A SPOKESMAN for Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday blasted efforts to link him to a 350-hectare property in Rosario town, Batangas, as a dud and “an amateurish attempt” to clone the exposé done on the 4.7-hectare property of police chief Alan Purisima in Nueva Ecija.
“It was no surprise that the detractors of Vice President Jejomar Binay will attempt to link him to the property ever since we revealed the helicopter sighting a few days ago,” said Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla.
“The detractors showed an aerial video and photos of the said property, an amateurish attempt to do a repeat of the ‘Purisima expose’,” he said, adding that the attempt was a failure.
Remulla was referring to testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee by former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado, in which he described the vast property as “Hacienda Binay,” home to a bigger replica of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London and an air-conditioned piggery.
At the same time, businessman Antonio Tiu, owner of the property, denied that he was a dummy for the Vice President.
At the hearing Wednesday, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said he was at the launching Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park in Rosario town, Batangas, where the nine-hectare piggery of Vice President Jejomar Binay is located.
He, together with Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes and food security czar Francis Pangilinan were inivited to the event on Aug. 5, hosted by Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp., operator of the park.
“We saw each other there. They really had the intention to use different government officials to make it appear legitimate,” Trillanes said of the company headed by Tiu, who he described as a dummy for Vice President Jejomar Binay.
But Binay’s spokesman, Joey Salgado, said the vice president had divested his shares in the piggery business when he was elected in 2010.
At the hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee Wednesday Mercado showed a video presentation of the alleged 350-hectare lot which he called “Hacienda Binay.”
Trillanes asked him if he was certain that the farm lot belonged to the Vice President.
“One hundred and one percent sure,” Mercado replied, saying he had been to the farm “more than 100 times.”
Mercado said it was in 1992 when he started going to the vast property.
“I was just their errand boy. I carried the salary for their people, the feeds,” he said.
But Trillanes raised the possibility that ownership of the park was transferred after Binay and Mercado parted ways politically.
Based the website, he said the descriptions of Sunchamp, including a man-made lagoon and the garden jibed with Mercado’s testimony.
Sunchamp sold its stocks to Greenergy Holdings Inc. which has for its corporate secretary Martin Subido, a senior partner of Binay’s daughter, Makati Rep. Abigail Binay in Subido, Pagente, Certeza, Mendoza & Binay (SPCMB) Law Office. The president of the company is Tiu.
Subido is also a director of Earthright Holdings Inc., the largest shareholder of Greenergy.
Trillanes said SPCMB and Earthright Holdings Inc. share the same address: 3rd floor, Value Point Executive Building, 227 Salcedo Street, Legazpi Village, Makati City.
Claro Certeza, lawyer of the Makati mayor, is the president and managing director and partner of SPCMB.
In a statement, Tiu strongly denied he was a dummy owner of the Batangas estate.
Tiu said he is a legitimate businessman and the owner of the property in Rosario, Batangas.
Tiu, chairman of the listred AgriNurture Inc. and Greenergy, slammed what he called the baseless allegations.
“I am currently in Spain for a business trip. It has come to my attention that my name and my companies have been labeled as dummies of Vice President Binay. I am deeply hurt and offended by these malicious accusations. I am my own man. I worked hard for what I own. My track record will speak for itself,” his statement said.
“Let me categorically put on record that I am a legitimate businessman since 1997. My holding company, Greenergy Holdings Inc., is a publicly listed company with the Philippine Stock Exchange that has been complying with the stringiest regulatory and disclosure requirements as audited by the top auditing firms in the country.
To further set the record straight I never had any transactions or contracts with the Makati City Government.”
The Office of the Vice President earlier said employees of a piggery and flower farm leasing a property in Rosario reported a helicopter flying around the property Thursday
The lessor of the property is Sunchamp Real Estate Developmet Corp., operator of Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park, the office said.
Binay’s lawyer, Martin Subido, said Binay had leased the property and did not own it.
He also said Binay never denied owning JCB Farms and has declared it in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, which his lawyers presented to media along with his income tax returns.
“From 1994 to 2010, the Vice President operated a piggery business in Rosario, Batangas. This piggery business was a sole proprietorship duly reported in his SALNs and in his ITRs,” Subido said.
“The Vice President did not own any land where his piggery business was operated. Rather, he was a lessee of around nine hectares of land, with the improvements he introduced for the piggery business duly reported as ‘Leasehold Improvements’,” he added.
Subido also explained that Binay sold in 2010 his piggery farm to Agrifortuna, Inc., a company owned by Laureano Gregorio. Agrifortuna is engaged in hog breeding and hog nursery also in the area where the Vice President operated his business.
Binay and his wife had been incorporators of Agrifortuna for a paid up capital of P50,000, but sold their shares to Gregorio in 1995.
“In 1995, or almost 20 years ago, the Vice President and his wife sold their interest in Agrifortuna to Laureano Gregorio who likewise subscribed to additional capital that would allow him to own 60 percent of the company. These are reflected in the filings of Agrifortuna with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission),” he said.
Gregorio made additional investments in Agrifortuna in 2008 that gave him 97 percent ownership of Agrifortuna.
“The house, swimming pool and garden mentioned in reports are not owned by the Vice President. They were owned by Laureano Gregorio,” he said.
Binay’s lawyer also said that Gregorio entered into an agreement with Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp. in 2013 for the acquisition of all the rights of Gregorio over the 145 hectare property, not 350 hectares as claimed by Mercado.
“This was also duly disclosed to the PSE (Philippine Stock Exchange) and the investing public in October 2013 and July 2014,” Subido said.
“At present, Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp. is the absolute owner of the improvements and facilities mentioned in today’s inquiry. In fact, Sunchamp Real Estate Development Corp. has likewise introduced new improvements such as an asparagus farm, greenhouses for high value crops, hotel, all in line with its vision to create an agri-tourism park.”
“The aerial shot of the farm in today’s banner headline of the Inquirer is the same aerial shot that was published by the Inquirer in its Sept. 28, 2014 issue when it featured the Sunchamp Farm,” he added.
The Palace on Wednesday distanced itself from the investigation of the Vice President’s links to the farm.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, however, could not give a categorical answer if Binay still enjoys the full trust and confidence of President Benigno Aquino III.
“Sorry, I know I can speak categorically if I have spoken to the President on those matters. I have not spoken to the President on the matter of Vice President Binay because that was a revelation today. So, I will still have to ask the President. We have not spoken on that matter yet,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda said the Palace will leave it up to the Binay camp to defend itself.
“They have invoked politically motivated. I would suppose it would be up to their camp to weigh whether that is a good enough response for the public to appreciate. We would leave it to the camp of Vice President Binay and also to the public to appreciate the manner of their defense,” he said.
“As to the manner of how that lifestyle check will be conducted, we will again also defer to Vice President Binay,” Lacierda added.
But Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) on Wednesday dared Mercado to undergo a lifestyle check and questioned how he was able to hire a helicopter to take aerial footage of the farm in Rosario, Batangas.
“What we would like to find out is how Mercado was able to hire a helicopter to hover around the piggery farm when there are reports that he is allegedly deep in debt due to his gambling habits,”JV Bautista, interim secretary general of UNA, said.
“Did the money used to rent the helicopter come out of Mercado’s own pocket? If not, who is funding him?” he added.
Bautista said Mercado is considered a high-roller and is given five-star treatment in casinos he frequents in the country and abroad.
“He is known to lose millions in cockfights. He also owns a yacht, luxury homes and vehicles,” Bautista added.
Bautista dared Mercado and other accusers of Binay to undergo a lifestyle check.
“(G)iven Mercado’s own admission of illegally benefitting from government projects, we are wondering why the senators conducting the inquiry on the alleged overpricing of Makati City Hall Building 2 have not made any move to make him accountable and have instead included him in the Witness Protection Program,” he said.
UNA slammed Mercado’s latest revelation as nothing but a “cheap political ploy.”
In his testimony Wednesday, Mercado said a bigger replica of the Royal Botanical in Kew, London ; a rest hourse much bigger than the Queen of England’s and an orchidarium with imported orchids were among “the passions” of former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay in the so-called “Binay Hacienda” in Rosario, Batangas.
Mercado said the former mayor also caused the construction of an air-conditioned piggery because she didn’t want to smell the stench coming from the pigs.
“The doctor doesn’t want to smell unpleasant odors. She also does not want flies hovering in her mansion,” Mercado said.
These “caprices” were made, Mercado said, because the former mayor felt she would soon be the first lady with the next presidential elections.
“She has high dreams,” Mercado talked of the wife of the Vice President, a frontrunner in the 2016 elections.
Mercado admitted before the panel that he was aboard the helicopter that flew over the 350-hectar prperty last week, which he described as being six times the size of Rizal Park and 10 times the size of the Quezon Memorial Circle, and half the size of San Juan in Metro Manila.
He recalled accompanying the former mayor and the Vice President to the Kew Gardens in London in 2007.
“Doctora Binay patterned it after the Kew Gardens in London--that’s why I was forced to go there,” Mercado said.
Mercado also showed in his slide presentation a resort-type pool, a showcase of Mrs. Binay’s different varieties of orchids from different countries, a horse ranch, a mansion with the Kew Gardens replica, an aviary and a garage that can accommodate 40 vehicles.
Mercado said these are all found in the Batangas property owned by the Binay couple.
He estimated that the Binay’s vast property which spans four barangays in Rosario could be worth P1.2 billion.
Mercado earlier admitted that he served as a bagman for the Vice President, and bared examples of his family’s wealth to prove their expensive tastes and hobbies.
He also said the allegations against police chief Alan Purisima paled in comparison, given the size of the Rosario property. With Joyce Pangco Pañares
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