Freeze Balili Payoff

12/05/2010 - Ordinary citizens can’t stop the court’s release of P44.48 million from the sale of the disputed Balili estate even though the waterlogged land is the subject of a graft inquiry.
But the Ombudsman may be able to.

Environment lawyer Benjamin Cabrido said he believes the Ombudsman should move quickly to hold on to the entire P98.9 million payment while the anti-graft office conducts its preliminary investigation into the 2008 sale, which a Visayas fact-finding inquiry in September said was a “grossly disadvantageous” deal.

Cabrido was reacting to a trial court judge's decision on Friday to partition the estate of the late Engr. Luis Balili and release P44.48 million of the sales proceeds to his widow and other heirs.

The action would leave a balance of about P38 million, just enough to cover the refund claim of the Province of Cebu, which is trying to recover partial payment for 9.4 hectares of land belatedly found to be underwater or covered with mangroves.

“The special proceedings (for partitioning of the estate) has nothing to do with the case with the Ombudsman. However, the anti-graft office should intervene and ask that the entire amount be frozen,” Cabrido told CEBU DAILY NEWS.

As a taxpayer, Cabrido said it would be difficult for him or any private individual to intervene in the civil case.

“My suggestion is for the Ombudsman to tell the court about the pending case, which is pending before the anti-graft office. The court should take a judicial notice of the ongoing investigation. The entire amount should be frozen,” he said.

Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol, in a separate interview, declined to comment, saying his office has “no jurisdiction” over the court ruling.

Last Friday, parties were given a copy of the Dec. 3 order of Regional Trial Court Judge Ester Veloso of Branch VI.

Carlo Fortuna, lawyer of the Balili family, told reporters, “We will wait for the court order so we can divide the money.”

If respondents are later found guilty by the anti-graft office, Cabrido said the full amount paid of the Balili resort in Naga City should be returned to the government.

“It would be difficult to recover the amount by then,” he said.

Last Friday, Judge Veloso approved the Declaration of Heirship and Revised Partial Poject of Partition filed by Romeo Balili, executor of the Balili Estate.

Most of Luis' properties will be awarded to his widow Amparo.

Half of the amount of P44,483,981.32 would go to Amparo while its other half would be released in favor of the Balili Estate to be divided among Amparo and four children.

The court granted the request of the estate executor, lawyer Romeo Balili to have the P98,926,800 purchase price of the Balili beach property divided among five heirs of Luis.

Around P82 million remains of the Capitol's original payment, after deductions for “capital gains tax, relocation expenses a P4.74 million broker's commission” and other legal fees, the executor reported to the court earlier.

The money is deposited in a private bank in Cebu City but remains subject to estate proceedings in court.

The Province of Cebu is seeking to recover P37.8 million for underwater lots since these should not be priced the same as the P400 per square meter paid for dry land. The civil case is pending with RTC Judge Raphael Yrastorza of Branch 14.

“Don't distribute any part of the Balili land deal to claimants yet,” said whistleblower Crisologo Saavedra, who was one of those who asked the Ombudsman to investigate the Balili deal last year.

“I would like the governor to do something immediately. Go to court and stop the implementation of the court order so the entire amount would be kept intact,” Saavedra said in an interview.

Saavedra said he has no legal standing to ask the court not to distribute P44.48 million to Luis' heirs.

But even if the full sale price of P98.9 million is returned to the Province, said Saavedra, damage was already done.

“The respondents already violated (the laws). Even if the money will be returned, they should go to jail,” Saavedra said.

“I don't think the Balilis will return the money (to the province). They will never return it,” Saavedra said.

Governor Garcia insists the 2008 sale was above aboard because the Balili resort came with land titles.

She said the submerged land would be reclaimed and used as a coal ash waste facility as part of plans to develop an international port and industrial zone in Naga City.

The governor has vehemently denied that the contract was “disadvantageous” or that she was “grossly negligent” in pursuing the purchase. She apologized to the public in August 2009 when she announced the Capitol's discovery, after a survey, that 9.4 hectares was submerged in sea water.

Capitol spokesman Rory John Sepulveda said the other day the Province had no objection to the court's decision to release the heirs' share of the estate.

“We won't interfere. At lest the P38 million is secured,” he said, referring to the Capitol's bid to get a refund for buying submerged portions.

Gov. Garcia along with several provincial officials and employees were named liable for criminal and administrative investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman after the approval in September of findings of a fact-finding inquiry by the Visayas Office about the irregular purchase of the 24.7-hecate Balili beach property.

Investigators noted a geodetic survey by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that showed 20.2 hectares were classified as coastal timberland or public land not open for sale and that most of it was underwater.

The fact-finding inquiry has been upgraded into a preliminary investigation.

Vince Cinches, of the Fisherfolk Development Center (FIDEC), said they will explore “legal moves” to stop the distribution of the P44.48 million would to Balili's heirs.

He said the entire P98.9 million purchase price should be returned to the Province of Cebu.
(Cebu Daily News)

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