Ties that bind point to Binay interests in farm
MANILA, Philippines–Vice President Jejomar Binay could be using companies headed by a former supplier to the Makati city government and the law partner of his daughter to front as owners of a 350-hectare farm in Batangas province, senators said on Wednesday.
While Binay claimed to have divested himself of his interests in the farm in Rosario town, he had ties with the president of Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park, Chinese-Filipino businessman Antonio Tiu, and Sunchamp director Martin Subido, the senators said.
The “piggery farm” on a leased property in Batangas was operated by Sunchamp, Binay’s spokesperson had said.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chair of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee investigating alleged irregularities in the Makati city government, said the panel would invite the Vice President anew to respond to the “serious charges.”
Ties that bind
Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado told the subcommittee Wednesday that he had proof the estate was owned by the Binay family.
In a PowerPoint presentation at the Senate hearing on Makati’s allegedly overpriced carpark, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV unlocked Binay’s ties with Tiu and Subido.
To show they were talking about the same farm, Trillanes said Sunchamp’s logo that showed a lagoon matched with the lagoon in the photos of the farm presented minutes earlier by Mercado.
The senator said Tiu set up Greenergy Holdings after purchasing Sunchamp, and became its president.
Greenergy’s major stockholders are Earthright, Sunchamp and Three Star Capital, proof that the originally renewable energy company branched out into agri-tourism, Trillanes said.
When his staff searched Greenergy’s website, they discovered that its corporate secretary is Subido, he said.
Subido is also director of Earthright, the largest shareholder of Greenergy, which owns controlling interest in Sunchamp, according to Trillanes.
It turned out that Subido is a senior partner at Subido Pagente Certeza Mendoza & Binay Law Office, he said.
Subido is a senior partner of the Vice President’s daughter, Makati Rep. Abigail Binay, and Claro Certeza, lawyer for Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., he said.
Greenergy also shares the same address of the law firm at the third floor of Value Point Executive Building on Salcedo Street, Legaspi Village, Makati, he said.
“If you look at the website, it is agri-tourism, yet it has no telephone number. It was really set up as part of the cover-up,” Trillanes said.
Cleaning up their act?
Trillanes disclosed that he was invited to the launch of Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park in August this year, along with Secretary Francis Pangilinan and Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes. He showed a slide showing a picture of himself, Tiu and De los Reyes taken during the launch.
“When it was launched, there was an intention to use several government officials, including myself and Secretary Pangilinan, to clean its image and to make it appear legitimate,” Trillanes said.
He said he was surprised to find during the launch that some of the park’s facilities, including the pavement, looked old.
“This is one proof that Vice President Binay is resorting to a dummy, thanks to his spokespersons. Attorney JV Bautista is here. I’m not more popish than the Pope, but because of what they said, we got to know who their dummy is,” he said.
Trillanes said Sunchamp couldn’t wait to do the launch in August despite the bad weather.
“You know, when it was launched in Batangas, Typhoon ‘Jose’ was raging. I asked my staff, ‘Is the launch pushing through?’” he said.
“Mr. Tony Tiu is [Chinese-Filipino], and they have what they call a ghost month—August. Why can’t they postpone it? Well, apparently, everything was set up. There was full coverage,” he added.
Links to Makati gov’t
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano presented slides showing Tiu’s connection to the Makati city government.
Cayetano said Tiu was president and CEO of AgriNurture Inc. (ANI), which traded in postharvest machinery and was formerly known as Mabuhay 2000 Enterprise. It eventually diversified into the agro-commercial business.
Citing a report by Commission on Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, he said Mabuhay supplied hospital beds to Ospital ng Makati in 2000.
The audit team led by Mendoza confirmed this from Tiu himself, the senator said, citing the audit report.
Trillanes moved that Tiu be subpoenaed to clarify how he was able to develop the 350-hectare farm. This was seconded by Cayetano, who also moved for the issuance of a subpoena of Tiu’s financial records.
Proof of divestment
“Other people might think that if they have their picture taken with you, or you are a guest in their activities, you will be cleared,” Trillanes said. “We will grill you until you tell the truth.”
Cayetano also challenged the Vice President to prove that his divestment of his interests in the farm was reflected in his statement of assets, liabilities and networth (SALN).
In a divestment proceeding, one could not undertake a simulated sale, he said.
“It should have been reflected as cash,” Cayetano said, referring to Binay’s sale of his interests. “How come P1 billion is not in the SALN?”
Binay released copies of his financial disclosures last month. The documents showed the Vice President’s net worth was P60 million as of the end of 2013.
“While it’s true that there’s a presumption of innocence—that’s why it’s a presumption—meaning you presumed in your mind that he is innocent. But if you present evidence, presumption is reversed,” Cayetano said.
“It’s not that we presume him guilty now. But we can’t presume him innocent because there is already evidence of ill-gotten wealth. It’s now up to him to show that this is false,” he said.
Binay’s spokesman, Joey Salgado, said Binay divested himself of his interests in JCB Farms, a lessee of the property, when he was elected Vice President in 2010.
Not a front
Subido denied Sunchamp was a front for Binay.
He confirmed he was the corporate secretary of Greenergy Holdings, which invested in Sunchamp Realty to develop its agri-tourism business.
“That cannot be because these companies are publicly listed companies and all disclosures are made,” he said in a statement.
“The company is audited by one of the top four auditors of the country. We have foreign investors coming into the company or are part of the company. So definitely this is not a dummy corporation or a fly-by-night corporation because Greenergy Holdings and AgriNurture Inc. are both listed companies and they follow the strictest corporate governance standards being listed companies,” he added.
Subido also said that Binay’s piggery business was reported in his SALN and income tax returns. He said Binay divested himself of his interests in Agri-fortuna as early as 1994 and 1995, and the shareholding was worth only P50,000.
“So, again, look at the SALN, the interest in Agrifortuna was reflected and that it was divested as early as 1994 or more than 20 years ago. So, it is not something that happened just recently,” he said.
He maintained that JCB was only leasing nine hectares, and does not own real property on the estate.
“So, again, it is consistent with the documents but was given a different spin, a different interpretation by the resource speaker, because of their preconceived disposition on how they want to portray the Vice President. So, again, all of our positions are based on documents, while theirs are based on speculations and bare statements,” he said.
Subido, who also confirmed he was a law partner of Representative Binay, said the orchid farm of the Vice President’s wife, Elenita Binay, on the estate was also leased.
Originally posted at 9:57 pm | Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.