COA: Basa Guidote lot worth much less
MANILA, Philippines - In a very belated action, the Commission on Audit (COA) “disallowed” Manila City Hall’s transaction with Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc (BGEI). Among other reasons, COA said the 1,020.7-square meter lot in Sampaloc that the city hall purchased for P34.7-million was worth much less.
"There was a significant difference in the purchase price compared to the values prevailing at that time. Per [the Department of Assessor], the adjusted fair market value of the whole property...with a total area of 1,230.10 sq. m. was P16,141,739.53 or P13,122.3/sq. m., while the city purchased only a portion of it, specifically 1,020.7 sq. m at P34,703,800 or P34,000 per sq. m," reads the Notice of Disallowance.
"The zonal value of the property located along Legarda St., within the vicinity of Figueras-Delgado, as determined by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) was only P21,000/sq. m. in 2001 and the market value of adjacent lots was P3,848/sq. m," adds the Notice.
Using the values of the Department of Assessor and the BIR, Manila City Hall should have paid BGEI from P14 million to P21.5 million only.
BGEI has taken a central role in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. It is this money coming from Manila City Hall that the defense has used to justify the Chief Justice’s 3 peso-time-deposits totaling about P36-million, which he transferred to a checking account on the day he was impeached.
The defense’s claim was simple. Because the Chief Justice’s wife had control over BGEI, Manila City Hall issued the check to Cristina “in trust for” BGEI. This was the same money that the Chief Justice supposedly withdrew on Dec 11, 2011.
But the court seemed more interested in the legality of the transaction. The prosecution and several senators suggested that the transaction was illegal. The prosecution also said the defense still has to show how the check issued in the name of his wife "in trust for" BGEI landed on the Chief Justice's bank accounts. (The defense said it will present 3-4 more witnesses on Basa Guidote.)
Atienza: We paid a low price
On March 22, the last day of trial before the long break, Atienza testified on the transaction. Contrary to the COA report, Atienza said—boasted even—that the city hall purchased the BGEI lot at a price lower than the prevailing market values of the property. Cristina "reluctantly" sold it, he said.
Atienza added that it was urgent for the city hall to acquire the property because they needed a relocation site for the Old and New Sampaloc markets.
The City Hall paid the lot for P34,000 per square meter. Atienza told the court the value could go as high as P50,000 per square meter.
The COA noted several other “irregularities” in the payment and the failure to submit necessary requirements. It also questioned the 1987 authorization that Cristina Corona presented to the city Hall. A more recent Special Power of Attorney should have been submitted, said COA.
COA's "Notice of Disallowance" also confirmed that there was a failure to submit the following documents: Recommendation of the Appraisal Committee as to the reasonableness of the price, duly approved by the authorities concerned, and noted by the previous owner; and a copy of the latest tax declaration transferred from the owner-vendor to the City of Manila.
COA Office of the City Auditor - Manila issued a “Notice of Disallowance” on March 19, 2012, at the height of the impeachment trial. It has been 11 years since the 2001 transaction.
Is the timing suspicious? It is not, according to prosecution spokesperson Romero “Miro” Quimbo. “The disallowance is but a fruition of the suspension that took place in 2002, meaning it was disallowed as early as that time,” Quimbo said. A Notice of Suspension was issued on March 5, 2002—a year after Cristina was paid for the property.
On March 1, 2012, Manila City Hall's Office of the City Legal Officer also wrote several City Hall departments to look into its transaction with BGEI. In his letter, City Legal Officer Renato Dela Cruz indicated he was looking for the original deed of sale. He was concerned because "it appears that the title of the property has not been transferred to the City's name."
"City officials who failed to perform their duties may be charged with violation of RA 3019 and gross neglect of duty," he added in the letter.
Several former Manila City Hall officials, including Atienza and Cristina Corona, were determined to be “liable” for the transaction. The same notice of disallowance directed them to settle the issue within 6 months.
Other officials said to be liable are former City Accountant's Office OIC Gloria Quilantang, former city budget officer Alicia Moscaya, former city treasurer Liberty Toledo, former city engineer Magdiwang Recato, and former secretary to the Mayor Emmanuel Sison. – Rappler.com