Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 January 2015


Please, let’s keep our eye on the ball. The Senate blue ribbon subcommittee headed by Koko Pimentel resumed its hearings last Thursday, and out came some revelations that presumably will be investigated in due course. What are we citizens to concentrate on?

Well, there were the questions regarding the Pag-Ibig Fund. The subcommittee has asked Pag-Ibig head Darlene Berberabe for some documents. I am not sure where it is all heading. When Berberabe said that the audit of Pag-Ibig financials by the Commission on Audit resulted in an “unqualified opinion,” that was it for me. The issuance of an unqualified opinion is not very common; it means that there were no questions or doubts on the accuracy of the financial statements. So as far as I was concerned, Pag-Ibig and Berberabe passed.

That Berberabe is the sister-in-law of Jojo Binay’s chief of staff (as was discovered) is of lesser consequence than the unqualified opinion. And Berberabe has the brains (not to mention beauty) and arguably the integrity to hold her own. She came off very well in the hearings. Going against her is the Pag-Ibig consultancy of Gerry Limlingan and the contract with Omni (Limlingan’s security agency).

In other words, I am willing to bet, based on her brains and her demeanor, that Pag-Ibig under Berberabe will not allow corrupt practices. At least, not to any meaningful extent. Pursuing this, I think, will result in a dead end.

The revelations of former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, with respect to the dark side of Binay’s involvement in the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP), are a different matter altogether.

They boil down to the question: Has the involvement of Jojo Binay with the BSP redounded to the BSP’s benefit, or has it redounded more to Binay’s political and financial benefit? Or is it possible that the relationship has been mutually beneficial?

This is a matter of paramount importance. The Boy Scouts of the Philippines has been with us formally since 1936, and as a part of the Boy Scouts of America even before that. The founding members of the organization included Carlos Romulo, Vicente Lim, Jorge Vargas, and Manuel Camus, among others, and boy scouting has been an integral part of the lives of young Filipino boys since then. The current membership is in the millions. A Commonwealth Act signed into law by President Manuel Quezon gave it its formal start.

How Binay managed to get a stranglehold on the presidency of the BSP should be the subject of an inquiry conducted by Education Secretary Armin Luistro, whose department has administrative supervision over it. Until Binay emerged on the scene, the rules were that a president could serve only for two years, although he could run again after a rest period (equivalent to the term of his successor). Binay changed all that, and has been president of the BSP since 2001 (after giving up the post in 2000 to Obet Pagdanganan). Luistro should ask: Was there a formal change in the rules? If so, why? If not, how explain Binay’s stranglehold?

Wikipedia’s account of the BSP shows a seemingly close connection between the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity (which counts Binay as a member) and the organization. Alpha Phi Omega was founded by former scouts, apparently. Luistro should find out what degree of control it has over the current BSP. If the national board is composed of members who are Alpha Phi Omega members, that would suggest an attempt to convert the BSP into a political tool. Bad for the country, bad for the BSP, good for Binay.

What about financial benefits? I am given to understand that the BSP under Binay has concluded other land deals than the one with Alphaland, which is the subject of Mercado’s accusations. It reportedly sold some real estate in Barrio Ugong, Pasig, to Andrew Tan. Another piece of real estate was in Davao, adjacent to the Floirendo property. Tan also bought property that the BSP held in Manila, near the City Hall. And at present, talks are going on with respect to the sale of property in Baguio, with Alphaland. Did Binay benefit from these other deals? Did the BSP gain—as much as it should have? Another problem for Luistro.

At this point, one has a right to ask: How come the BSP has all that property? Well, it turns out that the BSP has the reputation of being the country’s largest landowner, second only to the Catholic Church. Whether that is true or not, maybe Luistro can find out.

Now we get to the deal that Mercado divulged. Babes Oreta of Alphaland says this is the best deal that the BSP will ever have made, as it will bring the BSP about P3 billion on the basis of sales of P21 billion. That doesn’t compute. From other developers, I learned that the profit margin is about 15 percent, which means profits of P3 billion (rounded off). The BSP share will be 15 percent of that, or P450 million. That implies that the P600 million it should have gotten if it had just sold the property eight years ago will be worth P1.05 billion after eight years by the end of this year. Not so good a return for the BSP.

Meanwhile, what did Alphaland get out of it? It got Makati to reclassify the BSP land from industrial to commercial (FAR 8), and then got the commercial land upgraded to FAR 12. FAR stands for “floor area ratio,” so FAR 8 means that the total floor area that can be built is eight times the original land area. FAR 12 means that you can build up to 12 times.

Alphaland was able to wangle 50 percent more floor area. Good deal.

What did Binay get out of it? Mercado claims that he was given roughly P200 million through Noble Care (a company Mercado surmises was the laundering device). But at this time, that is all it is: a conjecture.