Aguirre says only court can rule on Tadeco-BuCor deal

MANILA-- Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday said that only court can make decision on the contract between the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and Tagum Agricultural Development Company (Tadeco) on the lease of 5, 300 hectares of the Davao prison and penal farm.

It will be the courts who decide on that, if the issue will be contested until the very end, Aguirre said when sought for a comment on the investigation of the House of Representatives, which started Tuesday, on the joint venture agreement between the BuCor and Tadeco.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier wanted the deal invalidated due to alleged irregularities.

Tadeco is reportedly owned by the family of Davao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Antonio "Tony Boy" Floirendo Jr., who recently figured in a controversial conflict with Alvarez.

The agreement was first signed in 1969 and extended in 1979 for 25 years, and again for another 25 years in 2003.

Earlier, Aguirre said he fully supported the results of the fact-finding panel he created declaring the JVA as illegal.

"I approved the findings of the committee that the deal is null and void and on the ground they cited," he told reporters in recently press conference.

The DOJ issued the opinion upon request of Alvarez.

In the fact-finding report signed by Justice Undersecretary Raymund Mercate, the DOJ committee, led by Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III, held that the JVA was illegal as it exceeded the 1,000-hectare limit under the Constitution.

The committee also concluded that the JVA violated the Constitution, which only allows private corporations to hold lands of the public domain through lease for a total period not exceeding 50 years.

The deal was originally forged in 1969, extended 10 years after for 25 years and again extended for another 25 years in 2003. The existing contract ends in 2029 - in violation of the 50-year limit, the DOJ said.

The BuCor-Tadeco deal also violates Commonwealth Act No. 141, or the Public Land Act, as the present and earlier agreements since 1969 were never subjected to any public action or bidding.

Under the BuCor-Tadeco JVA, the production and profit share of the BuCor in 2016 amounted to only Php 44,854,726, or a rate of Php 8,449.83 per hectare per year. Compared to the prevailing lease rates of Php 10,000 to Php 18,000 per hectare per year of Tanglaw and Cooperative leaseback rates located in the general area where the DPFF lands are located, the BuCor-Tadeco JVA appears to be disadvantageous in terms of per hectare rate," the fact-finding report stressed.

The DOJ's preliminary finding echoed the legal opinion earlier issued by Solicitor General Jose Calida who said the JVA was void since it went against the Constitution and the Public Land Act.

But while Aguirre agreed with the findings of the committee, he said he disagreed with their recommendation that the JVA could still be adjusted and fixed.

"There is a recommendation to adjust the contract to make it acceptable. I don't agree with that because you cannot fix anymore a contract that is null and void," he pointed out.

Aguirre added that he would also study which proper agency should move for the invalidation of the contract. He explained that while the BuCor is under the DOJ, it was only the bureau that had legal personality in the JVA.

Source: Philippines News Agency