Ombudsman approves Speaker’s graft complaint vs. Floirendo
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has found probable cause to charge Davao Del Norte Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr. for graft for alleged pecuniary interest in a joint venture agreement between the government and his family’s banana firm Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco).
In a resolution approved on Monday, Sept. 18, Morales said she found probable cause to approve the complaint filed against Floirendo by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, and ordered the filing of the criminal information before the Sandiganbayan.
Morales indicted Floirendo for violation of Section 3(h) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for having a pecuniary interest while in public office in his banana firm.
The Ombudsman said Floirendo committed the graft offense, when he owned P7.5 million worth of shares in Tadeco at the time the banana firm renewed its joint venture agreement (JVA) with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) in the lease of 5,308.36 hectares of land at the Davao Penal Colony which was converted into a banana plantation by Tadeco.
In his complaint, Alvarez said the JVA was renewed in 2003 for another 25 years when Floirendo was Davao Del Norte second district representative, and that his political foe serves on the board of directors of Tadeco and the Anflo Management and Investment Corp. (Anflocor). Tadeco is a subsidiary of Anflocor.
Under the said contract, BuCor would receive from Tadeco at least P26.5 million in guaranteed annual production share, which would automatically increase by 10 percent every five years. BuCor also enjoys a profit share with respect to the leased land where the bananas were planted, the amount of which also increases by 10 percent every five years.
In her resolution, the Ombudsman said Floirendo “probably” breached the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits a member of Congress from having financial or pecuniary interest in a contract with government during his or her term in office.
The Ombudsman found as “immaterial” Floirendo’s defense that he did not participate in the negotiations for the land deal, adding that the bar against public officials from entering into contracts with government in the Constitution “imposes a stricter prohibition on him as member of the House of Representatives.”
On Floirendo’s claim that the constitutional bar does not apply “to every interest, however miniscule,” the Ombudsman said the crafters of the constitution clearly referred to representatives who are barred from having financial interests in government contracts.
Morales said the mandate of her office is to enforce the law, even if it opens the floodgates for the graft indictment of several representatives who may have even a small share in a government transaction.
“While this Office understands that indeed such an interpretation of the Constitution will open members of the House of Representatives, otherwise owning small number of stocks of a corporation having a contract with the government, to possible indictment for Sec. 3(h) of RA 3019, the duty of this Office is to apply the law,” Morales said.
“To do otherwise is to supplant the wisdom of the people who approved the Constitution with its own,” she added.
Earlier, the Commission on Audit and a Department of Justice fact-finding committee reported 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.
Floirendo’s indictment meant Alvarez won this round in having his political foe face criminal indictment before the Sandiganbayan.
Former allies turned political foes, the two Davao del Norte congressmen had a tiff over their girlfriends Cathy Binag and Jennifer Maliwanag Vicencio, whose spat apparently compelled the Speaker to file the graft complaint against Floirendo.
The House has also conducted its hearing on the Speaker’s allegations. /idl
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