MANILA, Philippines — The Tagum Agriculture Development Company Inc. slammed Solicitor General Jose Calida for his “premature and uninformed” statement on Thursday declaring the firm’s joint venture agreement with the Bureau of Corrections void.
The agreement, originally signed in 1969, allowed Tadeco, owned by the family of Davao del Norte Representative Antonio Floirendo Jr., to develop a vast area within the Davao Penal Colony into a banana plantation. In 2003, when Floirend was already a congressman, the agreement was renewed for another 25 years or until 2029.
Late last month, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed a graft complaint against the Office of the Ombudsman against his erstwhile bosom buddy Floirendo, accusing him of conflict of interest. Alvarez also sought a congressional inquiry into the Tadeco-Bucor joint venture for the same reason.
The two congressmen are known to be among President Rodrigo Duterte’s staunchest allies. Floirendo is on record as the biggest contributor to Duterte’s presidential campaign.
The Department of Justice is also reviewing the joint venture on orders of Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.
But Thursday, Calida spoke on the deal, preempting the much-awaited DOJ report.
“The JVA entered into by Bucor and Tadeco is void as it goes against the Constitution and the Public Land Act,” he said, noting that the 5,212.46 hectares covered by the deal is within the public domain and therefore is owned by the State.
“It should be emphasized that the Constitution only allows private corporations to hold lands of the public domain through lease for a total period not exceeding 50 years,” Calida said. “Assuming that the JVA is a lease, the initial agreement was entered into in 1969, extended for 25 years in 1979 and extended for another 25-year period in 2003. Tadeco’s use and occupation of the Dapecol lands should cease by 2019. The JVA cannot be allowed to last until 2029.”
But Tadeco, in a statement on Friday, said Calida spoke even when “the review of the Department of Justice is still on-going and the House probe has not yet begun.”
“Furthermore, there is no case filed before the courts on the cancellation of the said JVA,” it added.
“Only the courts of law can declare that a contract is void,” Tadeco stressed.
It called Calida’s statement “a clear case of prejudging our JVA. Where is the fairness? Perhaps the intent is to condition the minds of the public and pre-empt the review of Department of Justice as well as the House probe.”
The firm said its deal with Bucor “has withstood the test of time and multiple reviews by Secretaries of Justice and several congressional investigations over so many years.”
At the same time, Tadeco said it was “prepared to answer all these issues in the proper time and proper forum.”