BIZ BUZZ: Land grabbing, New Manila-style
Owners of prime but idle pieces of property be warned: unscrupulous but well-connected fraudsters are out there who could very well “sell” your property from under you and tie you up in a protracted legal fight.
That’s what happened to Titan Dragon Properties that went to court to retake possession of a 70,364-square meter property in New Manila, Quezon City, that was under its name but another group had been able to “own” after supposedly entering into a deed of absolute sale with Titan CEO Antonio Yao.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court First Division that includes SC Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo in an April 28, 2021 decision set aside lower courts’ decisions and affirmed Titan’s ownership of the property.
Real estate sector insiders told Biz Buzz that the scheme is not new and has actually been going on for some time, and so a number of developers end up paying those who do not actually own the property but are still able to present fake land titles that easily pass off for the genuine article.
The elaborate scheme involves scouting around for prime but idle pieces of property, where the owners are usually already living abroad thus would not be around to get wind of under-the-table transactions involving their property.
Deeds of sale are then executed and—with the connivance of lower-tier government officials—used to draw up land titles with the real ones “canceled.”
Fortunately for Titan, it was able to put a stop to the transaction but then only after years of slugging it out in the courts, going all the way to the Supreme Court that rendered the judgment that they wanted.
Others may not end up as lucky.
Brazen steel smuggling
There are opportunities in crises, as everyone knows. Unfortunately that adage applies to the well-intentioned as well as those who want to use chaotic times to pull off illegal activities such as smuggling.
Biz Buzz learned that the local steel industry is one such sector that is suffering from unabated smuggling activities of some local firms at the height of a pandemic that has made business activities very challenging.
In fact, no less than the Philippine Iron and Steel Institute (PISI) recently wrote the Bureau of Customs (BOC), asking the agency to probe at least two firms which they believe have been undervaluing their imports (or engaging in “technical smuggling”).
Recently, PISI president Ronald Magsajo wrote Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, noting that while the global supply chain problems caused by the pandemic have resulted in higher steel prices for everyone, two firms have been importing what they declare as “scrap metal” at a fraction of their actual market prices.
One company—which we shall call “PS”—is Chinese owned and operates in Mindanao, with apparent ties to some powerful government people.
“The past 20 months has been quite difficult for the steel industry. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global supply chain of steel resulting in increased prices for all our commodity imports. We write now to inform you that we have reason to believe that several importers are taking advantage of the situation by grossly undervaluing their imports,” the PISI chief said in his letter.
“This company imports steel scrap at an average declared value of around $110 per metric ton when international scrap prices are between $450-$550/MT,” Magsajo told the Customs chief.
The second firm—let’s call it “AG”—is a licensed importer of wood products.
“They import steel cold rolled coils at an average declared value of around $500 when international cold rolled coil prices are between $800-$1,000/MT,” the PISI chief lamented.
“May we ask that an investigation be done on the abovementioned importers and proper charges filed if found to be in violation of our customs and tariff laws,” Magsajo applied to Guerrero.
“It is our belief that other importers may also be grossly undervaluing their steel imports, particularly in the outports similar to the examples given above,” he added. “The institute [would] like to offer our expertise to assist the bureau in identifying these and for the proper valuation and classification of imported steel products as well.”
Now, the question is … will the BOC act favorably on the local steel industry’s appeal? Abangan!
—Daxim L. Lucas
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