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A case is still a case

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The timing could never be more perfect to unload a huge property of rolling hills, an area of almost 80 hectares, located in the fast-developing greater Tagaytay City, where the biggest real estate companies already launched mega-projects.

The SM group of Henry “Tatang” Sy already poured billions of pesos into its resort projects called Highlands and Midlands, and rumors floated that the group was constructing an eight-lane toll way to connect their projects straight to the Slex.

Then word went around that Global Estate Resorts, the newest baby of Megaworld founder Andrew Tan—the latest addition to Forbes magazine’s list of the richest Filipinos—started a project in the area nicknamed “The Vineyard.”

An unprecedented boom started in the property market in this country a couple of years ago, and so such a megabucks deal as that 80-hectare property, rumored to be valued at more than P1.5 billion, should be a cinch.

For one, it was our very own BSP, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, that wanted to unload the property, as the central bank conducted a public bidding, although it also announced it would be willing to go into a negotiated sale.

As luck would have it, however, the BSP failed to attract a single buyer. Why? Was it possible that the market perceived the BSP price as too steep price, since rumor had it that the BSP was asking for P1.7 billion, and it would not settle for anything less?

That the BSP even rejected an offer from a Korean group to rent the property for a definite number of years, such as five years, renewable for another five years, perhaps lent credence to talk around business town about the steep price.

Now, the property happened to be Evercrest Golf Club and Resort in Nasugbu, Batangas, accessed through the same highway serving the boom city Tagaytay, and as a golf club, it should have thousands of members who owned shares in the company.

From what I heard, those Evercrest members have been fighting the BSP in court over control of the property, something that surely did not escape the well-tuned radar of real estate giants.

To top it all, the case up to today is still pending before the Supreme Court. Real estate companies probably shied away from a problematic deal because of the court case. It is still a case, no matter what.

It all started way back in 1999, when the BSP ran after its emergency assistance loans to the now-closed Orient Bank which, in turn, loaned out a fortune to its sister company in the conglomerate of Jose Go, the real estate firm called Gotesco.

After several years of skirmishes in the court, the BSP and the Gotesco group entered into what they called “compromise agreement,” done about nine years ago in 2003, involving—of all things—the Evercrest golf course.

Five long years later in 2008, the BSP asked the court to force the implementation of the agreement which, by the way, even the court rejected initially, although the court changed its mind eventually, allowing the BSP to cancel the land titles in the name of the golf course, getting new ones in the name of the BSP.

What do you know—the BSP then shut down the golf course.

That, according to talk in almost all golf courses, got the Evercrest members all riled up. For almost 20 years, they paid for the maintenance of the course through their monthly dues. Suddenly they could not use the course that they owned.

So they filed a case in court to question the BSP takeover of the property. They contended in effect that they own the golf course and they were never part of the case filed by the BSP against Gotesco, which the BSP itself admitted.

They noted that the board of the golf club never acted on the “compromise agreement,” since the directors contended that the club did not owe the BSP a single centavo.

It turned out that the Court of Appeals refused to rule on the case filed by the members. Reason: The BSP already took control of the property. You know—it was what lawyers called “moot and academic.”

The members went up to the Supreme Court to seek what they termed as “justice.” Of course they were still up against a powerful body in the government: none other than the BSP.

*  *  *

Here is another case involving real estate families. As we all know, former Philippine Ambassador Francisco “Paqui” Ortigas III, the rich man of the real estate Ortigas group, is facing a legal separation case filed by his estranged wife, Susana Madrigal-Bayot, whose name also indicates “landed” family. The wife actually asked the court to give her control of the “conjugal” properties and, in the meantime, she wanted the court to issue a temporary order to that effect. In short, it was a case with the sound of money—huge fortune, in fact.

Anyway, recent reports said that the man actually asked the judge in the case, Judge Marie Picardal-Tecson of the Makati RTC, to inhibit herself. Why? Well, Ortigas claimed “conflict” of interest.

Ortigas, in his motion, claimed that he discovered an apparent link between the judge and the lawyer hired by the wife. The name of the judge’s husband is Constantine Tecson, who also happens to be a lawyer. Ortigas said that his name appeared in incorporation papers, both as director and stockholder, in certain companies registered with the SEC. Now whose name should also appear in the same papers—none other than the name of the wife’s lawyer, Thea Daep? In short they were longtime business partners.

The reports even named the companies as Prestige Asia and Lakefront Realty. The judge’s husband, Constantine, was listed as chair and president of Prestige, while the wife’s lawyer Daep was listed as treasurer. In Lakefront Realty, the lawyer Daep was listed as chair and president, while the judge’s husband Constantine was listed as an officer.

Moreover, in other companies, namely, Heartwood Realty and First Pillar Realty, both of them were listed as stockholders owning some 20 percent of the businesses. Thus Ortigas claimed there was clear “business partnership” between the two.

It followed then, according to Ortigas, that the judge (as wife of the business partner of the lawyer in the case) should have a share in the businesses as part of the “absolute community properties” in the marriage.

Still, in reaction to the first motion filed by Ortigas, the judge insisted that she would try the case, saying that she would refuse to be “labeled as a judge who (would) cow in fear when a motion for inhibition (was) filed.” In short, she wanted to stay on in the case.

Here was the retort from Ortigas: “It is not enough that a judge is fair and impartial—he must also appear to be fair and impartial.” This, Ortigas actually lifted from another Supreme Court ruling.

Quoting the ruling, Ortigas said: “Because appearance is as important as reality in the performance of judicial functions, like Caesar’s wife, a judge must not only be pure but also beyond suspicion.

“A judge has the duty to not only render a just and impartial decision, but also render it in such a manner as to be free from any suspicion as to its fairness and impartiality, and also as to the judge’s integrity.”


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