Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Simple questions for Manuel B. Villar

We write this article hours before the Senate, acting as a Committee of the Whole, begins its adjudicatory proceedings in a complaint filed by Sen. Jamby Madrigal before the Senate Ethics Committee against Sen. Manuel B. Villar Jr.

The facts of the case, as Madrigal alleges in her accusations, are: One, that Sen. Villar violated Article VI Sec. 14 of the Philippine Constitution, which states that “No Senator or member of the House of Representatives…shall, directly or indirectly, be interested financially in any contract with, or in any franchise or special privilege granted by the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including any government-owned or controlled corporation, or its subsidiary, during his term of office. He shall not intervene in any matter before any office of the Government for his pecuniary benefit or where he may be called upon to act on account of his office”.

Villar was elected senator of the Republic in 2001. He was once more elected to the same office in 2007, and he should remain in said office until 2013, unless he is elected by the sovereign will to any other position in government. He has been chair of the Finance Committee, which has power over the General Appropriations Act, where annually the national expenditure program is scrutinized. Clearly, when he (directly) or through corporations owned and/or controlled by him and his family (indirectly), transacts with a government agency, in this case, the DPWH, or is “interested financially in any contract” with it, questions of impropriety arise. Nay, more significantly, the Constitution may have been violated.

Now Madrigal accuses Villar of having benefited financially from the sale of some 16 parcels of land belonging to Adelfa Properties and Golden Haven corporations, which are, per her documentary evidence, owned and controlled by the spouses Manuel and Cynthia Villar.

Madrigal must therefore prove that indeed, Villar has not divested himself of ownership in these corporations when he was congressman for three terms, and when he has been senator since 2001. She must likewise prove through deeds of absolute or conditional sale, that these two corporations sold part of their landholdings, to grant the Government road right-of-way in order to construct the Las Pinas-Paranaque Link Road.

According to her lawyer, Atty. Ernesto Francisco, from the year 2000 up to 2006, the DPWH had spent 710.7 million pesos for the construction of this road, out of which 350 million went into the payment of road right-of-way. Of this 350 million, 220 million would be to the account of Villar’s Adelfa and Golden Haven properties. Of these 220 million pesos, 136.774 million had already been paid Villar’s corporations, leaving a balance payable by the DPWH of 84.57 million pesos.

In the 2008 national expenditure program, the DPWH and the DBM proposed a 200 million peso allocation for the Carlos P. Garcia Extension Road from SLEX to Sucat Road. Then Senate President Villar made an additional 200 million peso insertion for the C-5 Extension Road from SLEX to Sucat Road, “including road right-of-way payments”. At the time the 2008 budget was being deliberated upon for approval by Congress (2007), Sen. Villar’s corporations had accounts receivable amounting to 84.57 million pesos in “road right-of-way payments”. Are there, as per Constitutional edict, “pecuniary benefits” to be derived from Villar’s “intervention” by congressional insertion?

Villar says these two similar amounts are for two different projects, in fact, “fly-overs” in the Coastal Road and over Sucat Road. Why did he not so specify when he made the “insertion”? And why should the DPWH construct fly-overs for a Coastal Road extension that has not been constructed yet? Not even to begin expropriation proceedings over private lands to be traversed by said Coastal Road Extension to Sucat?

Yet as early as 1998, when Manuel Villar was Speaker of the House, his Adelfa Properties, along with Amvel Property Corp. of Bro. Mike Velarde, and SM Corporation, wrote the DPWH, asking the government to “move” or “re-locate” the South Slip Road which forms part of the post-war designed fifth circumferential road, or C-5, to another location which would hit their properties, giving the same higher commercial value than their present state (as of 1998). Pres. FVR approved this. Amvel properties got paid 1.2 billion pesos in road-right-of-way payments by the administration of Pres. Estrada. And Villar’s Brittany Corporation was also paid 189 million pesos. The mouth of the re-aligned C-5 would be right in front of the SM Las Pinas Mall. And later, Villar’s Brittany Corporation or some other corporate holdings sold land to Ayala Corporation, at now highly-inflated prices, which the latter has since developed into a residential and commercial condominium project known as the Avida Towers.

Therfore, by the re-location of the construction of the South Link Road which forms part of the C-5, and the Las Pinas-Paranaque Road Link between Sucat and Quirino Avenue, Villar’s corporations derived “pecuniary benefits” amounting to 189 million plus 220 million or 409 million pesos, out of which, as of 2008, 84.65 million was yet to be paid. Unpaid, one surmises, because the 200 million peso congressional insertion of Sen. Villar was exposed, and has since been withheld by DBM from release to the DPWH.

Next, at what price or prices, did Adelfa and Golden Haven sell their properties to the DPWH for road right-of-way? Anywhere from 13,000 to 15,000 pesos, per Madrigal and the deeds of absolute sale officially given to the Senate by the DPWH. Adelfa owns 50 hectares in San Dionisio, Paranaque, out of which the new road traversed and cut. Adelfa was paid 13,000 to 15,000 for the lot parcels it sold to DPWH, but an adjoining property owned by the Heirs of Democrito Plaza, as represented by its attorney-in-fact, Rep. Rodolfo Plaza, was paid only 4,000 pesos by DPWH! Why the discrimination?

Sen. Villar claims before media, and not before his peers in the Senate whom he accuses before the Supreme Court of prejudice and bias, that DPWH bases its acquisition price on “zonal values”, which the local BIR prepares. He had nothing to do with zonal valuation, he tells the media. But why, if you look at the table of zonal values, is his properties given the higher value of 13,000 per square meter, when the said zonal value is attributable to commercial Las Pinas, around the vicinity of old Real St., past Pulang Lupa where Francisco Motors is located? And not dumpsites and old salt beds that were heretofore un-opened to residence or commerce, such as the Plaza property that was paid only 4,000 pesos, and the adjacent Villar properties? The BIR, more specifically the BIR Las Pinas-Paranaque districts, will have to explain.

Now here is something too weird, and if I might add, too criminal if true.

Of the 16 lots sold by the Villar corporations, four lots were covered by Transfer of Certificates of Title (titulo torrens) that had annotations at its back, saying that the same were already foreclosed by Capital Development Bank (also owned by the Villars), which have since been foreclosed by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in partial payment of Capital’s loans to the BSP. Hindi pala “malinis ang titulo”, as buyers of property first ask the seller.

Simple questions once again --- Did the Villar corporations sell property no longer owned by them? Did the Villar corporations defraud Government (in this case DPWH) by selling them land that was already owned by Government (in this case the Bangko Sentral no less)? Isn’t this estafa of the vilest kind? Selling land that is no longer yours? And selling land foreclosed by government to another government agency?

These and many more Manuel B. Villar Jr., by sovereign will and the grace of the Almighty, senator of the Republic, ought answer his peers in the realm. And not through prevarications and sophistry and pa-martir effect before a gullible media that does not bother to look at the documentary evidence, and for inducements or personal bias, advance the lame reasoning that all these accusations are “political noise” in the run-up to 2010.

No. This is about corruption most gross. This is about plunder if proven. This is about the ethics of Sen. Villar.

* * *

Postscript: Appearing before the editorial board of a national broadsheet last week, Senator Manuel B. Villar rehashed his “pa-martir” effect, crying persecution by a hanging jury of his peers, because some of them are “presidentiables” like himself. As I keep asking in this corner, does being a declared or presumed presidentiable exempt anybody from the scrutiny of the nation, let alone, one’s peers in an institution imbued with, nay, dedicated to --- the public interest?

But not to worry, says Villar. It takes numbers, not the evidence, to convict a senator. Sixteen votes is what they need, Villar’s arithmetic expounds, and he has, of course, a completely beholden 6 out of 22 (the detained Sen. Trillanes is not yet allowed to vote, let alone participate). “They won’t get that number”, Villar kept repeating.

Despite a preponderance of evidence, Senator Villar states, despite even absolute proof that he violated the Constitution, let alone the norms of public propriety, the “numbers” are on his side.

Looking back to 2001, and then Speaker Villar’s sleight-of-hand impeachment of President Estrada in the House of Representatives on 12 November 2000, Estrada also made sure he had the numbers in the Senate where he was on trial. Despite the evidence, Estrada counted 11 votes. If he had eight, the Senate could not convict, because 16 votes were also required. Impeachment, after all is a political trial, and Villar is right --- even on questions of disciplinary action against a co-equal member, peers need two-thirds of the chamber’s vote.

There are exactly 16 in a chamber of 22 voting members who have as yet refused to be classified as among Villar’s land-locked partisans, namely, himself, the Cayetano sister and brother, Nene Pimentel, Joker Arroyo and Kiko Pangilinan.

By saying that the Senate acting as a Committee of the Whole cannot muster the magic 16, assuming Madrigal proves her point by a preponderance of evidence and convincing arguments, Manuel B. Villar Jr., the man who wants to be president of the republic come June 30, 2010, is practically telling the nation that “pera-pera lang iyan”. “In politics, who has the gold --- rules”.

What a “leader”! If Villar is right in his esteem of his peers, what a Senate! And yes, what a country.