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MANILA, Philippines – Why is the Iglesia ni Cristo doing business with real estate developer New San Jose Builders Incorporated (NSJB) headed by chairman Jose “Jerry” L. Acuzar?
Acuzar, the brother-in-law of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, is also behind the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan, a resort described as a “celebration of Filipino heritage.” The Acuzar-owned NSJB is also behind the construction of the estimated $200-million Philippine Arena and is likewise the developer of the Iglesia-owned Ciudad de Victoria – a massive 75-hectare complex in Bulacan that will house multiple INC buildings, including the Arena.
Three high-end condominium towers – all part of Fort Victoria in upscale Bonifacio Global City in The Fort – stand on prime property of the INC acquired in March 1998. That property, located on 5th Avenue corner Rizal Drive in Taguig City has, however, been sold by the INC for close to P1 billion ($21.62 million) to NSJB, Rappler has learned.
Citing doctrine, one INC member said Church money should be let alone or used “prudently to purchase the needs of the Church.”
Iglesia members, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being expelled, said INC properties are supposed to be used primarily for the “construction of Iglesia temples or houses of worship, the maintenance of houses of worship, supporting the ministry and their needs, and helping widows (especially of ministers) and elders.”
These properties are also supposed to be used to provide “housing for ministers” who are expected to be supported financially by their Iglesia brethren. On average, said one INC member, a minister gets a stipend of about P15,000 (about $324) a month.
As ministers, they are forbidden, along with their wives, to be involved in any money-making ventures as their lives are supposed to be consecrated to ministry, Iglesia insiders explained.
Contributions, collections and donations collected from Iglesia members are supposed to be primarily used “to build houses and buildings of worship, maintain existing houses of worship, and help the poor.” These are not supposed to be used for investments like what the Catholic Church does for some of its funds. (READ: Can we know how rich the Catholic Church is?)
Real estate investment
Documents show, however, that NSJB was supposed to develop the 5,454 square meters of Iglesia property.
According to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), Fort Victoria is selling 1,094 residential units, 20 high-end commercial units, and 1,179 parking spaces. Depending on size, residential units can cost anywhere from a little over P4 million ($86,487.52) to over P13.6 million ($294,057.57) each. A license to sell was issued by the HLURB in March 2009.
Ownership of the property, however, changed hands in December 2012 as evidenced by Transfer of Certificate Title (TCT) 164-2012002166, which cancelled the original Iglesia TCT 31187 (see below). The affidavit for cancellation was executed for the INC by lawyer Restituto S. Lazaro.
The new TCT (see below) issued in the name of NSJB transferred ownership of Fort Victoria in exchange for the payment of P944.8 million ($20.43 million), documents obtained by Rappler showed.
A memorandum of encumbrances also revealed that NSJB needed an additional P255.2 million ($5.52 million) for the condominium project – an amount the INC “is willing to lend,” the same memorandum indicated.
On top of this, NSJB took out a P2-billion loan ($43.24 million) from Banco De Oro Unibank Incorporated and mortgaged the property in 2012.
Domingo Garcia Jr
A partial list of unit owners in Fort Victoria’s Tower A shows that as of May 2015, a total of 24 units are in the name of one person: Domingo Comintan Garcia Jr.
Known in Iglesia circles as “JunGar” or Jun Garcia, he is said to be a favored contractor for most INC construction projects.
Eliodoro Yuson Jr, a former INC minister who was expelled because of his exposés, revealed that Garcia is likewise a close friend of Glicerio Santos Jr – the treasurer and auditor of the Iglesia – who occupies key positions in Iglesia local foundations and corporations, as well as in Felix Y Manalo foundations abroad.
Garcia is also the chairman of the board, stockholder, and president of Maligaya Development Corporation, the management arm of the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
He is the incorporator, chairman of the board, and president of DG Garcia Construction Inc (DG Garcia), which is behind the construction of some INC chapels and other infrastructure such as the INC Museum, the INC Media Center, and the parking building of the INC’s own broadcast channel Net25.
A search with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revealed that the registration of DG Garcia has actually been revoked. The revocation of corporate papers happens when a company fails to submit on time, for consecutive years, its general information sheets (GIS) or financial statements (FS).
SEC documents show that DG Garcia Construction was registered on February 23, 1994. Since that time, the company was able to submit its GIS for the years 2003, 2004, and 2014 only, and was able to file its FS for the years 2006-2012.
For sure, Garcia cannot occupy all units by himself. “Could he instead be holding them for members of the INC Sanggunian or Council?” asked one INC member. To workers in Fort Victoria, it is common knowledge that the units on the 25th floor are “Iglesia,” informed sources told Rappler.
The sizes of the acquired units on the topmost floors of the condominium vary – ranging from 40.6 square meters to 136.21 square meters.
Tower A, where Garcia’s units are, has 27 floors. He got 12 out of 17 units on the 25th floor, all spanning 532.69 square meters and costing P53,242,000 ($1.15 million).
Six units each on the 26th and 27th floors with a combined floor area of 695.42 square meters per floor or a total of 1,390.84 square meters were also purchased or put under the name of Garcia. These cost P139.084 million ($3.007 million).
No other units on these two topmost floors were bought by other persons besides Garcia. He, or whoever he represents, has exclusive use of them.
All in all, units under Garcia’s name had a total floor area of 1,923.53 square meters with a total cost of P192.33 million ($4.16 million).
We repeatedly tried calling INC Spokesman Edwil Zabala to get the side of Garcia and the Iglesia leadership, but he did not pick up the calls.
In a separate blog post, the INC explained that there is nothing wrong with its construction of Fort Victoria. It said that there is no government law or Iglesia ruling that prohibits religious corporations to enter into a business contract with a profit-making company.
The post also relieved INC Eduardo Manalo and Santos of any liabilities by stressing that the "license to sell" issued to both INC and NSJB was issued on March 13, 2009 – 6 months even before Manalo became the organization's executive minister.
But it was silent on Garcia's having multiple units in the high-end condominium. – Rappler.com
$1 = P46.25
Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.