Philippine Daily Inquirer 4:25 PM | Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—The Pasay City regional trial court has junked with finality the P1.5-billion estafa case filed by the Department of Justice against Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevCo) chair Robert Sobrepeña last June.

In a seven-page order dated Dec. 19 and received early this week by the DOJ, Pasay RTC Branch 119 Judge Pedro Gutierrez denied the motion for reconsideration filed by government prosecutors on behalf of the Bases Conversion Development Authority, which had sued Sobrepeña for allegedly reneging on the lease agreement he signed.

Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevCo) chairman and CEO Robert John L. Sobrepeña. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The judge upheld his Sept. 3 ruling that BCDA’s president Arnel Casanova failed to establish probable cause in accusing Sobrepeña of making false representation that the company was incapable of paying rentals for Camp John Hay.

“BCDA agreed to restructure the debt under the lease agreement. The accused (Sobrepeña) cannot be held liable for CJHDevCo’s failure to pay those rentals,” the court said in its order.

The judge said the DOJ “made a palpable error of selective prosecution” when it filed a case against Sobrepeña without including all the members of the board of directors of CJHDevCo.

“This case was filed with the DOJ after a lapse of 14 years when the obligation was incurred in 1998. This violated the Bill of Rights under our Constitution for accused to have a speedy trial and due process of law,” Gutierrez added.

BCDA earlier argued that CJHDevCo, the developer of the former American recreation facility in Baguio City, deliberately chose not to perform its rental obligations despite the existence of retained earnings and other revenues.

However, the Sobrepeña camp contended that the BCDA agreed to defer rental payments under two restructuring memoranda of agreements signed in August 1999 and July 2000.

In the “whereas” clause of the last MoA, Sobrepeña said it was expressly stated that CJHDevCo’s inability to undertake its development plans and realize its projected sales and revenues were caused by BCDA’s admitted breaches of the lease agreement, delays in fulfilling its obligations and the detrimental effects of the Asian financial crisis on the Philippine economy.

The RTC noted that BCDA acknowledged the problems encountered by CJHDevCo, partially caused by delays on the part of BCDA that to the deferment of rental payments.

The court also noted that it was a joint committee comprised of officers of both CJHDevCo and BCDA that ruled to allow the deferment of payments.

“If there was misrepresentation as to the financial condition of CJHDevCo, the officers/directors of BCDA who are members of the committee might have been remiss, if not fell short, of their duty to determine the financial capacity or incapacity of CJHDevCo to pay its obligations,” the judge ruled.

Gutierrez also underscored Sobrepeña’s transparency with BCDA, adding that there was no evidence that Sobrepeña concealed the corporate records and financial statements of CJHDevCo to BCDA or that he persuaded, if not insisted, BCDA to enter into the contract.

“The very stipulations of the MOAs appear to be a product of negotiations, verification and careful, if not meticulous, evaluation. The July 14, 2000 MOA was even approved by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and by the Office of the President,” the judge added.

The CJHDevCo welcomed the RTC ruling.

“At the onset, we knew this was a harassment case,” the company’s executive vice president Al Yñiguez said in a statement.

“The board was [earlier] cleared of charges by the prosecutor in June so it was odd that a case was still filed against Mr. Sobrepeña. This decision only emphasizes that Mr. Sobrepeña and CJHDevCo have always been upfront and transparent in our dealings with BCDA,” Yñiguez added.

Sobrepeña posted a P40,000 bail after being indicted by the DOJ.