Ex-Davao congressman Floirendo convicted of graft over gov’t land deal

Lian Buan

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Ex-Davao congressman Floirendo convicted of graft over gov’t land deal
Antonio 'Tonyboy' Floirendo Jr, a close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, is sentenced to 6 to 8 years over his family company's longtime land deal with the government

Citing conflict of interest, the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan convicted former Davao del Norte 2nd District representative Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr of graft over his family company’s land deal with the government.

The Sandiganbayan’s 6th Division sentenced Floirendo to 6 to 8 years in prison, and perpetually disqualified him from holding public office.

“Floirendo’s indirect pecuniary or financial interest in the 2003 Joint Venture Agreement falls within the prohibition under Section 14, Article VI of the Constitution,'” said the 6th Division in a 4-1 decision promulgated on Wednesday, August 26.

The verdict is appealable up to the Supreme Court. Floirendo can enjoy temporary liberty while the appeal process is ongoing.

The ruling was made by a special division of 5: Justices Sarah Jane Fernandez, Karl Miranda, Ma Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, and Ronald Moreno were in the majority, while Justice Kevin Vivero was the lone dissent.

Conflict of interest

The ruling is noteworthy because of the court’s interpretation of conflict of interest.

The Tagum Agricultural Development Company (Tadeco), owned by the Floirendo family, has had a land deal with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) since 1969. Under the deal, Tadeco would utilize part of the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) for the company’s banana plantation and in turn, BuCor would have a guarantted production share.

The Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) between Tadeco and Dapecol was renewed for another 25 years in 2003, when Floirendo was already a member of Congress.

At that time, he also owned 75,000 shares of common stock in Tadeco, which he said was a miniscule share. 

The Sandiganbayan found Floirendo guilty of violating Section 3(h) of the anti-graft law. It prohibits “directly or indirectly having financing or pecuniary interest in any business, contract or transaction in connection with which he intervenes or takes part in his official capacity, or in which he is prohibited by the Constitution or by any law from having any interest.”

The court said Floirendo fell under the second element of the provision, which is the constitutional prohibition on conflict of interest.

Section 14, Article VI of the Constitution says members of Congress cannot have direct or indirect business interests in any contract with government.

“The accused’s contention that the prohibitions of Section 14, Article VI of the Constitution and Section 3(h) of the graft law apply only to those with substantial shareholding also fails. There is nothing in Section 14 and Section 3(h) that would suggest that the prohibitions therein apply only to substantial shareholdings,” the court said.

The complaint against Floirendo was filed in 2017 by his longtime friend-turned-foe Pantaleon Alvarez, who was House speaker at the time. They are among President Rodrigo Duterte’s closest allies in Davao.

He did not divest

Floirendo said he was not required to divest his shares from Tadeco because he acquired those before he was elected as a member of Congress. 

“This Court does not agree,” said the decision.

The court said that under Section 9 of Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, public officials are required to divest 60 days from assumption of office when there’s a conflict of interest.

The court said that when Floirendo became member of Congress, and therefore prohibited by the Constitution to have business interest in any government deal, he was immediately required to divest, under RA 6713.

When Floirendo was indicted in 2017, then-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said it may open many members of Congress to possible indictments too.

“While indeed this Office understands that indeed such an interpretation of the Constitution will open members of the House of Representatives to possible indictment, the duty of this Office is to apply the law. To do otherwise is to supplant the wisdom of the people who approved the Constitution with its own,” Morales had said.

Section 13, Article VII of the Constitution also prohibits members of the Cabinet from having business interests in government deals. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.