24 November 2014

Subic Freeport land row far from over

A TRIAL court judge in Olongapo City is now in hot water after criminal and administrative complaints had been filed against him for stopping a construction project on a disputed 1-hectare property inside the Subic Freeport Zone.

Charged for violation of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Ombudsman is Judge Richard Paradeza of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Olongapo City.

An administrative complaint was also filed against Paradeza before the Supreme Court (SC) for allegedly “knowingly rendering an unjust decision” based on Article 204 of the Revised Penal Code.

The cases were filed by Marianito B. Fernandez of the Subic Coastal Development Corp. (SCDC), through his legal counsel, Bonifacio Alentajan.

Fernandez also sought the immediate inhibition of Paradeza from handling the land-dispute case.

The cases were filed after Paradeza issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the construction of a manufacturing facility on the 1-hectare property by Japanese Cresc Inc., based on a petition by a former Zambales governor Vicente Magsaysay.

In filing the motion for inhibition, Fernandez said Paradeza had lost the “cold neutrality” of a judge, since he could no longer achieve justice from the court.

Fernandez asked that civil case 119-0-2014 and the case should be re-raffled to another branch of the RTC in Olongapo City for disposition.

The Japanese company had also echoed SCDC’s position, saying the TRO should not have been issued at all as it lacked merit and Magsaysay had no legal personality to file the case.

“We invested in Subic Freeport in response to the Aquino administration’s efforts to attract foreign investments to the country. But we are now having second thoughts about our investments here as we now find ourselves in a legal dispute that has jeopardized our business expansion and impaired our capability to meet global demand for our ink products,” Cresc said.

“This is not only a legal and business dispute. It will also have an adverse impact on the Aquino administration’s drive to attract more foreign investments,” Cresc added.

The case started in 2002, when the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) leased 16.5 hectares to SCDC, a private firm.

Magsaysay offered to assist SCDC in clearing the leased property, where it built the Moonbay Marina Resort.

In 2008 SCDC was shocked when Magsaysay demanded that he be given control of 1 hectare of the 16.5-hectare property as “payment” for his unsolicited help in clearing the leased property.

Since it doubted the legality of Magsaysay’s demand, SCDC referred the case to SBMA.

A memorandum of agreement (MOA) was later signed by the SBMA, SCDC and Magsaysay’s Mobi, and Red Enterprises (MRE).

The 2008 MOA stipulated that SBMA would allow MRE to sublease the 1-hectare property if the Magsaysay-owned company would meet all of the SBMA’s terms and conditions within 30 days of the MOA signing.

The 2008 MOA also clearly provided that, at the event of the MRE’s failure to meet the MOA’s terms and conditions, and failure to secure a sublease from SBMA, the 1-hectare property would remain as a leasehold of SCDC.

As confirmed by SBMA Deputy Administrator for Legal Affairs Randy Escolango, the 2008 MOA did not take effect because MRE failed to meet the MOA’s terms and it failed to secure a sublease from the SBMA for the property.

Not only did SBMA not issue MRE a sublease, SBMA also affirmed that legal control of the subject property never left SCDC, as SBMA continued collecting from SCDC all pertinent fees on it, such as base rent, sublease share and monthly billings.

Likewise, SBMA confirmed SCDC’s right over the disputed property and approved the survey plan, covering the one-hectare subleased by SCDC to Cresc in 2013.

The sublease between SCDC and Cresc was also deemed approved by SBMA when the latter approved Cresc’s development plans on the area, which allowed the Japanese company to undertake business expansion. (Joel R. San Juan, BusinessMirror)