PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the abrogation of a contract with the Tagum Agricultural Development Co. when he learned that the government could be earning P1 billion a year, instead of P25 million from the banana plantation inside the Davao Penal Colony.
Duterte issued the directive after meeting with his two feuding allies, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr., the owner of Tadeco, who refused to settle their differences, Palace sources said.
Alvarez earlier filed a graft complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman against Floirendo, charging that Tadeco’s contract with the Bureau of Corrections to have prisoners plant bananas on 5,308 hectares of land inside the Davao Penal Colony for P25 million a year was disadvantageous to the government and was granted without a public bidding.
Duterte, the source said, wants the deal to go through a public bidding.
Alvarez said Floirendo’s deal was highly onerous as the rental contract only amounted to P5,000 per hectare annually compared to the prevailing market rate of P35,000 per hectare for idle lands and some P100,000 to P200,000 per hectare for developed land.
The land has been developed by Floirendo’s family-owned Tadeco.
San Miguel Corp., through businessman Ramon Ang, has offered P1 billion to manage the plantation, which translates to a rent of P188,000 per hectare, Alvarez said.
Although the Palace had said it would not interfere in the row between Alvarez and Floirendo, Duterte’s biggest campaign contributor, the two were summoned to a meeting with the President in Davao City.
“The two gentlemen were summoned by the President for them to settle their differences face-to-face…. No one would budge. Speaker Alvarez demanded that he would only settle the problem with Floirendo if the latter would apologize to him,” one source said.
Alvarez demanded that Floirendo apologize for calling him “patay-gutom [dirt-poor]” but Floirendo denied uttering such a word.
“You don’t say that to and about your friends,” the source, who was privy to the confrontation quoted Alvarez as telling Floirendo.
The source recounted that Floirendo’s girlfriend Cathy Binag had a spat with Alvarez’s girlfriend Jennifer Maliwanag Vicencio in January during the Maskara Festival in Bacolod City when the reserved seats for the Speaker and his entourage were occupied by Binag and Floirendo’s camp.
The girls hurled invectives at each other. The source said the Speaker opted to find other seats even though Vicencio resented being bumped off their reserved seats.
During the flight to Manila, the couples again bickered.
Floirendo, who was drunk at the time, confronted Alvarez’s girlfriend, Vicencio.
“Kilala mo ba yan si Bebot? Patay-gutom yan at pinapakain ko lang yan sa palad ko,” [Do you know Bebot Alvarez]? He’s dirt-poor and I feed him from the palm of my hand,” Floirendo purportedly told Vicencio, who ran to Alvarez to report the insult.
“Tonyboy [Floirendo] denied ever saying that but Bebot [Alvarez] stood by the story of his girlfriend,” the source said.
“After getting the insults, the Speaker tried to find out how Floirendo became the Banana King not because he wanted to get even with Floirendo but because he found out about a plot to use the President’s allies’ anomalous contracts as a basis for making it appear that Duterte spares his allies from prosecution on corruption,” the source said.
The source said that since 2004, Floirendo has been shortchanging the government through his joint venture agreement with the BuCor.
In an interview over radio dzBB, Alvarez said Floirendo’s family has been able to enrich itself through the contract, so it should not be too greedy and let the government earn. As an official of the government and as a lawmaker, Floirendo should give the government what it is due, Alvarez added.
He said the government has lost some P13 billion in revenues in the many years Tadeco operated under its contract with BuCor.
Alvarez, who suspected Floirendo of plotting to oust him as Speaker, said he decided to file graft charges against the congressman to show that the Duterte administration was not being selective in fighting corruption.
As an offshoot of the row, however, Alvarez has come under fire for having a girlfriend while he is still married, and for flaunting his affair.
“The recent statement made by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on his extramarital affairs and his insinuation that all other lawyers in the country might be disbarred too for such act is a reckless generalization. It casts unnecessary intrigue on the legal profession, which is irrelevant to the main issue that Speaker Alvarez is in,” said Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus.
“As defender of women’s rights, we express grave concern as to how Speaker Alvarez flaunts his extramarital affairs as something ordinary and acceptable. It reeks of machismo unbecoming of a public servant, more so of the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” De Jesus said.
She said the power struggle between Alvarez and Floreindo should not be primarily linked to the squabble between their girlfriends.
“We call on the public to focus on the deeper underlying political and economic motives that are at play in the issue,” she added.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr. appealed to Alvarez not to evict the Congressional Spouses Foundation Inc. from the Batasan Complex, and called on his colleagues to also buck the move.
“The work of the CSFI complements all legislators and helps out all districts. These partners in life are also legitimate partners in extending the goodwill and service of District representatives to their constituents. Taking them away from the Batasan Complex will only burden their work for the people,” Baguilat said.
Around Valentine’s Day, Alvarez announced he wanted the CSFI—headed by his wife Emelita—out of the Batasan Complex to make room for offices of deputy speakers and party list congressmen.
“We cannot have it here and support it because I will be dispensing public money for a private purpose,” Alvarez had told the House reporters.
Baguilat said several personnel at Congress, on the other hand, spoke highly of the CSFI and its good deeds.
“The foundation has hosted job fairs, handed out scholarships, promoted local products through trade fairs, donated relief goods and interacted with the congressmen’s constituents to maintain good relations,” Baguilat said.
Congressional workers spoke highly of Alvarez’s wife.
“She’s kind, good-natured and committed to the work of the CSFI,” one chief of staff commented.
“It’s part of Philippine culture for spouses to support each other’s work, so I can’t imagine why the Speaker wants to make coordination between the CSFI and the congressmen difficult. It’s unfortunate that the Speaker thinks that the CSFI is a liability to Congress, when it is in fact doing part of its work,” Baguilat said.
“I’m sure kicking out the CSFI will infuriate its members who are faithful to and supportive of their legislator-spouses. While the Speaker has administrative control over the facilities of Congress, I hope he will consult all relevant stakeholders, namely the spouses, and not impose changes like a dictator-husband,” Baguilat said.
“I believe it’s better to have the real spouses of the legislators here in Congress. I hope my colleagues will not agree to further distance them from the supportive work of their spouses,” Baguilat added.
Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Sunday assured his constituents that the friction between Alvarez and Floirendo would not hurt productivity in the House of Representatives.
He said he believed Alvarez and Floirendo, two of the staunches allies of President Duterte, would soon settle their differences. With Rio N. Araja
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