House restores plunder in list of capital offenses Inquirer News

House restores plunder in list of capital offenses

MANILA, Philippines - Plunder is back in the list of offenses punishable by death, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said yesterday.

The decision came after House leaders were apprised of possible irregularities in a casino contract between the government and a private group, during a hearing by the committee on good government.

“This contract is highly disadvantageous to the government. The amount involved is P234 million in taxpayers’ money. That is plunder. In view of that, we will retain plunder in the death penalty bill,” Alvarez said.

He was referring to the November 2014 contract entered into by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) with Vanderwood Management Corp. for the opening of a casino at a hotel the latter is building at the old Army and Navy Club complex near Rizal Park in Manila. The city government, which owns the property, leased it to Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp. for P300,000 a month.

Oceanville subleased it to Vanderwood, which in turn leased it to Pagcor for P13 million a month.

Alvarez directed the good government committee to recommend the filing of a plunder case with the Office of the Ombudsman against former Pagcor officials and private individuals involved in the deal, led by then chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr.

He said the anomalous deal has given him and his colleagues enough reason to keep the crime of plunder in the death penalty bill.

Last Wednesday, House members agreed in caucus to delist plunder from the measure. The crime involves the stealing or misuse of at least P50 million in public funds.

Alvarez said the total amount involved in the Pagcor-Vanderwood transaction was P3.2 billion, the amount of rent the state gaming agency had committed to pay Vanderwood for 15 years.

The Speaker said Pagcor already paid Vanderwood P234 million representing advance rentals for 12 months and security deposit for six months.

“You’ve already given them P234 million even if you’ve not occupied even a single square inch of space of the leased property. Is that not highly anomalous? What you are leasing in effect is just air. Meanwhile, Vanderwood already used your P234 million,” he told Naguiat and other former Pagcor officials.

He said if current Pagcor officers honor the Vanderwood contract, they too would be liable for plunder.

Alvarez asked Vanderwood representatives if the casino-hotel they were building was already finished.

Company president Manuel Sy and the firm’s lawyer Edgar Asuncion said the 6,500-square-meter space leased by Pagcor “is 90-percent complete.”

Naguiat claimed the transaction was aboveboard and was in fact cleared by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC).

Transportation Undersecretary Raoul Creencia, who was OGCC head in 2014, said though he gave his blessing to the deal, “it was Pagcor that ultimately made the decision.”

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told Creencia that he should have checked the contract the Manila city government entered into with Oceanville.

“Under the contract, the property would be transformed into a lodging, dining and entertainment facility. There is no provision for a casino here. The city government could intervene and seek the invalidation of the deal between Oceanville and Vanderwood,” he said.

He said there was nothing in the documents that indicated Sy and a certain Mario Leabres were authorized to sign for Vanderwood and Oceanville, respectively.

Answering questions from Fariñas, Asuncion said it was he who introduced Leabres to Sy, adding the three were his friends.

But when requested to locate Leabres, who snubbed yesterday’s hearing, Asuncion declined.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc, author of the resolution seeking an inquiry into the Pagcor-Vanderwood deal, said the Commission on Audit has asked incumbent Pagcor officials to recover the P234 million the agency advanced to Vanderwood.

Deferment pushed

Anti-death penalty lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing for the deferment of plenary debates on the revival of the death penalty bill while the Senate is still deliberating on the fate of the country’s treaty with an international human rights group.

Reps. Edcel Lagman and Raul Daza are urging Alvarez to hold off debates on House Bill 4727 while senators are preparing to vote on whether to uphold Manila’s commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Second Optional Protocol.

“This is a bicameral legislature. No one acts solely without the consent of the other. We must suspend all proceedings in the House and avoid a clash. Otherwise, we will only be engaged in an exercise in futility,” Lagman of Albay pointed out.

Daza, who represents northern Samar, agrees. “I urge the House leadership to pause and rethink about the debates in the plenary, because all the time, energy and resources by the House on this bill will be laid to waste.”

Fourteen senators have signed a resolution expressing the sense that any treaty or international agreement should not be valid without Senate concurrence.000
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