by Ben Rosario
The political opposition on Tuesday dared the leadership of the House of Representatives to include in the Tagum Agricultural Development Company (Tadeco) land probe all lands that were concealed from the coverage the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
The so-called Magnificent Seven group of minority congressmen, in a press conference, slammed the ongoing investigation into the allegedly anomalous lease deal between Tadeco and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) as “petty squabble between rivals” if it will not cover the failure of government to cover huge tracts of agricultural land under CARP coverage.
If proponents of the investigation are genuine advocates of agrarian reform, then all lands covered by CARP must be probed, not just Tadeco. Otherwise, this might be misconstrued as a petty squabble between rivals, and nothing more,” said the opposition group headed by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
The probes conducted by three government offices have shown common results, so far.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), the Commission on Audit (COA), and the Solicitor General (SolGen), have all declared as “unconstitutional and illegal” the land deal between BOC and Tadeco, owned by the family of Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez initiated the conduct of investigation before the Lower House after he filed graft charges against Floirendo for allegedly having a hand in the 25-year extension of the Tadeco-BOC lease agreement while serving as congressman.
Alvarez brushed aside the “innuendo being floated by the Floirendos that the DOJ, COA, and SolGen had been coerced into declaring Tadeco’s sweetheart deal with BuCor as patently detrimental to the interest of the government and the Filipino people.”
“Who are they trying to fool?” asked Alvarez, referring to “Tadeco’s wild imaginations and revisionist take on the deal that had allowed them to deprive government of billions of pesos in lease payment and share from the sale of bananas pocketed by Tadeco instead of going to the national coffers.”
“Ang hirap sa Tadeco, sila lang ang nagsasabi na walang problema ang kontrata nila while all concerned government agencies are one in saying that their contract is violative of the Constitution hence illegal,” Alvarez stressed. (The problem with Tadeco is that they claim there is nothing wrong with the contract but all concerned agencies are one in saying that their contract is violative of the Constitution, hence, illegal.)
The House leader urged officials of Tadeco to just address directly the legal questions “instead of muddying the issue” after the DOJ, COA, and SolGen slammed the Tadeco-BuCor land-lease deal.
Alvarez pointed out that a DOJ fact-finding has investigated the contract and declared it illegal. In the joint hearing of the House Committee on Good Government and Committee on Justice last May 9, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II adopted the position of the fact-finding body.
Aguirre recommended that the deal between the Floirendo-family owned Tadeco and BuCor be revoked by the President or for the bureau to file an appropriate action in court to nullify the supposed Joint-Venture Agreement (JVA).
He also recommended that the President issue a proclamation reclassifying the DPPF lands as alienable and disposable before the BuCor is allowed to enter into agreements for the concession of its property, subject to bidding requirements under the law.
Alvarez insisted that Tadeco’s rental fee of R5,308 per hectare and the R1.80 government share per box of bananas is prejudicial to the government. He added that Tadeco’s refusal to bare the price they get per box of bananas belies Tadeco’s claim of a JVA BuCor.
“We are talking about a fully developed plantation here and they are paying just R5,308 per hectare? How can anyone turn a blind eye to government being shortchanged when the lease amount per hectare per year for raw, undeveloped land is R25,000 to R35,000?” said Alvarez.