MANILA, Philippines – The chairman of Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevCo) was absolved of estafa charges after the Pasay City regional trial court found no probable cause in allegations that he falsely represented to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) that his firm was incapable of paying rent on 247 hectares in John Hay Special Economic Zone (formerly Camp John Hay) in Baguio City.
The decision on the P1.15-billion estafa case was promulgated last Sept. 3.
BCDA president and chief executive officer Arnel Casanova had filed the complaint for estafa against Robert John Sobrepeña.
Last June, the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Sobrepeña for alleged failure to pay rent to BCDA.
The court rejected arguments that CJHDevco had shunned its rental obligations to BCDA.
“To the mind of the Court, it is not the alleged misrepresentation by the accused Sobrepeña that impelled or induced complainant BCDA in the execution of the three MOAs (memoranda of agreements) as above quoted,” read the decision.
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The Court said a joint committee of officers of CJHDevCo and BCDA ruled to allow the deferment of payments.
“If there was misrepresentation as to the financial condition of CJHDevCo, the officers/directors of BCDA who are members of the committee might have been remiss, if not fell short, of their duty to determine the financial capacity or incapacity of CJHDevCo to pay its obligation,” read the decision.
The Court said Sobrepeña was transparent with the BCDA.
“There is no evidence that accused Sobrepeña concealed the corporate records and financial statements of CJHDevCo to BCDA,” read the decision.
“There is no evidence showing that accused Sobrepeña persuaded, if not insisted, BCDA to enter into the said contract.
“The very stipulations of the MOAs appear to be a product of negotiations, verification and careful, if not meticulous, evaluation.”
The Court said the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and the Office of the President had approved the MOA, dated July 14, 2000.
BCDA had acknowledged that problems CJHDevCo had encountered led to the firm’s request for deferment of payments, the Court added.
After making a rental payment of P425 million in the late 1990s, CJHDevCo and BCDA signed a MOA on Aug. 5, 1999 for the demolition of structures inside Camp John Hay.
BCDA also agreed to issue the requisite Environmental Compliance Certificate.
The two parties agreed to defer lease rental payment for the second year.
Another MOA, dated July 14, 2000, further acknowledged the delay by BCDA and John Hay Poro Point Development Corp (JPDC) in the demolition of structures inside Camp John Hay.
It resulted in the long delay in turning over possession of portions of the leased area.
Due to the Asian economic crisis, CJHDevCo stakeholders had to resort to loans to continue development of the leased area, among other factors authorizing deferred rental payments.
A third agreement, dated July 18, 2003, acknowledged that the Office of the President approved the July 2000 MOA.
CJHDevCo executive vice president Al Yñiguez said the decision shows that Sobrepeña and the firm have always been up front and transparent in dealing with BCDA.
“At the onset, we knew this was a harassment case,” he said.
“The board was cleared of charges by the prosecutor in June so it was odd that a case was still filed against Mr. Sobrepeña.” – Edu Punay, Perseus Echeminada, Paolo Romero