House probes banana land deal of Speaker’s rival Floirendo
The House of Representatives on Tuesday began its probe on the allegedly anomalous joint venture agreement between the government and the Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco), a banana firm owned by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s rival Davao Del Norte Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre presented the findings of the department on its investigation into the joint venture agreement and found out that it was disadvantageous to the government because there was no public bidding.
Aguirre said he has recommended the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to rescind the contract and for President Rodrigo Duterte to reclassify the agricultural land as alienable and disposable land, or public land which may be acquired through grant or confirmation of title.
Aguirre added that the 5,308.36 hectares of land in the Davao Penal Colony used by Tadeco as a banana plantation exceeds the allowable 1,000 hectares of public land for lease to a private corporation under the 1987 Constitution.
Asked if the Department of Justice would take the lead in rescinding the contract or in filing charges before the Ombudsman, Aguirre said it should be the BuCor to cancel the joint venture agreement and file charges in court as the contracting party.
“I believe it’s only the BuCor that could question this particular constitutionality or validity of this particular contract because BuCor is the contracting party. I recommended the same be cancelled by the President because that’s the easier way,” Aguirre said.
Speaker Alvarez was present in the hearing to grill Tadeco President Alex Valoria, who told the committee that Tadeco’s primary objective in leasing the land in the penal colony was not just to earn income, but to provide jobs and reformation to the inmates.
Valoria added that Tadeco only wanted what’s best for the inmates and has received numerous awards in the agriculture industry.
“The sole purpose of the joint venture agreement … is to give them agricultural and industrial training plus employment, providing them skills (so when they get) back to society (they are) productive and responsible citizens,” Valoria said.
Valoria said the BuCor even wanted the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm to replicate Tadeco’s joint venture agreement for a plantation there.
Valoria begged off from revealing the price of Tadeco’s bananas for export as confidential. He said that the price ranges from $1 to $9 per box of bananas depending on the market.
Alvarez slammed Valoria for making it appear that Tadeco is concerned for the inmates’ welfare when it’s only concerned with reaping a profit.
“Huwag mo na kami bolahin. Sabihin mo na ang totoo (Don’t fool around with us. Just tell the truth)… I think it is clear because the primary purpose of a corporation naturally is for profit,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said clearly the joint venture agreement was in essence a rental deal.
“Huwag na tayo maglokohan, ikaw naman. Magagalit yung mga congressman dito, niloloko mo,” Alvarez said.
(Let’s not fool each other, come on. The congressmen here would get mad if you’re making a fool of them.)
In an ambush interview with reporters, Alvarez denied using the public committee hearing funded with taxpayers’ money to vilify his political rival.
He said the hearing should be seen as a way to determine if the contract with government of Floirendo’s Tadeco caused undue injury to government.
“Paghiwalayin natin ano. Let us judge the facts as it is. Huwag natin haluhan ng anuman ang rekado. Tama ba, totoo ba na nalugi gobyerno dito? Totoo ba na ang kontrata highly disadvantageous to the government? ‘Yun ang dapat natin tingnan,” Alvarez said.
(Let us look at it separately. Let us judge the facts as it is. Let us not mix it with any other ingredients. Is it correct, is it true that the government lost income here? Is it true that the contract is highly disadvantageous to the government? We should look at those instead.)
“If it’s not disadvantageous to government, then we entertain other reasons or other motives,” he added.
A day before the House probe began, the House leadership stripped Floirendo of his membership in the powerful Commission on Appointments, which is in charge of confirming the appointments of government nominees, following his absent vote on the administration death penalty bill.
Floirendo inhibited from participating in the House investigation even though he was a member of the House committee on justice which jointly conducted the probe on Tadeco with the House committee on good government and public accountability.
“I deem it more prudent to recuse myself from participating in the investigation to obviate any perception of personal interference or influence on the outcome,” Floirendo wrote to the committee chairperson.
While Floirendo’s ouster from the CA only meant that Speaker Alvarez stayed true to his word to strip of committee positions the lawmakers who voted against or were absent to vote on the bill restoring capital punishment on drug-related offenses, it also capped his offensive against his rival before the start of the House probe.
In a statement, Floirendo said he remains supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte even though the former was ousted from the CA by the administration party, the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan.
“From the very beginning, my CA position was at the behest of the lower House leadership. If the House leadership deemed me as no longer needed in the CA post, so be it,” Floirendo said.
Floirendo and Alvarez used to be allies but had a falling-out following a tiff between the two congressmen’s girlfriends.
Alvarez even filed a graft complaint before the Ombudsman against Floirendo for Tadeco’s allegedly disadvantageous contract and his alleged conflict of interest.
The Commission on Audit and a Department of Justice fact-finding committee have reported to Alvarez’s office that the land lease deal between Tadeco and BuCor to use 5,308.36 hectares of land in the Davao Penaly Colony for a banana plantation is disadvantageous and unconstitutional.
Alvarez alleged Floirendo has a personal interest in the contract which was entered into in 2003 when the latter was already congressman. The Constitution bars members of Congress from entering into contracts with government.
Alvarez filed the graft complaint after his girlfriend Jennifer Vicencio had a spat with Floirendo’s longtime partner Cathy Binag. Admitting his affair, Alvarez denied filing the complaint out of a personal vendetta. JE/rga
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