First of 2 parts
AT A GLANCE:
- Valued at P1-billion at present, the 8,877 square meter commercial strip in Bgy Comembo was originally part of a housing project for military personnel and their dependents
- Meriras Realty, owned by alleged Binay fronts, rented the area for a mere P9,157 a month
- Erlinda Chong, Makati’s cake supplier and a friend of the Binays, acquired the rights on a silver platter to patent the property
- Chong paid P17.75 million for the property
- A complainant asked why the contested property was appraised at only P2,000 per square meter despite the prevailing price in the area being between P10,000 and P15,000 per square meter
MANILA, Philippines – This is the inside story of how an alleged dummy of Vice President Jejomar Binay acquired the P1-billion worth of property in Makati for a song.
At the intersection of J.P Rizal extension and Sampaguita Street in Barangay Comembo in Makati is a corner lot that serves as the mini-mall of the poorer residents there. On the ground floor, there’s Chowking and KFC fast-food restaurants, a Mercury Drug Store, and several tiangge stores. There’s also a mini-mart down further. More establishments can be found at the upper floors of the building.
Based on the Makati city’s website, this commercial strip is the only business area in the largely residential area of Comembo.
At any given day, business is brisk in the area. The mini-mall has undergone changes through the years. Before, there used to be two cinemas and a computer school. But the business establishment has managed to adapt.
A Newsbreak report in 2001 said that the commercial complex is owned by JOBIM company, a contraction of the names of the real owners – Jejomar Binay, Nelson Irasga and Ernesto Mercado. Irasga was a former Makati City engineer and Mercado was former councilor and vice mayor of Makati. Irasga and Mercado had a falling out with Binay when his promise to anoint them as his successors fizzled out.
In a Senate hearing, Mercado finally confirmed what Makati residents have known all along – that the property belonged to Binay through his alleged dummy, Erlinda Chong.
Estimated to be worth P1-billion at present, it was a property that should have been appropriated to a housing program for soldiers but a clever manipulation robbed them of this right.
A complaint reached the Ombudsman but was dismissed by its former head, Aniano Desierto.
But it was a divided decision, one of the few instances that Desierto was openly challenged by a subordinate.
‘Enlisted Men’s Barrio’
The property was previously part of the Fort Bonifacio (formerly Fort McKinley) military reservation created under Proclamation 423 issued in 1957.
In 1986, former president Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation 2475, which transferred several portions of Fort Bonifacio to the local government of Makati, reserving these as housing area for military personnel and their dependents. (The “embo” in barangays Comembo, Rembo, Cembo and Pembo stands for “Enlisted Men’s Barrio”.)
In 1990, then president Corazon Aquino issued Proclamation 518 that allowed for the disposition of parcels of land in the EMBO area to bonafide occupants. Among the requirements was that the applicant should be a resident in the area on or before January 1986. The maximum area to be awarded should not exceed 300 square meters.
But Binay and his allies then, had a different plan.
In his Senate testimony, Mercado said the former mayor asked him to convince the Philippine Army’s 525th Engineering Battalion to part with half of the 16,000-square-meter lot that they are entitled to under Proclamation 518.
Under the agreement, half of the entire property will be developed as a housing project, while the other half will be developed by the city government.
At this point, it is unclear how many occupants agreed to the set-up. But records show that in 1992, a contract was executed between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Meriras Realty Development Corporation to lease 8,877 square meters in the area.
Meriras is a contraction of the combined first syllables of Mercado and Irasga. Binay is allegedly a hidden partner of the company.
And how did the public property end up in private hands? They did this by going around the law, with helpful advice from environment officials.
Since Proclamation 518 only allows qualified persons to own lots, Mercado said it was decided to tap a third person. That third party was Chong, who is also known to the Binays.
After 5 years of leasing the 8,877-square-meter property for a measly sum of P9,157 a month, Meriras executed a waiver and transfer of rights to Chong in November 1997. This made Chong, who has been a resident of Guadalupe, Makati, the new lessee in the contract.
To complete the charade, shares of Meriras stocks were transferred to Chong and her husband, Chinese national Bun Chong, a certain Johnny Tan, and Gerardo Limlingan. Limlingan, previously identified as one of Binay’s dummies, also acts as the Vice President’s financial adviser.
In December 1997, a month after acquiring the status as new lessee, Chong filed with the DENR a conversion of the lease application to Miscellaneous Sales Application (MSA). The MSA would allow her to purchase the property after the proper procedures have been complied with.
And this is where their connections inside the DENR worked their magic.
Ignoring the provisions of Proclamation 518 that only residents have the right to own lots in the Comembo property at a maximum of 300 square meters, DENR officials approved the lease conversion to sale by applying Section 43 of the Public Land Act. Under Section 43 of the Public Land Act, a lessee of public land has the option of purchasing the land leased.
In their haste, they committed lapses in the application process.
On August 5, 1998, the DENR issued its approval to Chong’s notice of application. However, it was only on August 7 that the first notice of sale was published in a newspaper. This means that Chong’s sales application had already been pre-approved, two days ahead of the notice of sale.
Complaint before the Ombudsman
In February 1999, Chong was awarded the sale and patent for the 8,877-square-meter property by default after no other bidder showed up during the bidding. She paid the amount of P17.754 million representing the assessed value for the property.
But someone would not keep quiet.
In March 1999, a certain Bernard Bernardo filed a complaint before the resident Ombudsman of the DENR referring to the land scam perpetrated by Chong and Meriras company.
Bernardo complained that the DENR colluded with Chong and Meriras, for the sale of public land to Chong, violating the provisions under Proclamation 518.
In the complaint, Bernardo asked:
- Why Chong, who was never a resident of Bgy Comembo, was awarded the property
- If the questioned property should have been disposed of in accordance with Proclamation 518, that is, as a land reform program for the informal settlers in the reservation area
- If the award violated the maximum 300-square-meter allocation for each qualified occupant
- Why the contested property was appraised at only P2,000 per square meter despite the prevailing price in the area being between P10,000 and P15,000 per square meter
- If the bid was a farce. At such a low price, Bernardo said many others would have submitted their bids for a prime lot.
The complainant also reported that 3 of the DENR officials behind the approval of the Chong’s sales and patent application were related to Mercado by affinity. One of them, Renato Troncales, is Mercado’s godfather in marriage.
“It is a matter of notice to the neighborhood of Councilor Mercado that Troncales often visits his godson Mercado during weekends at the latter’s residence, very much beyond the demand of the duty of an ordinary godfather to his godson,” Bernardo said.
Vice President Binay’s spokesman for political affairs Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla had previously downplayed Mercado’s allegations, saying that the supposed documents Mercado presented “are far from the definitive proof as he alleged.”
Remulla said Mercado’s “revelations” were part of a “fishing expedition” with the end-goal of tarnishing the reputation of the Vice President and his family. – Rappler.com
Conclusion: A Mormon church, Binay dummies, and a land scam
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