Midnight Chief Justice, last-minute government deals

March 17, 2010 at 12:07 am 1 comment

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) Updated March 17, 2010

A Malacañang factotum reportedly went to Customs Monday to try to stop the sacking of two officers linked to alleged pilferage of confiscated goods. Supposedly Monina Plan, presidential adviser-Region 2, interceded for Intelligence Operations chief Eric Albano and assistant Mitchell Verdeflor. Commissioner Napoleon Morales must have had no choice but to rebuff her. His relief of the two last Friday already made the headlines. Also hot news was Albano and Verdeflor’s unauthorized pullout of seized electronics and perfumery from the Customs warehouse.

Meanwhile, Customs lawyers are preparing to defend the relief of Albano and Verdeflor during the election ban on personnel movements. They say the preventive action is not covered by the ban on two counts. One, they were not reassigned to new units, but retained in the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service. Two, the Operations Section is not in the agency plantilla to begin with, but was formed only recently by Deputy Commissioner Jairus Paguntalan.

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The Clark International Airport Corp. board decided Monday to end all negotiations with a Kuwaiti firm to operate the facility. The move came after President Gloria Arroyo told them to cut and cut clean from the last-minute deal. Had she not intervened, the CIAP would have given it to Al-Mal Group for a song. The legal cover was a supposed joint venture of the government corporation and the Middle Eastern company. But Arroyo has thwarted the plan of some Batangas politicos to make a quick buck from the Pampanga airport.

Elsewhere, however, another midnight deal is in the offing. Also by make-believe joint venture, government information officers are awarding 3.64 hectares of Broadcast City to a real estate developer. As in any dubious plan, the turnover price is much lower than the appraised value of the prime lot in Diliman, Quezon City.

Broadcast City (total area 4.14 hectares) is owned by sequestered IBC-13 and houses similarly impounded RPN-9. A private developer wants to get hold of a 3.64-hectare chunk to build condos. Government negotiators will award the land for a zonal value of P10,000 per square meter, or P364 million. The rate is too low. Two years ago the Quezon City government had seized the entire complex for IBC-13’s failure to pay real estate taxes. Back then City Hall already conservatively placed the zonal value at P12,000 per square meter. At that rate the minimum asking price of IBC-13 should be P436.8 million.

That’s not the end of the price mystery. A top Asian appraisal outfit had earlier valued Broadcast City at P16,000 per square meter. Meaning, the real estate deal should be for a minimum of P582.4 million. Yet another industry leader valued it at P23,000 per square meter. With that, IBC-13 can fetch P837.2 million.

The deal is so fishy. The real estate developer in this multimillion-peso transaction reportedly has a measly subscribed capital of P2 million, with only P500,000 paid up. The government negotiators did not bother to get the assent of the National Economic and Development Authority, the Presidential Commission on Good Government, and the Privatization Management Office.

Earlier, another government agency made a fast-break sale of prime land in Manila’s Port Area. The Home Guaranty Corp. sold 2.8 hectares of Harbour Centre to La Paz Milling Corp. for only P13,000 per square meter. This was despite the fact that the adjoining lots are priced at P25,000 per square meter. The government lost P309.5 million from the scam.

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As if midnight deals were not bad enough, President Arroyo too is coming closer to naming a midnight Chief Justice. That’s if what a braggart at Malacañang is saying is true.

The showoff claims to have scored at the Supreme Court for Arroyo. Allegedly he has convinced most justices to rule that the constitutional ban on midnight appointments does not apply to the judiciary. This would let Arroyo name a replacement when CJ Reynato Puno retires on May 17.

The ploy runs counter to five decades of jurisprudence against a departing President’s midnight postings in the executive or judiciary. That legal dogma has been written into the 1987 Constitution. The fundamental law forbids the President from appointing anyone starting 60 days before a presidential election up term’s end on June 30. But Arroyo is desperate to fend off charges of plunder and death squads when her Presidency expires. So she wants to have a pliant Supreme Court led by a loyalist Chief Justice. And the boastful Palace operator claims to have clinched it for her. The next step supposedly is to petition the Court to resolve the issue once and for all.

It could be just one facet of a bigger plot. Coupled with fresh military promotions, Cabinet men sneaking into Congress by the back door of party list nomination, and slip-ups in the poll automation, the endgame could be a failure of election. In which case Arroyo would prolong herself in power.

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“Now you are here; tomorrow you will be gone. Share now while here. Tomorrow you will forever be gone.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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E-mail: jariusbondoc@workmail.com


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Palasyo nasa likod ng midnight deals Be very afraid: GMA staying on

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