House panel to resume 'Paskuhan' probe in May

SAN FERNANDO CITY -- The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability is set to resume after its Lenten Season break in May its probe on the sale of the Philippine Christmas Village (Paskuhan) by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza) to Premier Central Incorporated.

The same committee had earlier requested the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Registry of Deeds not to proceed with the processing of the transfer while the committee hearing is ongoing.

The committee, chaired by Surigao del Sur Second District Representative Johnny Pimentel, is expected to come up action on the sale after Pampanga Third District Representative Aurelio Gonzales, Jr. filed House Resolution 654 that called for the investigation of the sale.

Gonzales said relevant documents and personalities are expected to help shed light on the controversial issue.

The Christmas village theme park, later renamed to Hilaga, was sold to SM Development Corporation (SMDC) by Tieza for P939 million as part of its asset privatization thrust.

Paskuhan is one of the 13 government-owned properties under Tieza which have been eyed for privatization. It was included in the Tier 1 of non-revenue generating assets which include Agoo Playa Hotel in La Union, and Matabungkay and Talisay in Batangas.

The Hilaga property was part of the land owned by the Lazatin family. In 1989, it was reportedly sold to the government. Gonzales and the members of the house panel are against the sale of the property.

Gonzales, for one, had called to rescind the sale and bring back the property back to the government.

Lawmaker members of the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability during the first hearing found questionable the decision of Tieza to proceed with the sale when there was only one bidder.

Tieza Chief Operating Officer lawyer Guiller Asido said four companies purchased bid documents but only one company proceeded with the next stage of the bidding process.

Gonzales made manifestations that “there was apparent collusion” in the bidding as the four companies who bought bid documents were reportedly related to one another.

The four companies in question were SMDC, Premier Central Incorporated, SM Prime Holdings Corporation and SEJ North Premier Holdings Corporation. Premier Central had successfully bid for the property at P939,656,848.

1-SAGIP Representative Rodante Marcoleta expressed support to Gonzales, stressing that Tieza should have established if the four companies are related to one another.

Marcoleta also questioned the Tieza over its insistence to sell the property. Asido said Tieza proceeded with sale because it was beneficial to government.

Tieza had commissioned a study indicating that the sale and lease were recommended as possible alternatives.

Cebu Third District Representative Gwendolyn Fiel Garcia questioned Tieza for selling Paskuhan when there were clear provisions under Republic Act 9593 on the right of first refusal.

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