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BCDA wins 'bigger than pork barrel scam' case in SC, recovers posh property from retired generals

THE BASES Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) on Wednesday lauded the Supreme Court (SC) which upheld an earlier decision made by the Court of Appeals (CA) to cancel ownership of the Navy Officers' Village Association, Inc. (NOVAI) on a 47-hectare parcel of land situated at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

The NOVAI is a group of retired military officers which claimed ownership of the disputed property situated inside the former Fort Andres Bonifacio Military Reservation (FBMR).

“This is far bigger than the pork barrel scam, with powerful and influential personalities also involved,” BCDA president and chief executive officer Arnel Paciano Casanova said, but declined to name the personalities involved citing the closure of the case.

“The SC decision will ultimately benefit soldiers of the Armed Forces and the Filipino people,” he added.

The BCDA is the agency specifically created under R.A. No. 7227 to own and administer military reservations including those located inside the FBMR.

The 475,009 square-meter parcel of land recovered by government is now estimated to be worth more than P47 billion based on the current selling price of about P100,000 per square-meter.

“The high tribunal has spoken and justice is served, a clear message that no one is above the law, including usurpers and land grabbers from the ranks of retired military generals,” Casanova said.

The BCDA chief added that he personally pursued this particular case “with the help of honorable and professional officers of the Armed Forces and the Office of the Solicitor General.”

Casanova was general counsel for the government when the latter filed a complaint in the court against military generals involved in illegal settlements inside military reservation areas.

The BCDA earlier petitioned that NOVAI is prohibited to acquire the said property being an inalienable land of public domain at that time citing that “any sale of land in violation of the Constitution or of the provisions of R.A. 274 and R.A. 730, and the Public Land Act are null and void; and that any title which may have been issued by mistake or error on the part of a public official can be cancelled at any time by the State.”

In the Notice of Judgment promulgated by acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo, Jose Catral Mendoza, and Marvic Leonen, the SC Second Division resolved “to deny NOVAl's petition for review on certiorari as we find no reversible error committed by the CA in issuing its December 28, 2006 decision and March 28, 2007 resolution.”

In August 20, 2004, the CA reversed and set aside the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 67, Pasig City, which dismissed the complaint filed by the government against NOVAI.

The CA ruled that the property claimed by NOVAI “is inalienable land of the public domain and cannot be disposed of or be the subject of a sale” and emphasized that the property remained reserved for the military veterans’ rehabilitation purposes under Proclamation No. 478, the latest executive issuance affecting the property.

“As early as 2004 and as general counsel then, I made a commitment to the Feliciano Commission that I will do my best to pursue the cases against Southside Homeowners Association (SHAI) and NOVAI in spite of some generals who kept on dissuading us from doing so,” Casanova said, referring to the commission’s report that recommended legal action for the recovery of the JUSMAG and NOVAI properties.

“My mission for the Feliciano Commission is now accomplished,” he added.

The Feliciano Commission was a fact-finding commission created to address the concerns of soldiers involved in the July 2003 Oakwood mutiny.

The BCDA eventually won in September 2006 in its petition-in-intervention with the SC over a case against military officers occupying quarters at the SHAI area inside JUSMAG in Fort Bonifacio.

The former JUSMAG area has since been developed and is now known as McKinley West inside the BGC.

“Rampant land grabbing where officers are involved affects the morale of our soldiers, and eventually weakens our Armed Forces,” Casanova said.

BCDA remittances help fund the national government’s development projects including the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to improve the country’s internal security and external defense.

From January 2010 to May 2015, BCDA remitted P14.73 billion to the Bureau of Treasury and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. AFP’s share from January 2010 to May 2015 is P6.743 billion.

By developing former military camps, BCDA’s revenues under Casanova steadily increased from P3.5 billion in 2011 to P11.8 billion in 2015.

BCDA’s dividend contributions to the national government rose from P2.1 billion to P3.2 billion from 2010 to 2014 year on year for a total of P12.6-B in 5 years of the Aquino administration.

Before Casanova was appointed head of BCDA by President Benigno Aquino III in 2011, the agency’s dividend contributions had ranged only from P180 million to P450 million.

The BCDA chief also said that by recovering the NOVAI land, “the government will now be able to pursue development plans to further strengthen BCDA’s contribution for the modernization of our Armed Forces.”

Casanova said development plans, either solely by government or through joint venture partnerships, for former military camps and reservation areas should continue unhindered “because of long-term benefits to nation-building.”

“Our national government and our countrymen stand to benefit from favorable rulings such as the NOVAI case, as we will be able to pursue our mandate to convert military lands to more productive use and to help modernize the Armed Forces,” Casanova said.

When asked about the case at the SC involving the evicted private developer of Camp John Hay in Baguio City, Casanova said, “We are confident that the high tribunal will see through the deception of the developer and will rule in favor of the government’s mandate for Camp John Hay and the people of the Cordilleras.”