By Louie Logarta | March 26, 2015

Upon urgent appeals of the Baguio city government and dozens of commercial and residential lessees in Camp John Hay, representative are moving to have the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) probed for alleged mismanagement which could have a “deleterious effect” on the ongoing modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that needs all the help it can get at this critical point in the nation’s history, considering territorial threats from secessionist rebels in Mindanao and Chinese interlopers in the West Philippine Sea. 

Under the law, the AFP modernization program is supposed to get 50 percent of all rental revenues of the BCDA.

For starters, we were told Baguio City officials are highly incensed over their continued failure to receive from the BCDA their agreed share of 25 percent of all rentals paid by locators, coupled with the fact they had already anted up P250 million to acquire the foreclosed Baguio Convention Center from the GSIS.

City hall funds have been in limbo for several years due the BCDA’s running feud with real estate developer Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) over billions in alleged rental arrears for 247 hectares of prime property dating back to the late 1990s, which was recently settled by an arbitration tribunal when the Baguio RTC intervened.

In the decision, the tribunal said Devco wasn’t liable for the alleged P3.3 billion in alleged back rentals as claimed by government lawyers, but in the same breath it directed the firm to hand over the 247 hectares of land it had earlier leased from the state in 1996 during the Ramos administration.

On the other hand, the BCDA was ordered to reimburse Devco the sum of P1.42 billion representing rentals made since 1998.

Knowledgeable sources, meanwhile, tell us that sub-lessees, sub-locators and buyers who had signed on with Devco are on the warpath after being informed by BCDA officials that all existing contracts would not be honored, claiming the agency was never made aware of these dealings. And should the tenants have any complaints, BCDA officials advised them to file a case in court against their lessor to have their grievances addressed.

During a recent meeting, the same sources said leaseholders were given a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer where they were obliged to turn over all previous signed contracts with Devco and execute an Absolute Power of Attorney for the BCDA to use as they deem fit, or else face the “forcible takeover” of their properties in Camp John Hay.

In effect, the sources added that the BCDA is coercing tenants into signing a Deed of Assignment whereby they agree to the “unfair” stipulation that they cannot revoke the power of attorney and allow the BCDA to act in whatever way they deem proper against Devco to protect their interests.

“What we have here is a situation akin to martial law. Just like the fate of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis in pre-World War II Germany. We are being forced to bow to the dictates of the BCDA hooligans lest we be physically evicted from our leased properties… in spite of the fact these are holding on to perfected contracts that were previously signed in good faith,” according to one harried tenant who said he would willingly fight force with force.

“This is plain and simple abuse of authority which is totally unacceptable in this day and age.”

Anyway, these are precisely among the issues which House Resolution 1936, authored by Quezon City Representative Winston Castelo, wishes to tackle. In said House bill, the committee on national defense and special committee on bases development are enjoined to conduct an investigation into the alleged lapses of the BCDA vis a vis its contract with Devco for the development of the dilapidated facilities of Camp John Hay so it can become a first-rate tourist destination in Northern Luzon.

Castelo said Devco had initiated various projects in its leased areas, but these never got lift-off due to the slow processing by the BCDA of the required permits from Baguio City Hall. Case in point is their failure, as agreed on, to establish a One-Stop Action Center (Osac) to facilitate the issuance of licenses and permits needed by Devco to proceed with its work.

Castelo found himself an ally in Abakada party-list Representative Jonathan de la Cruz who chided BCDA management for screwing up the development of Camp John Hay, formerly a US military reservation, which was effectively a precursor of B.S. Aquino’s much-ballyhooed but largely-in effectual public-private partnership (PPP) program that was conceptualized to spur economic activity in the country.

In a privilege speech, De la Cruz said that since 2010, when the Aquino administration assumed the reins of government, the BCDA has “made it a point” to complicate things for Devco thus sacrificing the development of Camp John Hay.

Such underhanded tactics of concerned BCDA officials, De la Cruz pointed out, were evident when they fielded a platoon of armed security guards in a frustrated bid to stop the construction of the luxury mall SM Aura in Taguig City. Then there was the time they also tried to evict certain AFP personnel residing in the diplomatic and consular area of Fort Bonifacio which was outside the BCDA jurisdiction, but they were forced to back off when Malacanang stepped into the picture.

Both the BCDA and Devco have asked the Baguio regional trial court for judicial confirmation that would ratify the award stipulated in the judgment of the arbiter, Philippine Dispute Resolution Center Inc. (PDRCI).

Until the court affirms the PDRCI ruling and payment of P1.42 billion is received from the BCDA, Devco reportedly has no plans of exiting Camp John Hay, and will continue to exercise possession, control and management of their leased properties to maintain peace and order and assure the safety of the lessees.

It was stressed that existing tenants really need not worry they might to lose their leased properties under such circumstances, as alleged by the BCDA, since Article 1385 of the Civil Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 386) clearly provides “an order for mutual restitution cannot include properties currently in the possession of third persons who acted in good faith.”