Alvarez wants probe into BuCor deal with Floirendo banana firm

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants a congressional probe into the alleged anomalous deal between the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and one of the world's largest banana firms owned by a fellow Davao lawmaker who is also President Rodrigo Duterte's biggest campaign contributor.

Alvarez filed House Resolution (HR) Number 867 questioning the joint venture agreement between BuCor and the Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation (Tadeco), owned by Davao del Norte 2nd District Representative Antonio Floirendo Jr.

Alvarez, Davao del Norte 1st District representative, and Floirendo, are both allies of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

In his resolution, Alvarez said the contract finalized on July 11, 1969, allowed Tadeco to lease BuCor-owned land located at the Davao Penal Colony.

The contract was renewed on May 21, 2003, with BuCor guaranteed an annual production share of P26,541,809, which will automatically increase by 10% every 5 years. The joint venture agreement also states that BuCor must receive profit shares with respect to the leased lands where the bananas are planted. 

Alvarez questioned the agreement.

“The existing contract, while guaranteeing the BuCor a share of P26,541,809 per year for 5,308,36 hectares, actually prejudices the same since the prevailing price of lease contracts in that area is P25,000 per hectare per year,” Alvarez said in his resolution.

According to the Speaker, this means the government is “prejudiced” by as much as P106,167,191 per year.

Alvarez also said that there have been “serious allegations” that Tadeco workers have been “ill-treated and exploited.”

“Now therefore, it is hereby resolved to direct the committee on good government and accountability to immediately conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the allegedly grossly disadvantageous contract between the Tadeco and BuCor and the supposed ill-treatment of the workers in the Tadeco banana plantation,” said Alvarez. 

Conflict among Duterte allies?

The Speaker, a longtime friend of the President, is also the secretary-general of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

"Banana King" Floirendo, meanwhile, was the top campaign financier of Duterte. (READ: Who's who in Duterte's poll contributor list

There have been rumors going around political circles that Floirendo was plotting to unseat Alvarez as Speaker and replace him with Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, another Duterte ally.

Alvarez moved to oust Arroyo, former president, as deputy speaker, along with 11 other committee chairpersons, after they voted against the controversial death penalty bill. (READ: Death penalty bill fallout: Alvarez says Arroyo to be replaced as deputy speaker)

The death penalty was abolished in 2006, under the Arroyo administration. Alvarez briefly served as transportation secretary during the Arroyo presidency. 

Alvarez denied such rumors influenced his decision to file HR 867.

Alam mo, binibigyan nila ng slant ‘yan na ‘di maganda (You know, they're putting a slant there that's not good). But we have to be objective about it. Kung ganyan lang, you know, kung gusto nila ‘yung speakership (If they want the speakership), I’m just doing this for the country,” Alvarez told Rappler in a phone interview. 

The Speaker said members of the banana industry would attest to the contents of his resolution against Floirendo.

“For a long time, that contract of Tadeco, they have been milking the government since the time of [former] President [Ferdinand] Marcos when that contract was started. I know that for a fact because I’m from Davao del Norte,” said Alvarez.

“There was  a time that they were using the prisoners as their workers sa farms tapos they’re paying them with a really substandard rate. Alam ng banana industry ‘yan (The banana industry knows that),” he said. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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