the operation.

The board of directors of the government-owned John Hay Management Corp. (JHMC) on March 25 dismissed for “breach of confidence and trust” the company’s chief operating officer, Ken Aquilet, who is also acting vice president, and Peter Garas, department manager for administrative services and third highest ranking official.

But the dismissed officials said the tunnel, which was 4.7 meters (15 feet) deep, was the handiwork of contractual workers, who heeded the advice of a mambunong (ritual priest) that gold was hidden under the

86-year-old structure.

Aquilet said the workers had testified before an investigation panel on March 23 that they undertook the tunneling without his permission.

Details withheld

The JHMC, a subsidiary of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), had declined to provide details about the workers involved in the tunneling.

The two officials will face further investigation from the police and the National Bureau of Investigation to determine whether they should face criminal cases, said lawyer Kate Rebedulla, a member of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel who serves as JHMC corporate secretary.

“Based on information we received, they were looking for the Yamashita treasure. We know [Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the commander of the Japanese Imperial Army that invaded the Philippines,] surrendered here,” JHMC president Jamie Agbayani said.

She was referring to the Japanese general’s surrender to the Allied Forces at the United States Ambassador’s Residence on Sept. 3, 1945, in Camp John Hay.

Agbayani said the JHMC informant blew the whistle on the tunneling operation on March 13 and had provided JHMC with photographs marked with the date Dec. 29, 2012.

New digging

Aquilet said he discovered the tunnel in December last year and instructed workers to seal it immediately. The tunnel displayed to the media was a new digging “but the evidence the informant showed JHMC makes it appear this was the same tunnel in 2012,” he said.

According to the JHMC website, two major procurement projects were undertaken for the Bell House within the period that the tunnel could have been started. Both projects were overseen by Aquilet, who served as chair of the JHMC bids and awards committee.

On Dec. 14, 2012, JHMC posted a request for quotation for the procurement of materials for the construction of a file storage room under the Bell House, with an approved budget of P158,487.

On Jan. 18, the firm posted a request for quotation for materials needed to build the Bell House septic tank for a budget of P71,386. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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