Sequel running in Camp John Hay drama over upkeep
BAGUIO CITY—The Camp John Hay drama has no proper ending yet.
The administrator and developer of the former American rest and recreation estate here are again feuding—this time over which entity now controls Camp John Hay, after an arbitration judgment that should have cured their contractual dispute was brought to the Supreme Court.
According to Robert John Sobrepeña, chair of Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco), the firm continues to manage the affairs of Camp John Hay and has been subsidizing half the cost of running the leased property, which includes collecting trash and keeping the lights on.
In a Dec. 3 news conference, Sobrepeña said a status quo prevails until the Supreme Court resolves when and how to enforce a Feb. 11 judgment rendered by a tribunal formed by the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center (PDRC).
The PDRC ruling ordered the BCDA to reimburse CJHDevco’s rent amounting to P1.4 billion and for the developer to relinquish the tourism estate to the BCDA, after it rescinded the 1996 Camp John Hay development deal.
The arbitration ruling was being enforced by a regional trial court in Baguio until it was stopped on June 30 by the Court of Appeals (CA) to protect Camp John Hay sublessees, including homeowners, who faced eviction.
Affecting public good
On Sept. 1, the BCDA asked the Supreme Court to order the evictions to proceed, saying the delays in enforcing the PDRC ruling affected the public good. It followed this up with an Oct. 2 petition asking the high tribunal for a temporary restraining order to stop CJHDevco from collecting rent, leasing out lands and even accepting wedding reservations.
The BCDA argued that CJHDevco lost the right to administer and manage more than 200 hectares of leased property due to the PDRC judgment.
“Despite the unmaking of the lease agreement, CJHDevco continues to manage and operate Camp John Hay as though it still has a lease agreement with BCDA over the property,” it said in its petition.
Sobrepeña described the BCDA’s latest actions as “petty.”
“They want to paralyze Camp John Hay? For what? … Tourists come here. Children of Baguio come here to play in our grounds,” he said.
He confirmed that CJHDevco had been accepting rental payments from sublessees, which are deposited in an escrow account for the time when it relinquishes control over the operations to the BCDA.
Some businesses have stopped paying rent owing to the unresolved issues over Camp John Hay management, he said.
Sobrepeña also confirmed that the developer had been collecting common use service area (Cusa) fees for the upkeep of the leased area inside the Camp John Hay Special Economic Zone. The Cusa collections were part of the the BCDA’s petition for a TRO.
‘Pay us now and we leave’
But Sobrepeña said CJHDevco had been subsidizing half the monthly cost of managing Camp John Hay. “If [BCDA] wants the camp so badly, pay us and [it] can have the camp back. Pay us now and in 30 minutes, we leave,” he said. “We gain nothing by delaying [the enforcement of the arbitration ruling].”
BCDA lawyer Peter Paul Flores said the government agency had petitioned the Commission on Audit for clearance to pay out the reimbursement ordered by the PDRC. The amount of P1.4 billion has been deposited in an escrow account under the name of the Baguio RTC that was tasked with enforcing the arbitration judgment, he said.
But the government sued CJHDevco, Flores said, because the rescission of its contract became final and executory on March 27.
The agency complained that CJHDevco had imposed a value-added tax (VAT) on John Hay businesses and residents because, it said, the rescission of its contract prompted a status change from “a VAT-exempt enterprise to a VAT-registered enterprise.”
The BCDA petition quoted a letter from Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia who expressed concern that “the current dispute between your organization and CJHDevco” could affect a reservation he made for the wedding of his daughter in October 2016.
“The young couple is being pressed to pay P50,000 [that has been] required by CJHDevco. My concern is that the venue may not be delivered as agreed [because of the dispute],” the BCDA said, quoting Cuisia’s letter.
In its Sept. 1 petition for review, the BCDA said the government could not proceed with the economic development of Camp John Hay because of the CA decision.
Honor sublessees’ contracts
In its June 30 decision, the CA’s former special fifth division ordered the BCDA to honor the contracts of CJHDevco’s sublessees who were not covered by the PDRC arbitration until their legal predicament is clarified by the courts or through new rounds of arbitration with the government.
“The effect of the [CA’s] judgment is that the BCDA, despite having obtained a judgment of eviction against its lessee (CJHDevco), will not be able to take possession or make use of all new constructions and permanent improvements in Camp John Hay … until 2046,” the BCDA said.
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