MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Monday accused Senator and Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manuel Villar of unethical conduct and violating the 1987 Constitution for failing to divest himself of controlling shares in real estate firms that earned billions of pesos in taxpayer's money over road right-of-way projects.
According to the report of the Senate Committee of the Whole, Villar should be censured for failing to divulge that his real estate companies would benefit from the Las Piñas-Parañaque link road and the C-5 road extension projects.
The report said the government spent P6.2 billion on the C-5 road extension project, including the realigned P4.28 billion for the extension project, the P1.8 billion spent for the original project but was wasted due to the realignment, and the reportedly overpriced payment of P141 million in right-of-way for Villar's real estate companies.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, however, contested the findings of the committee report as running counter to the testimones of some of the witnesses. He said government witnesses summoned by the Senate had testified that there was no realignment of the government road projects in Parañaque and Las Piñas and no misappropriation of funds for the same.
'Substantial, credible evidence'
In the report, Enrile said there was "substantial, credible evidence" to show that Villar and his wife, Congresswoman Cynthia Villar, owned 100% of Adelfa Corp, which is the holding company that owns Golden Haven Memorial Park and Azalea Property Corp., now Brittany.
He said the two real estate firms earned billions of pesos after the government bought their properties for two road projects namely the Las Piñas-Parañaque link road and the C-5 road extension project.
He said documentary evidence and the testimonies of several witnesses, including former Adelfa senior VP and general manager Anastacio Adriano Jr., showed that properties owned by Villar's real estate companies that were acquired for the road right-of-way projects were overpriced and given zonal valuation for different areas from the areas where they were situated.
"It is fair and safe to assume that Senator Villar knew and ought to have known of the said overpricing as his corporations stood to gain from such transactions from the government and considering the closeness of Sen. Villar to Adriano," Enrile said.
He noted that Villar used his influence as House Speaker to appropriate funds for the Las Piñas-Parañaque link road. He said Villar continued to fund the project when he was already a senator, as chairman of the Senate committee on finance, and when he was Senate president.
Enrile said there was a conflict of interest when Villar failed to divulge that his real estate companies stood to benefit from the road projects. He said that instead of benefiting from the road projects, Villar should have donated the land to the government.
He also scored Villar for refusing to appear in 12 Senate adjudicatory hearings to investigate allegations that his real estate companies benefited from government road projects in Parañaque and Las Piñas.
Villar has refused to appear in the Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry, saying that some members of the panel were his opponents in the presidential race.
'No conflict of interest'
In Villar's defense, Cayetano said the senator's real estate firm is just one of the developers who benefited from road right-of-way projects. He cited an 1999 opinion of former Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas that there is no impropriety when government decides to enter into contract with a real estate firm owned by a member of Congress.
"He [Cuevas] said if the government wants to take over your property, there is no conflict of interest because the government has a project. The government is taking over your property. If Villar's companies had not dealt with government, the properties would have been expropriated. It would be a forced purchase. The difference is that in expropriation, the owner could contest the fair market value of the price. Villar could have earned more through expropriation," he said.
Cayetano also chastised senators for accusing Villar of cowardice when he refused to appear before the Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry.
"It is not true that a person is a coward just because he chooses the venue where he will defend himself. It means he has the qualities of a true president. It means he will not drag down his office because one senator or a couple of senators believe that they will win the election by throwing the C-5 issue and wanting the debate here on the floor," he said.
He also noted a sentence in the Senate Commmittee of the Whole report assuming Villar's guilt despite no direct evidence linking him to the overpricing of the properties.
"Since when have we had the right to assume? We will say in the report "there is no direct evidence" and then say he is guilty. This report would not have been released if not for politics. We should investigate who signed this report," he said.
Source: ABS-CBN News