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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, March 24, 2012
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Guv may take
stand in SM case

Lawyers of the Capitol areconsidering putting Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. on the witness stand at thehearing of the case filed by SM Prime Holdings Inc. against the provincial government.

Last year,  SMPHIfiled apetition before the Bacolod RTC seekingthe annulment of any negotiated sale and lease by the Negros Occidental provincial government of its 7.7-hectare prime property in Bacolod City to ALI, and for SMPHI to be declared the winning bidder of the July 7 bidding for it, SMPHI lawyer Vincent Patrick Bayhon said yesterday.

Named as respondents wereMarañon,members of theCapitol’s Committee on Awards and Disposal of Real Properties, and the Sanggguniang Panlalawigan of Negros Occidental.

SMPHI has finished the presentation of its witnesses before Bacolod RTC Judge  Estefanio Libutan Jr., and yesterday was the turn of the defense.

However, the hearing was postponed as the defense lawyers of the  Capitol failed to furnish SMPHIthe judicial affidavit of their witness, Provincial General Services Officer Lucille Chavez-Pines, ahead of time.

The hearing has been reset to April 27 and May 25.

Mary Ann Manayon-Lamis of the Provincial Legal Office, who headed the defense team yesterday, said they are set to present three to four witnesses.

They are Pines and Provincial Assessor Merlita Celian who will testify on the appraisal of the property to be sold and leased, Provincial Administrator Enrique Pinongan, and possibly the governor, she said.

Bayhon  said he expects the RTC to rule on SMPHI’s case within the year.

The case before the Bacolod RTC is very material to the review of the lease and sale of the Capitol property by the Commission on Audit, he said.

Complaints have been aired by the governor, the Negros business community, and the mayors and vice mayors of theprovince, about the delay in coming out with a decision on its review by the COA.

“Our petition here is an action to annul the negotiated sale. If the court  rules that there was grave abuse of discretion and sets aside the negotiated sale and lease to ALI, then COA will have nothing to review,” Bayhon said.

Of course the provincial government could appeal an adverse ruling by the RTC, he said.

“It’s really COAs call if it wants to act before the case is resolved, but I personally think that, to be careful about it, it would be prudent to wait for the court’s ruling...although it is not required that the COA wait for it,” Bayhon said.

He also said SMPHI has informed the COA of the pending case and that there are some irregularities, and whatever they do after that is up to  their discretion, he said.

He said SMPHI insists that it entered a valid bid and is the rightful winner of the second bidding, and that the floor price was not approved by the COA regional office during  the bidding.

Bayhon said he believes that if the Capitol transaction was done properly, then the COA would have approved it immediately.

He does not think Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District), or an alleged connection between a COA official and SM has caused the delay in the COA ruling on the Capitol sale and lease of its property to ALI, Bayhon also said.

“Our position is we have a strong case…we have valid legal basis and evidence to show the irregularities,” he said.

Lamis, on the other hand, said they believe SMPHI does not have a strong case against the Capitol officials, who  acted within the bounds of the law in naming ALI the winner of the negotiated bidding for the lease and purchase ofits property.

The Capitol declared a failure of bidding for both SMPHI and ALI when they failed to meet thefloor price of the property that led to the negotiated bidding that SMPHI did not participate in, she said.

The floor price was fixed by the Capitol’s Committee on Awards and Appraisal since it is a management responsibility, which was later submitted to the COA for review and found to be fair, just and reasonable, Lamis added.

She does not believe the case beforethe RTC should be a reason for a delay in COA’s ruling on its reviewof the sale and lease of the Capitol of its property to ALI, Lamis said.

COA is not even a party in the case before the RTC, she said.

Manayon said the SMPHI claim of irregularities will not hold water, as it is just a mere claim.*CPG

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