Feud over House control spills into legal system

DAVAO del Norte Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr. said Wednesday he is ready to face the graft case filed against him by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez over an allegedly anomalous lease contract between his company and the Bureau of Corrections. 

“I welcome any complaint to be filed against me and I am ready to face them with a clear conscience,” Floirendo said in a statement on Wednesday, after a row between two of Duterte’s biggest Davao-based allies, allegedly spurred by their bickering paramours, spilled into the court system  Tuesday.

Floirendo, President Rodrigo Duterte’s biggest campaign contributor, is on the board of Tagum Agricultural Development Company Inc., which has a 25-year lease contract with BuCor for its 5,308-hectare banana plantation within the Davao penal colony.

Floirendo denied any wrongdoing.

“Admittedly I am hurt [by] the action of Speaker Alvarez against me. It not only affects me, but also my family, as well as the people of Davao del Norte. But that’s politics

“What is important is that I know deep down my conscience that I have not done anything wrong nor have I committed any criminal act,” Floirendo said.

Alvarez  on Tuesday  filed a graft complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against Floirendo over what he said was an anomalous contract with BuCor.

At the same time, Alvarez filed a resolution seeking a congressional investigation into what he called a questionable deal, in which Floirendo’s company renewed its contract without the benefit of bidding.

In his complaint, Alvarez accused Floirendo of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by entering into an agreement with the government while he was a congressman.

Floirendo, who is said to have contributed P75 million to Duterte’s presidential campaign last year, said he was open to settling his differences with Alvarez.

“I still offer a hand of friendship to Speaker Alvarez amidst all that happened for the benefit of the people of Davao del Norte,” he said.

He also denied rumors that he is behind moves to oust Alvarez as Speaker.

“If ever there is an iota of truth to the ouster plot, I am 100 percent not a part of it,” Floirendo said.

He also said he would continue showing his “full support to the Duterte administration that is doing amazingly well for the past nine months.”

Formerly close buddies, Alvarez and Floirendo are not locked in political and legal battle.

Alvarez, from the First District of Davao del Norte, wanted Floirendo, from the Second District of the same province, removed from the House roster for seeking to unseat him as Speaker. This suspicion was fueled after Floirendo protested Alvarez’s plan to remove former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as House deputy speaker for failing to vote in favor of the administration bill seeking to reinstate the death penalty.

Antonio Floirendo (left) and Pantaleon Alvarez
Alvarez now denies Floirendo was a close friend and a political and financial backer that made it possible for him to become Speaker.

“He’s heading towards jail,” Alvarez warned.

“When Congress resumes its sessions, a probe will scrutinize the anomalous contract between [Floirendo’s] Tagum Agricultural Development Co., Inc. [Tadeco] and the Bureau of Corrections,” Alvarez told an interview over radio dzMM.

But Floirendo denied he was trying to oust Alvarez.

“I never attempted to talk to Arroyo nor would I ever support any plot to oust Speaker Alvarez who, in the first place, is a good friend of mine and whom I fully supported during the last election and in his bid for the speakership,” Floirendo said.

Alvarez denied that Floirendo helped him become Speaker.

“He may have been the major contributor to the President [during the campaign], but that doesn’t give him the license to steal from the country,” Alvarez said in Filipino.

Floirendo, on the other hand, said there was no truth to the rumor that he wanted to replace Alvarez with Arroyo.

He said when rumors of this spread, he did not comment on them because there was no truth to the reports.

In accusing Floirendo of graft, Alvarez said Floirendo was paying the government only P5,000 per hectare in rental for the land annually without having to go through a public bidding.

The joint venture, he said, was inimical to the government as Tadeco would only give the government a share of P1.30 per box of bananas being exported.

He demanded that the Commission on Audit scrutinize the books of Tadeco and find out exactly how much it paid BuCor.

Alvarez said Floirendo did not divest himself of his shareholdings from Tadeco, making it illegal for him to do business with government while sitting as a congressman.

He said he also wanted Floirendo to be investigated for conflict of interest.

House sources said the personal bickering that developed into a political war started when their respective women interfered in their work and battled with their men to make sure that they got more power and the President’s attention.

The source said Floirendo confronted Alvarez when he learned that Alvarez’s alleged mistress wanted Alvarez’s wife shooed away from the House premises.

Alvarez heeded the woman’s wish and announced that the Congressional Spouses Foundation Inc., headed by his wife, would have to vacate the House premises, the source said.

In a news conference last month, Alvarez told House reporters the CSFI had to be removed from the House premises as it was a private foundation that occupied a room in the House.

The Speaker said the spouses needed to free the room because some party-list congressmen might need the room.

The wife, along with the congressional spouses, vacated the room.

Alvarez neither confirmed nor denied the rumor about the bickering paramours and insisted that it had nothing to do with his filing of a case against Floirendo before the Ombudsman.

He said talk of paramours was aimed at diverting public attention from Floirendo’s anomalous contract.

“If our quarrel stems from a personal matter between Speaker Alvarez and myself, I appeal to the Speaker to meet with me personally so that we can settle this like gentlemen,” Floirendo said.

“Let me make it clear that Speaker Bebot and I have no fight with each other. If ever there is a conflict, it could be likened to a brotherly misunderstanding which I am sure would be patched up in no time at all. And I would like everyone to know that I tried and reached out to him but he refused to talk to me since this all started,” he added.

“For now, I ask the public not to be swayed by false allegations, especially my constituents in District 2, Davao del Norte,” Floirendo said.

Floirendo said he was surprised by the Ombudsman complaint “because these allegations happened 14 years ago.”

“I am curious as to [Speaker’s] real intentions and the real issues. Meanwhile, I can assure everyone that I was not in any way involved in the negotiation of the joint venture agreement between Tadeco and BuCor in 2003.

Tadeco president Alex Viloria branded as “entirely false” the statement of Alvarez in his House Resolution 867, that the joint venture agreement was grossly disadvantageous to the government.

Viloria said the arrangement between Tadeco and BuCor was not a lease arrangement but a joint venture that is primarily aimed at the rehabilitation of the inmates in Davao Penal Colony.

“This rehabilitation program has been found to be very successful by BuCor up to the extent that the latter has even requested Tadeco to replicate the JVA program to its penal colony in Iwahig, Palawan,” Viloria said.

He said the JVA has been reviewed and found to be advantageous to the government numerous times by the executive and the legislative departments in past administrations.

“In fact, the most recent review in the 15th Congress in 2012 once again arrived at the same positive conclusion regarding the JVA and its benefits to government,” Viloria said.

Viloria also denied allegations of ill-treatment of its workers in the plantation.

“Such [an] allegation is completely baseless. Tadeco takes good care of its workers. This is evident in the high production yield of Tadeco, indicating that the workers are well motivated and very productive. In fact, among all the banana companies in the Philippines, Tadeco has been branded as a champion on labor and community relations. It is a regular recipient of awards in the field of labor-management relations,” he said.

“Tadeco continues to perform its obligations and responsibilities under the JVA confident in its contributions to the government and socioeconomic development. Thus, Tadeco is befuddled as to the real reasons why Speaker Alvarez has initiated this inquiry,” Viloria said.

But Alvarez said the company has benefited from the arrangement for too long, developing the land through prison labor. When the contract expired in 2004, it was renewed for 25 years and is renewable for another 24 years without the benefit of public bidding.

He added that the renewal of the contract, for rent of only P5,000 per hectare per year, was a violation of the procurement law because there was no public bidding.

He filed graft charges with the Ombudsman because Floirendo, as a congressman, was not supposed to obtain contracts for himself and his company with the government.

“In 2004, he was a sitting congressman and it was against the Constitution and the anti-graft law. This is as clear as day that he has a problem there,” he added.

The issue came out only now because Floirendo was good at hiding the anomalies, Alvarez said.

After filing graft charges and a resolution calling for a congressional investigation, Alvarez said he deliberately refused to see Floirendo, lest he try to come to an arrangement.   

Topics: Antonio Floirendo , Pantaleon Alvarez , Bureau of Corrections , Tagum Agricultural Development Company Inc. , President Rodrigo Duterte
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