Antonio Tiu on ‘Binay’ farm: I have rights but no title
MANILA, Philippines–Although he was not holding the title to the land, businessman Antonio Tiu on Wednesday told the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee that he owned the Batangas farm and not Vice President Jejomar Binay after paying a mere P11 million for the property worth close to P450 million.
Senators castigated Tiu for claiming ownership when he was not holding the land title yet and it was not apparently a done deal.
Tiu said he acquired the 150-hectare Batangas property from Laureano Gregorio in a P446-million contract, which was subject to certain conditions.
Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado has testified that the high-end agricultural estate in Rosario, Batangas, was 350 hectares and that it was owned by Binay using dummies through Agri-Fortuna.
Tiu said his acquisition of the farm through Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp. was ongoing. One condition Gregorio has to meet was to deliver documents to support the real and enforceable rights of Sunchamp, Tiu’s company, over the property.
“The purchase of the property is through installment. (Gregorio) was given two years to complete the legal documentation,” he said.
He has paid an P11-million down payment and issued postdated checks for the rest of the P446 million to Gregorio, he said.
The subcommittee chair, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, asked whether Tiu had any transfer certificate of title (TCT) for the property.
Tiu said he did not but added that what he bought was the usufruct, or the right to enjoy the use and advantages of the property. The TCT would be given to him upon completion of the deal.
“So you’re not the owner as of now,” Pimentel said.
Owner over rights
Tiu said that he was the owner of the rights and that it was normal for agriculture properties to have a usufruct over the land.
But Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was dissatisfied with the explanation, saying Tiu was not the owner of the property.
“Categorically, during your past interviews, you said you owned Hacienda Binay and everything on it. You said it without qualification. Now you are being asked and the TCT is being sought… Now you say you are not yet the owner,” Trillanes said.
Pimentel said Tiu would be the owner of the property only in the future.
“In our eyes, you are not the owner as of now,” he said.
Pimentel also asked what would happen to the deal if Gregorio failed to fulfill the conditions.
Tiu said he would not pay the balance of the P400-million agreement if the title was not delivered to him. The contract would be rescinded, he said.
Tiu had a PowerPoint presentation explaining how he acquired his companies, but he failed to bring the documents pertaining to his deal with Gregorio.
This irked Trillanes, who said the businessman had a presentation but did not bring the documents. It also prompted Pimentel to suspend the hearing temporarily so that Tiu could call up his staff to have the documents prepared and sent to the Senate.
Tiu was reluctant to disclose whether Gregorio had registered with the land registrar the deed of assignment of sale to him of the Batangas property, which Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said Tiu should have checked as part of due diligence.
The businessman referred the question to his lawyer, Martin Subido, who declined to disclose the matter by invoking lawyer-client privilege.
Cayetano then asked if Tiu would waive this privilege, but Tiu declined, saying that since his company was publicly listed and all he had to say would be subject to disclosure requirements.
Cayetano alleged that the truth was that there was no such registration.
He then asked whether Tiu was sure Gregorio was not a front of the Binays. Tiu said it was not his practice to research if a property owner was a dummy or not.
3 board members
Cayetano continued to delve into the Vice President’s alleged ownership of the Batangas hacienda, noting that three members of the board of the alleged Tiu-owned Sunchamp were linked to a law firm connected with the Binays.
Tiu admitted that three lawyers from the Subido Pagente Certeza Mendoza and Binay law firm were members of Sunchamp’s board. They are Subido, Maribert Pagente and Paula Katrina Nora. He said he appointed them as his nominees.
But Subido said only he and Pagente were on the Sunchamp board.
According to Cayetano, it was a usual practice of running dummy firms to appoint one’s lawyers to the company.
“Usually they would use a law office. Lawyers would be assigned with one share each, but they still control the company,” he said.
Smacks of dummy setup
Cayetano said if Binay really owned the Rosario, Batangas, property, the assignment of the three lawyers to the board indicated a dummy setup. The true owner, through the lawyers, could protect his interest in the company because, for instance, the company can’t be sold without their knowledge.
“I’m not saying it’s conclusive, but it’s one of the elements having a dummy that the beneficial owner really retains control,” he said.
Tiu insisted the lawyers were nominees he chose, and if they did not act in his interest, he would replace them.
Cayetano noted that out of 100 million Filipinos, Tiu appointed three lawyers connected with the Vice President.
He also noted that Subido was a director in Tiu’s other companies, such as Earthright Holdings Inc., Greenery Holdings, Inc. and AgriNurture Inc.
Tiu also said the only funds his companies had received came from foreign investors, and not from the Vice President
This was in response to the question of Cayetano, who directly asked him if his P1 billion came from Binay.
Tiu’s companies have over P1.19 billion in cross holdings and personal investments.
According to Cayetano, one of the investors, Black River Food Fund, was a private equity, meaning people can put money there and then tell it to invest in other companies.
Tiu said that Black River was under US law and strict corporate governance standards and that he could not speak on its behalf.
In 2011, Black River invested P1.3 billion in AgriNurture, one of Tiu’s companies, he said.
Cayetano also noted that two British Virgin Island companies had investments in Tiu’s Greenergy and AgriNurture. These are Three Star Capital Ltd. and Southern Field Ltd.
Tiu is the sole director of Three Star while Rene Richard Salazar, whom Cayetano identified as a lawyer of United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), is the sole director of Southern Field. UNA is Binay’s political party.
Rambotito in fatigues
Cayetano also noted that if the Vice President had divested in 2010 from Agri-Fortuna and only retained an orchid farm, pictures and articles that supposedly came out later seemed to belie this.
He showed pictures showing the Vice President and Elenita Binay with visitors to the place in 2012 and 2013.
Cayetano said that he learned that Binay toured wives of mayors in the area and that he liked to dress up in fatigues.
He also showed a copy of an article from March to April 2010 of Asian Dragon Magazine identifying the Batangas farm as belonging to Elenita Binay, with the author marveling that the place “looked more like a resort.”
A gathering of the Philippine Orchid Society also had lunch at “Dra. Elenita Binay’s” farm, as shown in its program.
Acts of ownership
“Why is that between 2010 and 2013, Binay still exercised all the acts of ownership?” Cayetano asked.
But JV Bautista, UNA interim secretary general, was incensed, saying these did not constitute evidence that would stand up in court.
“None of these things that you’ve shown to this gallery and national television will constitute evidence. Just because you had a picture taken, does that mean you own the property?” Bautista said.
Top campaign contributor
Renato Bondal, who filed the plunder complaint against the Vice President over the alleged overprice of Makati City Hall Building II, testified that Tiu had in fact close ties with Binay.
Bondal said Tiu’s brother James and the latter’s wife, Anne Lorraine, contributed P15 million to Binay’s campaign in 2010.
Doubting that James had the capacity to donate such an amount, Bondal said he believed that someone had used him to make the payments.
But Antonio Tiu said his brother was a better businessman than him.
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