MANILA, Philippines – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV once considered businessman Antonio Tiu his “good friend.”
He said so at the launch of the now controversial Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Farm in Batangas on August 5, 2014 – just weeks before the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee began its probe into the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2 which would later cite the farm.
“When I was invited by our good friend na si Antonio Tiu, kahit na may bad cold ako this morning, kailangan na ma-suportahan natin siya, mapakita natin ang paniniwala sa kanyang vision for agriculture,” Trillanes said of Tiu at the Sunchamp launch.
(When I was invited by our good friend Antonio Tiu, even if I had a bad cold this morning, I had to support him, to show our belief in his vision for agriculture.)
Between August and October of 2014 however, or in the course of the Senate probe where Trillanes is actively involved, a lot of things have changed and the two are now anything but “good friends.”
Trillanes is one of the senators spearheading a probe into allegations of corruption agianst Vice President Jejomar Binay, which has unleashed a political storm which Tiu now finds himself in.
The Sunchamp farm is allegedly really “Hacienda Binay,” former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado had told the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee probing the Binay corruption scandal. Binay has denied owning the property.
When it was launched, Trillanes wasn’t the only government official present. Also there were Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Secretary Francis Pangilinan and Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes. It was a small and intimate event, said Trillanes.
Only around 50 people were gathered in the property’s gazebo, which overlooks a man-made lake. (IN PHOTOS: The ‘hacienda’ that Antonio Tiu says he owns)
Betrayed by Tiu?
Trillanes told Rappler that even then, he had his “suspicions” about Tiu’s vast property. The senator said he felt “betrayed by Tiu.”
“As a friend, I put in good words for him not knowing that we, as allies [of President Benigno Aquino III], were already being used to legitimize the dummy layering by Sunchamp of the Hacienda Binay,” Trillanes said in statement on Friday, October 24.
After Mercado’s expose, Tiu claimed ownership of a part of the land with the “mansion with British palace garden, a mansion with resort pool, a horse ranch, an imported orchid farm, [and] a man-made lagoon.”
The businessman said this was only a 145-hectare property which he bought from Agrifortuna Inc, through Laureano Gregorio, another alleged Binay dummy.
But to the senators spearheading the probe, Tiu’s claims do not hold weight. Even after an ocular visit to the property led by Tiu himself, Trillanes said he remained unconvinced.
After being initially denied access to the property, Trillanes told reporters: “Ibig sabihin noon, hindi siya nakapagpaalam kay Vice President Binay (That only means he’s still asking permission from Vice President Binay).”
“This latest project of yours will not only be a boost for the economy of Batangas but to the rest of the economy as well”
From sports to agri
Trillanes and Tiu’s past friendship came into the media spotlight after a video of the senator congratulating Tiu made the rounds online.
In the clip that ran for a minute and 42 seconds, Trillanes had only kind words for the businessman on the occasion of the agri-tourism farm launch, “This latest project of yours will not only be a boost for the economy of Batangas but to the rest of the economy as well.”
The video was uploaded by “Agri TourismPH” on October 13, 2014 – 5 days after Mercado’s “Hacienda Binay” exposé. The user has no other video uploads as of posting.
Trillanes does not deny knowing Tiu. “I knew Tony Tiu then as a good man and a legitimate businessman,” he said on Friday.
The two men’s relationship started not over a shared vision for the country’s agriculture sector, but over sports, specifically, through Universiade, an international sporting and cultural festival.
The two met sometime in 2011, through the Federation of School Sports Association of the Philippines (FESSAP). Tiu is the honorary chairman of the executive committee while Trillanes is its “honorary senior adviser.”
“No less than Senator Antonio Trillanes presented the appointment papers from FESSAP president David Ong to Tiu during a simple dinner held for the announcement of the head of delegation to the Kazan Games,” read an entry from Tiu’s blog dated February 5, 2013.
Trillanes confirmed he got to know Tiu because of the businessman’s appointment as the Philippines’ head of delegation of the 2013 Summer Universiade in Russia. Trillanes himself is slated to be the head of delegation for the 2015 Summer Universiade in South Korea.
Trillanes told Rappler that when he attended the August 5 launch of Sunchamp, he had no inkling he would later unveil Tiu’s so-called links to the Binay family. (READ: Farm ‘owner’ a huge Binay campaign donor)
Trillanes filed the resolution calling for the Senate probe a week later, on August 11.
But even during the farm’s launch, Trillanes said he had his doubts. He said that there were more members of the media than there were guests during the launch of Sunchamp Farms.
The property, which already had a rest house, pavillion, a so-called “Kew Garden” replica, and a “small zoo,” when it was bought from Gregorio, did not make “business sense,” said Trillanes.
The senator also questioned why after the launch, Sunchamp did little to market the 145-hectare property, which is valued at over P446 million. It would only be through the testimony of whistleblowers at the Senate probe that Trillanes would find the so-called link between Binay and Tiu.
The 38-year-old Tiu, however, insists the property was a good deal. So far, he has only paid P11 million as downpayment to the estate but he already has “full, enforceable right to the property.”
He has two more years to pay the remaining P435 million balance. (READ: Does Antonio Tiu really own ‘Hacienda Binay’?)
Still, Trillanes is determined to “unravel” Tiu’s “palusot (excuse)” in subsequent subcommittee hearings. “Whatever friendship we had then won’t stop me from unmasking him,” said the senator.
Binay, embroiled in his biggest corruption scandal to date, is accused of rigging bids and getting kickbacks from city projects while Makati mayor. He and his son, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr, face plunder raps over the alleged overpriced Makati building that began construction during the former’s term as mayor.
“Hacienda Binay” is only the latest – and not the last, if Trillanes is to be believed – “proof” of Binay’s alleged corrupt activities. (READ: Trillanes threatens Binay with new corruption exposé)
Despite a survey indicating most Filipinos want Binay to face the allegations before the Senate in person, the Vice President has so-far refused to attend the probe which he says has already “prejudged” him. Instead, Binay challenged Trillanes to a one-on-one debate which the senator has agreed to. – Rappler.com