House body junks sale of Paskuhan Village

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- The Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability recommended to the House of Representatives to nullify the sale of Paskuhan Village after concluding its investigation on the controversial disposal of the tourism and cultural site.

In its 13-page report, the Committee also enjoined the Registrar of Deeds of Pampanga "from acting on any transfer of the title over the Paskuhan Village property" pending the resolution of the action for the nullification of the sale between the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and Premier Central Incorporated.

The report said there were lapses in sale of Paskuhan and officials of TIEZA may be held accountable.

The TIEZA officials committed malfeasance in the performance of their duties for misapplication of the law and abuse of authority, the report said.

The report was submitted by Representative Johhny TY Pimentel, chairman of the committee, Pampanga Third District Aurelio Gonzales, Jr. and other members of the committee.

The inquiry on the sale of Paskuhan was initiated by Gonzales after he introduced Resolution No. 654 in January this year. He said he filed the resolution after consulting with his constituents in his district, especially in San Fernando, and seeking the support of no less than House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The report was the conclusion of several committee hearings conducted from February to August this year.

Last October 3, the Office of the Solicitor General, in a six-page opinion submitted to the Committee, said the sale of the property was void pursuant to Section 54 of Republic No. 9593. The said law, the OSG said, provides that cultural treasures and heritage sites shall not be sold.

The Committee also said TIEZA failed to comply with pertinent circulars of the Commission on Audit, namely COA Circular Nos. 86-264 and 8-296.

"Thus, the deed of sale executed by and between TIEZA and Premier Central Incorporated involving Paskuhan Village may be assailed for being contrary to laws, rules and regulations," the Committee said.

The contract of sale was signed between TIEZA and Premier on May 4, 2015 in the amount of P939,656,848 or nearly P1 billion.

Gonzales argued the hearing that Premier could not have afforded the acquisition cost since its paid-up capitalization was only P500 million.

Premier was among the four companies which bidded for the property, namely SM Development Corporation, Premier Central Incorporated, SM Prime Holdings and SEJ North Premier Holding Corporation. Three of them, Premier, SMDC and SM Prime Holdings are part of the SM Group of Companies.

The Committee said that TIEZA disregarded the provision of R.A. 9593 that gives the City of San Fernando and the Province of Pampanga the right of first refusal on the sale or lease of Paskuhan.

As early as 2009, the Pampanga Mayors' League issued a resolution to negotiate and enter into an agreement with the Department of Tourism to acquire jurisdiction and management over the facility, the report noted.

On December 4, 2014, the Provincial Government of Pampanga also offered to purchase the village at book value or based on current prevailing market value to reactivate the facility as venue for promoting the tourism industry of Pampanga, according to the report.

"All these appeals and request of the Province of Pampanga remained unheeded by TIEZA," the committee noted.

Some members of the committee pointed out that TIEZA failed to consider the cultural heritage issue because it was fixated on the "highest and best use" study proposed by a private consultant "whose sight is trained on asset disposal instead of weighing the significance of the site's cultural treasures."

"Thus TIEZA violated the expressed prohibition that such assets shall not be sold or in any way disposed of and shall be placed under the ownership of the TIEZA for their continued maintenance," the committee said.

According to the report, TIEZA may initiate the legal action of nullification of the sale of Paskuhan Village, being the principal party to the deed of absolute sale.

The province of Pampanga or the City of San Fernando has legal standing to assail the deed of sale for violation of their right of first refusal pursuant to Section 54 of. R.A. 9593

The committee has provided a copy of its report to the Office of the Ombudsman for appropriate action and further investigation on possible administrative, civil and criminal cases against erring TIEZA officials. (NCS)
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