Who is Wilfredo S. Torres?
The group of Torres, who is now claiming ownership of 24 hectares of prime property in Quezon City, is on the government watch list of professional squatting syndicates, Vice President Jejomar Binay said on Tuesday.
“Based on the reports received by HUDCC, Torres is ‘notorious’ for alleged land-grabbing, organized squatting and other illegal activities,” said Binay, the country’s housing czar.
Quoting the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the National Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates (NDAPSSS), Binay said the “Wilfredo S. Torres Group” was on the list of reported squatting syndicates.
Binay also directed the HUDCC and the NDAPSSS to assist the homeowners and school officials threatened by eviction arising from Quezon City court rulings transferring ownership of the 24-hectare prime property in the city to Torres.
“I have instructed HUDCC to assist to the fullest possible extent those who were affected by the court’s decision to transfer ownership of their property to Torres,” Binay said. “We will assist them in their pursuit of justice.”
He said the group’s modus operandi included using Pinagcamaligan Indo-Agro Development Corp.’s Titulo de Propriedad (TP) No. 4136; multiple selling of parcels of land in Wiltor Heights in Quezon City, using Transfer of Certificate Title No. 118192, which had been voided; illegal occupation of housing units in Pag-Ibig’s Mabuhay Homes 2000 in Binangonan, Rizal province; and illegal occupation of property in Sitio Paenaan, Baras, Rizal.
Also citing HUDCC reports, Binay said several cases had been filed against Torres for land fraud as far back as 2003.
“This Torres has been the subject of several court cases filed by private complainants, but it appears that these cases require special attention considering the harm that these syndicates inflict on ordinary Filipinos who worked hard to buy their own homes,” he said.
Binay asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) to consider forming a task force that would focus on handling cases against squatting syndicates.
He also directed the NDAPSSS to submit the results of its monitoring of the cases against Torres and other syndicates on their list. He, however, said NDAPSSS was not prosecuting cases.
“This is why I feel it is important that the DOJ organize a task force just to handle cases against squatting syndicates,” he said.
Torres was named by the Philippine National Police in 2006 as the head of “one of the biggest gangs of professional land-grabbers in the country” after his group purportedly collected money from residents who believed that he owned sprawling agricultural lands in Guinyangan, Quezon province.
Torres was also the subject of a police investigation over charges of land-grabbing involving huge tracts of land in Bulacan province and Rizal in 2004. Torres’ group had also allegedly operated in Lucena City, Muntinlupa City, Taguig City and Cavite province.
Torres, however, claimed he owned a 78,000-hectare estate covering the contested areas, having purchased the property from the late Don Ignacio Conrado in 1962.
‘King of squatters’
Mike Defensor, then HUDCC chair, identified Torres in 2004 as a leader of a “professional squatting syndicate,” but Torres responded that his “conscience is clear.”
“During Marcos’ time, I was usually referred to as the king of squatters because I championed their cause, I gave them their own properties,” Torres told the Inquirer.
Torres was arrested in March 2005 to face various cases filed by the National Task Force Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates under the HUDCC.
The DOJ also issued a resolution finding Torres and his agents guilty of 17 counts of falsification of public documents and violation of Section 27 of the Urban and Housing Development Act, particularly on professional squatting.
Then Vice President Noli de Castro said Torres’ group had falsified public documents, organized urban poor associations as fronts and presented a list of people claiming to be community leaders who were allegedly backed by certain government officials.
Not much is known about Torres’ personal life, but in one interview, he claimed that his mother was a cousin of Francisco Sumulong, a senator and leading politician in his time.
Court records show that Torres was convicted of two counts of estafa by the Court of First Instance of Manila sometime before 1979. The convictions were affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
Torres’ maximum sentence was to expire on Nov. 2, 2000, but he was granted conditional pardon in April 1979 by then President Ferdinand Marcos on condition that he would “not again violate any of the penal laws of the Philippines.”
However, in September 1986, President Corazon Aquino canceled Torres’ conditional pardon, upon the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole as he was convicted of sedition and charged with 20 counts of estafa.
Torres was then arrested to serve the unexpired portion of his sentence in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. But he was pardoned by President Fidel Ramos.
Last year, Torres lost in his election bid for Rizal governor. He ran under the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party. Reports from TJ Burgonio; Lawrence de Guzman, Inquirer Research; and Marlon Ramos