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Villar firm’s high-end project sits on land for poor

By ARIES RUFO

Last of 3 parts

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential aspirant Manuel Villar may have
built his P25-billion wealth on providing low-cost homes, but the
practices of acquiring properties where real estate projects now stand
showed a pattern of deceipt and corruption.

How land was acquired in Norzagaray in Bulacan, Imus Estate in Cavite, and for the Portofino project in Alabang are case studies of this pattern.

Portofino, a flagship project of Britanny Corp., the Villar Group’s
unit aimed at the luxury residential communities and upscale leisure
developments, now sits on land meant for the poor.

Portofino was cited in a complaint by Restituto Mendoza, a former lawyer of the Villar Group, as one distinctive example of the corrupt practices of the group.

Mendoza, in a damning complaint before
the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC ), said the real estate
businesses of Villar pull strings in government agencies—like the
Registry of Deeds and Land Management Bureau, the Department of Natural
and Environment Resources, the Bureau of Customs to judges and
justices, including in the Office of the President—to get their way.

In an interview with Newsbreak last April 7 in Mandaluyong
City, Villar’s chief legal officer Ma. Nalen Rosario-Galang vehemently
denied Mendoza’s allegations.

She said Mendoza had sought to blackmail Villar and his companies
with his allegations of corruption “after he got slighted when told of
his poor performance as an employee.”

She said Mendoza is only taking advantage of the political season to
get attention. She pointed out that Mendoza “tried to sell his story”
to Senators Jamby Madrigal and Panfilio Lacson, who both spearheaded
the C-5 road extension inquiry. Advisers of the two senators rejected
his “story,” Galang said, “since they know it cannot be used as
evidence.”

Meant for low cost housing

Portofino is a 300-hectare community of different enclaves where
houses and commercial areas have sun-drenched colors and high arched
windows and archways. The architecture and design are inspired by a
seaport town in Southern Italy named Portofino, meaning “fine gateway.”

But before the property became a gated subdivision and an enclave of
the rich, Portofino was originally meant for low-cost houses .

The land was originally an agricultural land. The heirs of Conrado Potenciano owned 113 hectares.

In 1988, the Potenciano family and the National Housing Authority
(NHA) entered into an agreement to develop the site for low-cost
housing. The NHA is the government agency mandated to provide shelter
to the lowest 30% of the urban population, most of them living in slums.

The NHA filed before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) a
request to convert the property from agricultural to non-agricultural.
In 1989, it was granted.

The 1989 DAR conversion order gave Potenciano and the NHA 10 years
to develop the site. The land’s tenants, who would have been the
beneficiaries of the property had it been covered by the Comprehensive
Agricultural Reform Program, were paid with disturbance compensation.

However, for some reason, the NHA backed out of the project.

With the NHA out, Potenciano and his heirs entered into a “Land
Development Agreement” in 1993 with Adelfa Properties Inc. and Britanny
Corp, both owned by the Villar Group. At the time, Villar, who has
already made a stamp in the real estate industry, was a newly elected
congressman and was starting a political career.

Daang Hari Road

In 1999, prior to the expiration of the 1989 DAR conversion order,
Adelfa Properties and Britanny Corp. filed for an extension of the
development period. It cited as grounds the construction of the
Daang-Hari road, among others.

The Daang Hari road traverses Las Piñas and Bacoor, Cavite, in
effect providing access points to Pontefino from existing major roads,
including those that serve posh Ayala Alabang Village, and the Madrigal
Business Park. (Newsbreak previously reported that the construction of
Daang Hari was funded by the congressional allocation of Senator Villar in 2003 coursed through the Department of Public Works and Highways.)

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Adelfa Properties also sought a new order granting the conversion without any limitation to any specific use and development.

That same year, two groups of petitioners who are heirs of former
tenants, asked the DAR to revoke its 1989 order and revert the property
to agricultural land. The petitioners argued that the conversion plan
was violated since the 10-year period has lapsed.

The DAR rejected the petitions of the two groups of petitioners,
prompting them to separately appeal before the Office of the President
and the Court of Appeals.

In March 2004, the Office of the President issued a resolution
reclassifying the Potenciano property into agricultural land. Adelfa
Properties filed a motion for reconsideration but was also denied.

The decision of the Office of the President, however, was short victory for the former tenants.

Connection to the president?

Mendoza, who was then hired by Adelfa Properties as in-house
counsel, filed a second motion for consideration at the Office of the
President. In October 2004, the Office of the President reversed itself
and junked the tenants’ petition.

The Court of Appeals also junked the tenants’ petition.

Mendoza wrote on his labor complaint that he was elated for winning.
It was his first big case. He was the one who insisted of filing a
second motion for reconsideration, which is not generally entertained,
but he argued it could be allowed be in exceptionally meritorious cases.

Mendoza thought he won the case through merit. He would have a rude awakening.

In the succeeding years of working with Villar’s lawyers and senior
officers, he wrote that he found that the Potenciano case was won
“through a connection within the Office of the President.”

When he found this out, “it took complainant months to get over his
guilt by knowing that he was instrumental to what he realized later as
an injustice to hundreds of farmers hoping to regain their lost land,”
Mendoza narrated.

Mendoza said that, when the farmers initially won at the Office of
the President, they were seeking P25 million as settlement. He opposed
the move, but curiously, Villar’s senior officers were willing to
compromise. He bargained for P200,000, which the tenants at first
accepted and later rejected.

He wrote that he would later realize Villar’s trusted men were
getting kickbacks from settlement payments. The P200,000 settlement he
was pushing apparently also angered Villar’s senior officers.

A separate source, who was privy to the case, said the conduit who
secured the Office of the President reversal was a Villar associate,
who got a juicy position when he was named Senate President. The
associate was replaced when Villar was ousted as Senate chief in 2008.
At the time, Sen. Lacson was pushing for the investigation of the C-5
road controversy.

Business ethics

Villar’s “Sipag at Tiyaga,” a catchy slogan that makes an emotional
connection with the poor that they, too, can make it big, resonates the
message that industry and perseverance, guided by ethics and
principles, will make dreams come true.

But ethics and principles may not be among Villar’s strongest traits in business, Mendoza noted in his labor complaint.

Mendoza said the irregular practices of Villar’s lawyers were not so
secret among themselves. He said Galang, Villar’s chief legal officer
“was quite at ease with the knowledge that extra legal means were being
done with the cases they were handling.”

When he confronted Galang about his moral dilemma, he was told that
he “should act first as an officer of the company and not as a lawyer.”
Mendoza said Galang reminded him “to just focus on the legal aspect and
just let (Villar’s senior officers) and Adelfa’s engineers do all the
‘dirty’ work.”

Galang, in a separate interview, said that Mendoza has a problem
with authority. “He thinks he is too good. That is why he did not last
long with his previous employers.”

Villar told ABS-CBN News on April 13 that all their lands have
titles and were acquired above-board. He added that negatives stories
about his businesses, especially those on alleged land grabbing
practices, are mere black propaganda- With reports and additional research from Ma. Althea Teves and Purple Romero, abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak

Editors’ note: We previously reported that, when Adelfa
Properties was pursuing the reclassification issue with the Office of
the President in March 2004,
Villar and Arroyo critic Senator
Alan Peter Cayetano aligned themselves with the opposition. We were
wrong. Villar’s Nacionalista Party was not active during the 2004
national elections where both Villar and Cayetano supported President
Arroyo’s bid.
Cayetano joined calls for President Arroyo to
resign in mid-2005 following the “Hello Garci” wiretapping scandal, but
Villar did not. Villar later became Senate President.

RELATED STORIES
SIDEBAR: Villar firms bribe and forge? The case of the undervalued crane
PART 1: How Villar built business empire with deceit, corruption: ex-lawyer
SIDEBAR: The man who turned his back on Villar
INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: How Villar company obtained titles to contested land
PART 2: Villar firm faked titles through ‘layering’: ex-lawyer
SIDEBAR: Imus Estate land key to Villar-Ayala deal

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