Sobrepeña defies Court, misleads sub-lessees to avoid refund

THE HEAD of the court-evicted Camp John Hay Development Corp. in Baguio City has openly defied an order to vacate and misleads sub-lessees to avoid refunding them.

This is according to the Bases Conversion and Development Authority president and CEO Arnel Paciano Casanova in reaction to a letter distributed by CJHDevCo, chaired by businessman Robert John Sobrepeña, to sub-lessees and investors inside Camp John Hay.

“Sobrepeña is instigating sub-lessees to defy a court order,” Casanova said and warned that CJHDevco’s move is really aimed at avoiding the developer’s responsibility to these third party investors.

“Sub-lessees are misled and are being used by CJHDevco as pawns against the court,” Casanova added, “and by agitating them to defy a court order, the Sobrepeña group effectively eludes their responsibility to refund these sub-lessees.”

The letter dated April 21 says the government’s payment of P1.4 billion refund to CJHDevco is a precondition for the latter to leave the premises.

The BCDA has deposited the P1.42 billion with the Development Bank of the Philippines in escrow under the account of the Baguio RTC Branch 6, without any previous objection from CJHDevco.

“The disposition of the Php1.4 billion refund is now up to the Court,” Casanova said.

The BCDA chief added that the state-run agency will respect whether the court order is for the refund to go directly to the evicted developer, to secure new lease payments for sub lessees, to be fairly dispensed among third party claimants who wish to recover their investments, or for a portion of the fund to be allotted as revenue share to Baguio City and deserving LGUs.

The BCDA head reiterated that the state-run agency did not evict CJHDevco but the court.

“BCDA will always uphold the rule of law, we expect the private developer to do the same,” Casanova said.

In several news reports, the CJHDevco chairman vowed not to leave John Hay in open defiance of the court order.

“This is wanton disrespect of a Court decision,” Casanova said. “It is one thing to defy a government policy, but to defy a court order is obstruction of justice,” he added.

The Office of the Ex-Officio Sheriff of the First Judicial Region, Branch 6 of the Regional Trial Court in Baguio City served a notice on April 20 against CJHDevco and “all persons claiming rights under them” to vacate the premises of Camp John Hay.

The Notice to Vacate also ordered CJHDevCo to turn over control of Camp John Hay, including the Manor Hotel, Forest Lodge, log homes and the golf course, to the BCDA and for the latter to refund the lease payments of CJHDevCo.

“At first, CJHDevco pursued an arbitration process with the government. BCDA adhered to the process,” Casanova said.

“Now that the arbitral award is confirmed by the Court, CJHDevco chooses not to obey it,” he added and noted that Sobrepeña is clearly breaking the law and openly going against the Court itself.

Casanova, however, reiterated his earlier statement that sub-lessees should ask from CJHDevCo the undelivered portion of their contracts with the developer.

The BCDA nor its subsidiary, the John Hay Management Corp., were bound by the contract for whatever losses and damages the sub-lessee might suffer because

CJHDevCo concealed these contracts to them, Casanova said.

“Nor is BCDA or JHMC a signatory to the contracts that the CJHDevCo signed with the sub-lessees,” he added.

Casanova added that sub-lessees and sub-locators, including prominent names, are coordinating with the government in revealing the terms of their contracts while expressing willingness to file claims from the P1.4 billion refund.

“Sobrepeña may think he is above the law, or he simply belittles the regional trial court decision,” Casanova said.

“Either way, he is inviting criminal liability for publicly defying the Court,” he added.

CJHDevco is one of several companies led by Sobrepeña, a businessman who also made news during the past years for his involvement in the controversial issue on the College Assurance Plan, a pre-need company which ended up in a prolonged legal battle for reportedly defaulting on its obligations to thousands of plan holders.

Earlier, BCDA discovered that CJHDevco has been declaring dividends for its firm and for its stockholders while asking for restructuring in deferment of payments to the government.

The Sobrepeña Group declared hundreds of millions of annual dividends from the time of the contract restructuring in 1998 up to 2010 but has not remitted any amount to BCDA as rental fees.

“That is fraud, plain and simple,” Casanova said.

“In fact, Sobrepeña is presently on bail and is on trial for the criminal charges of malversation of public funds filed by the Department of Justice against him before the Baguio RTC,” he added.

Following the BCDA’s disclosure of undeclared dividends, CJHDevCo stopped submitting audited financial statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Casanova added.

Last February 26 the Bureau of Internal Revenue filed an Php88-million tax evasion case against Camp John Hay Leisure Inc., also headed by Sobrepeña, for allegedly filing erroneous Income Tax Returns for a four-year period.

“All efforts to uphold transparency, honesty and integrity in government and in developmental plans of this country will come to naught if we allow the likes of Sobrepeña and CJHDevco to continue belittling our justice system,” Casanova added.