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Join Hands with Minority Forces, Mr. Speaker

October 18, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Join Hands with Minority Forces, Mr. Speaker
Ronald Roy  -October 18, 2007

       With the kind permission of the erstwhile national spokesman of the defunct Lakas-NUCD party and Presidential Adviser on Asia Pacific Affairs, and also former governor and congressman of Ifugao, I quote hereunder Gualberto Lumauig’s “BACKROUNDER ON SBMA-TAIWAN INVESTOR ROW”, an eye-opener that bears significantly on current NBN-related issues in general, and on Speaker De Venecia’s political fate in particular, as follows:

       “This pertains to the on-going conflict between officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Development Authority (SBMA) headed by Chairman Feliciano Salonga and Administrator Armand Arreza, and Universal International Group Development Corporation (UIGDC), operator of the Subic Bay Golf and Country Club, owned by Taiwanese national, Ms. Susan Ho, its president. Ms. Ho is also the present Chairperson of the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce in Subic. UIGDC is one of the pioneer foreign investors that went to Subic after the U.S. Naval Forces left in the early 1990’s. It entered into a Lease Development Agreement (LDA) with SBMA on 21 May 1995, acquiring a 50-year leasehold right over the golf course with an area covering 105 hectares. It had an option to renew for another 25 years, and had invested over P1 billion capital to develop the 18-hole world-class golf course under international standards. It had an all-Filipino work force  of around 300 employees in various specialized positions.

       The ongoing dispute between SBMA and UIGDC is (sic) regarding the ‘Gestapo-like’ takeover of the golf course on 8 June 2007 by SBMA officials, the arbitrary confiscation of all personal belongings, unwarranted use of force consisting of at least 50 members of the SBMA SWAT team and the Law Enforcement Division to enforce the illegal takeover as manifested in a video and still photo clippings, and finally, the defiance of two (2) court injunctions issued by the local Regional Trial Court in Olongapo City.

       The aforementioned actions of these SBMA officials have put to shame the earnest efforts of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to present to the world community, and recently to the ASEAN members in the recently concluded ASEAN ministerial meeting, that there is truly due process in the Philippines.

       SBMA, in justifying its illegal takeover of the  disputed golf course, claims that UIGDC had defaulted in its obligations such as arrears amounting to P16 million. UIUGDC openly admits of its arrears and was willing to settle based on a previous compromise agreement entered into by the former SBMA Chairman and UIGDC signed in 2001. UIGDC claims that it is listed 7th among companies of the SBMA Finance Division with arrears. UIGDC further claims that they are being singled out and are discriminated, thus, misleading the public on the real issue behind the takeover. The real issue in this case is the MANNER of taking over the golf course. UIGDC was not given due process under existing laws, so to speak. SBMA officials obviously violated the Taiwanese’s constitutional rights. The Taiwanese investors were bodily forced out by members of the raiding team of the Law Enforcement Division, headed by a certain Colonel Tolentino, also violating their human rights. SBMA has denied these actions, but pictures as evidenc do not lie. Furthermore, Ms. Ho and her family have been harassed several times by SBMA officials, preventing them from entering the premises of the golf course.

       The latest harassment the Taiwan investors got was a letter dated 3 August 2007 from SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza informing them that he is personally canceling their respective Special Working Visas since the contract of the UIGDC with SBMA has already been terminated. Does Administrator Arreza have the authority to cancel investors’ visas? Furthermore, Administrator Arreza wrote Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan on the same date, requesting cancellation of the Taiwan investors’ Special Working Visas, to justify his personal cancellation of the same. It is very obvious that Mr. Arreza’s intention for canceling their visas was to pressure them for their continued refusal to give in to the case. UIGDC is fully determined to fight its battle which is now in the local courts. Administrative and criminal cases against Chairman Salonga, Administrator Arreza and fifty (50) other SBMA personalities have already been filed with the Office of the Ombudsman, the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, and the Commission on Human Rights.

Chronology of Events:
       1) December 2006 – Letter from SBMA threatening to issue a “cease and desist” order for the company to stop operations if they fail to settle immediately UIGDC arrears.
       2) December 27, 2006 – A status quo order was issued by Judge Ramon Caguioa of Olangapo RTC Branch 74.
       3) May 24, 2007 – Status Quo order was followed by a Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued by the same presiding judge, Ramon Caguioa.
       4) June 8, 2007 – SBMA officials and Board of Directors convened in the morning, passed and ratified a resolution terminating the Lease Development Contract of UIGDC. At 5:20 p.m. of the same day, Friday, SBMA and elements of the Law Enforcement Division VICIOUSLY served the Notice of Cancellation of the lease. They appropriated everything inside the buildings and leased premises, including personal belongings.
       5) June 9, 2007 – UIGDC officials and employees were forcibly shoved out of the premises after defending their ground for more that 12 hours.
       6) June 12, 2007 – Another injunction was issued by Judge Caguioa. Sheriffs from local RTC’s served the order, but SBMA officials totally ignored the injunction.
       7) July 3, 2007 – UIGDC filed administrative and criminal cases against all SBMA officials who participated in the illegal takeover.
       8 ) July 8, 2007 – In reaction to the case of UIGDC, Representative Rodolfo Valencia of Mindoro Oriental urged the government that the forcible takeover could serve as a good reason for foreign investors not to accept invitations  to conduct business in the country.
       9) August 8, 2007 – representative Emil Ong of Northern Samar delivered a privilege speech in Congress denouncing the illegal actions by the SBMA. Joined by other administration and opposition representatives, he called for an immediate congressional investigation into the controversy.”

        Journalist Lito U. Gagni and I go back to the golden years of Land Bank when I was a member of its Board of Directors. Last October 5, Lito wrote a dynamic Business Mirror column related to the foregoing factual background provided by Mr. Lumauig. Having received Lito’s gracious consent to write what I deem to be the more significant parts of his piece, I hereunder quote the same as follows:

 “Reports citing the antecedents of the takeover could signal an economic fallout on the country’s marketing as an investment destination. The takeover, we understand, occurred on June 8, the same day a resolution was supposed to have been passed by the SBMA terminating the 50-year lease contract of the Taiwanese firm. It should be noted here that the termination was a unilateral one and that it was passed even with the court’s estoppel order for such a takeover. The incident does not augur well for the continuing thrust of the government to market the country’s investment potentials. Remember that the country’s marketability had been severely hampered by the high labor and power costs and the lack of adequate infrastructure facilities. Thus, it could further crimp the desire of investors to locate here.

        With the scrapping of the national broadband network (NBN) deal, the ‘smoking gun’ that was brought out in the course of the Senate hearing regarding the possible role of Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. in the controversy that has gripped the nation may have to archived. This involves the transmittal of a letter referenced to that of the Speaker’s office regarding the desire of Amsterdam Holdings, Inc. (AHI) to have its project on the broadband network be given due course. During the September 25 hearing by the Senate blue-ribbon committee on the broadband project, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile read into the records a letter signed by an official of AHI that tended to show the hand of the Speaker in what has evolved as the NBN controversy starring the Speaker’s son and namesake and that of China’s ZTE Corporation. This issue has been overtaken by events, it would seem, such that its importance may have been glossed over.

        The letter, dated December 4, 2006, was signed by Ernesto C. Garcia, AHI managing director, and addressed to Sec. Leandro Mendoza of the Department of Transportation and Communication. Garcia wrote that the “Speaker’s office” had “instructed” him to forward to Mendoza a draft letter for Mendoza to sign endorsing the AHI’s bid for the NBN project. ‘The Speaker’s office had instructed me to forward the attached material to your office, ASAP’, said Garcia in his letter. The “attached material” was a draft  letter supposedly to be signed by Mendoza and addressed to Romulo Neri, then director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), endorsing AHI’s bid for the NBN contract. The NEDA is the approving authority in the case of big government projects. Other issues, so far, have not been given the importance that they deserve given the fluid situation in the NBN controversy. Nonetheless, these issues may reemerge in the ongoing discussions on the controversy, especially with the lot of political noise that it has generated so far, drowning the euphoric rise in the stock market.”

        Well, the political noise does seem to be nearing its end, and with the current issues moving fast, maybe we can suggest that Speaker de Venecia should now join hands with minority forces not only in the house but also throughout the land.

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