Sunday, March 1, 2015


By Ducky Paredes 

A MEMBER of the Independent Bloc in the House of Representatives points out that the president of the Bases Conversion Development Authority is not the right man for the job.

In a privilege speech, Abakada partylist Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz denounced the questionable actions of BCDA president Arnel Casanova and its “deleterious” effect on the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Modernization Program, which gets 50 percent of BCDA’s lease revenues under existing laws.

Dela Cruz said the Camp John Hay development project, under the government’s private-public partnership (PPP) program, has “gone haywire resulting from the misguided, misplaced and high-handed management style of the current BCDA leadership.”

“Indeed, the much heralded PPP program, the AFP modernization program and the enhanced support program for our military personnel and their families and, of course, the City of Baguio have now been orphaned as a result of the decision of the arbitral court to turn over the facility to the BCDA – a reverse privatization of sorts – and the return of the payment of dues and obligations to the tune of P1.4 Billion by the BCDA to its private partner, the Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevCo) headed by its chairman Robert John Sobrepeña.

The Philippine Dispute Resolution Center Inc. earlier ordered the BCDA to return P1.42 billion in rentals paid by the developer of Camp John Hay for the rescission of its 1996 original lease agreement (OLA) for the property in Baguio City.

The arbitration court said BCDA failed to comply with its obligation of setting up a One-Stop Action Center, which would have been an effective mechanism to facilitate development of the John Hay Special Economic Zone. This is something that this column has been saying for several years now. Finally, the arbitration court has ruled on the situation,

“From the time he assumed office in 2010, Mr. Casanova made it a point to make life harder for the Sobrepeña Group even to the point of sacrificing the development of Camp John Hay and the attendant consequences thereof is beyond question.
His highly publicized efforts to grind the Sobrepeñas even came to a point where no less than Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan had to intervene at the last minute to ensure the opening of one of the core CJHDeVCo projects, Forest Lodge hotel, at the appointed time,” Dela Cruz said.

“This and other transgressions of duly signed agreements have all been fully documented and publicized much like the highlighted disputes between Casanova and other stakeholders in other BCDA developments,” the lawmaker added.

Dela Cruz cited previous bullying tactics of Casanova, including bringing a platoon of fully armed security personnel in a bid to stop the construction and opening of SM Aura premier in Global City in Taguig as well as efforts to evict retired and active military personnel residing in a portion of the diplomatic and consular area in Fort Bonifacio which is outside BCDA jurisdiction.

“But his almost pathological disdain for the Sobrepeña Group has become legendary when he was able to force CJHDeVCo Chairman Robert Sobrepeña to get off his flight and forego a business trip on the basis of his intervention and false release that the former was ‘evading prosecution.’ In the end, this malicious lie was exposed when the Pasay City Court ruled that the act of immigration officials constituted illegal detention and grave coercion,” he added.

Dela Cruz said he will seek a separate congressional inquiry on the “wayward practices and illegal undertakings” of Casanova.

He said under the state-prepared Master Development Plan for Camp John Hay, 18 hectares of the leased area should have been developed to provide a 1,000-hotel room tourist destination, top-tier BPO and IT headquarters, an international convention site, as well as residential and commercial components and shopping and food outlets.

“However, due to various breaches on the part of the BCDA, through its implementing agency in Baguio, John Hay Management Corp., over the years only less than four hectares of the area have been developed, despite over P5 billion invested and P1.42 billion in rental payments paid by CJHDevCo,” Dela Cruz says.

 He said the actions of Casanova constitute a serious blow to the AFP Modernization Program.

He cited the resolution filed by Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III which questioned how “despite its billions of pesos in earnings...BCDA has not significantly contributed to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

“We now have to accept that with the rescission of the development contract for Camp John Hay we will have less revenues to talk about if at all,” Dela Cruz said.

“Contrary to Casanova’s erroneous claims, the PDRCI decision is not a victory for the BCDA because the court vindicates CJHDeVCo’s long-held argument that the BCDA has been a serial violator of the 1996 Original Lease Agreement and the subsequent agreements,” he added.

In its ruling, the PDRCI has also denied BCDA’s plea for CJHDevCo to cough up P3.3 billion in supposedly unpaid rentals.

He accused Casanova of causing “unnecessary tension and uncertainty, which is bad for tourism and for business in general.”

“There is uncertainty for the locators who have invested time and capital. There is uncertainty for many employees working in the camp who depend on Camp John Hay for their livelihood. There is uncertainty even for the City of Baguio which would have acquired income from operations within Camp John Hay,” he said.

 “All these uncertainties and losses - and all because BCDA head Casanova had arrogated unto himself the mistaken notion that he alone is the ‘good guy,’ and that he alone has a monopoly of what is ‘right and good’ in the partnership with the developer of Camp John Hay,” Dela Cruz added.

Jonathon called on his colleagues to hasten the passage of bills that will make PPP projects “less vulnerable to the quirks and caprices of men” such as Casanova. 


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