MANILA, Philippines – He has billions of pesos to his name and “more than 30” companies in his portfolio but when it comes to Philippine politics, businessman Antonio Tiu feels rather small.
The below-radar businessman found himself dragged into one of the latest and most-talked-about corruption scandals in the country, at the center of which is no less than Vice President Jejomar Binay. (READ: ‘Hacienda Binay’ under VP’s friends, aides’ names)
Binay, the subject of plunder raps and a Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee probe, allegedly pocketed money during his stint as Makati mayor.
He allegedly owns businesses and properties masked through layers of corporations and dummies, according to “whistleblowers” in the Senate probe – mostly former allies and political foes of Binay.
The most grand of those alleged properties is a 350-hectare estate in Batangas dubbed “Hacienda Binay” by the Vice President’s confidant-turned-worst-enemy Ernesto Mercado. (READ: Caught on Instagram? VP daughter’s ‘Hacienda Binay’ photos)
Tiu, Mercado said, is one of Binay’s many dummies.
The businessman has vehemently denied the accusations, and insists the 145-hectare property is actually his, through his company Sunchamp Real Estate Corporation. It’s not “Hacienda Binay” but “Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Farm,” Tiu insists.
“What I feel is that I’m just a small collateral damage for his master plan for his own political ambition,” Tiu told Rappler, referring Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, formerly a “good friend” of Tiu’s.
Trillanes is one of the senators spearheading the subcommittee probe. In previous media interviews, Trillanes said he was determined to prove that Tiu was really just Binay’s front.
Tiu and Trillanes’ relationship recently got into the media spotlight after a video of the senator speaking during the August 2014 launch of the farm went viral on social media. In the video, Trillanes praises his “good friend” for his work in the agriculture industry.
Things have changed since then.
In a one-on-one interview days before he faced the subcommittee the second time around, Tiu talks to Rappler about his friendship with Trillanes and what the senators don’t understand about his business:
How would you describe your relationship with Senator Trillanes?
When he was delivering the speech [at the opening of Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Farm], I believe he was also telling the truth. That’s a good compliment on his speech about me but lately, I guess when a person’s greed and hunger for power is overwhelming, overshadowing the real thing… things change.
Would you describe your relationship as close?
I don’t know how you want to measure closeness. I guess he’s a good friend. Not a close friend.
How did you come to know him?
It’s because of the network of people in the business community and the UP community.
Senator Trillanes said he feels betrayed. How do you feel?
I think it’s the reverse.
He betrayed you?
I would not want to say that he betrayed me because I never asked him to keep anything. Basically what I feel is that I’m just a small collateral damage for his master plan for his own political ambition.
Before that ocular in Batangas, did you speak to him?
I did reveal to the public that he did send emissaries to convince me to do things that are against my will and he did confirm in his interviews… that it’s his way of showing concern to a business friend.
Trillanes was saying that even during the launch, he had his doubts on the property. It didn’t make business sense to him…
That’s why he’s not a businessman. He’s a senator and I’m the businessman because I can spot business opportunities and he cannot.
What makes the property so alluring?
In a piece of farm… this is not the first agri property that I’ve acquired and managed. In fact, it’s not the biggest. It’s one of the smallest.
The agricultural practice is to earn from the harvest. But this property, aside from earning from the harvest we can expect some tourism income. And the potential appreciation of the property…if we are able to convert the land to tourism from agricultural purposes.
That’s something the senators don’t understand?
They cannot understand how I can come up with a deal like this. Low downpayment, installment. Technically I can make a lot of money from the produce and income and later on, I can use the proceeds to pay for my remaining balance. – Rappler.com