Villar firm faked titles through 'layering': ex-lawyer

Villar firm faked titles through ‘layering’: ex-lawyer
By Aries Rufo

SECOND of 3 parts

MANILA, Philippines – A case involving parcels of land, where a property developed by one of the real estate companies of presidential aspirant Manuel Villar Jr. now stands, is an example of how layering and faked documents were employed to acquire properties.

The land case, which involves contested properties in Cavite, was cited by dismissed lawyer Restituto Mendoza in a complaint he filed before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). He used to be the in-house counsel of Adelfa Properties, one of the real estate properties in the Villar Group.

Related Content:

PART 1: Villar built business empire with deceit, corruption: ex-lawyer

PART 2: Villar firm faked titles through ‘layering’: ex-lawyer

PART 3: Villar firm’s high-end project sits on land for poor

PROFILE: The man who turned his back on Villar

SIDEBAR: Imus Estate land key to Villar-Ayala deal

SIDEBAR: Villar firms bribe and forge? The case of the undervalued crane

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: How Villar company obtained titles to contested land

VILLAR CAMP’S REPLY: Land grabbing allegations mere black propaganda: Villar

Villar has a 20% stake in Adelfa Properties, based on records obtained from the Securities and Exchange Commission in January. His wife, Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia, has another 19% stake. Adelfa Properties has a 24% stake in listed firm Vista Land and Lifescapes, according to a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange.

The labor complaint of Mendoza, which Newsbreak obtained, turned out to be a tell-all testimony on the legal practices of some real estate companies that spawned the much-touted wealth of Villar. (Newsbreak counter-checked Mendoza’s claims in the labor complaint against other documents and interviews. Newsbreak also attended 2 hearings of the labor case at the NLRC.)

This case, Mendoza wrote in his complaint, illustrates the reach of Villar’s and his men’s tentacles of corruption to get their way. “It was in this case where complainant (Mendoza) witnessed the brazen corruption of Senator Villar’s senior officers,” Mendoza said in his complaint.

This is the particular case where he “never felt guiltier,” and was a reason why he turned his back on Villar.

Imus Estate

The contested land sits on Imus Estate, a 200-hectare friar land, which the government used to own.

The land case that Mendoza mentioned in his complaint involves a 5-hectare property, which is now where Armstrong Subdivision stands. The subdivision is one of the projects developed by Adelfa Properties. It is part of the 18-hectare land within the Imus Estate that is being contested by heirs of 3 families: Cuenca, Pakinggan, and Villanueva.

Records from the Land Management Bureau (LMB) showed that, in 1999, a committee of 5, led by Atty. Benjamin Asido of the legal division, conducted an investigation, which resulted in the awarding of Deeds of Conveyance to the heirs of Benito Cuenca and Urbana Pakinggan. The two families had a compromise agreement.

The Deeds of Conveyance indicate that the subject land is now under the property of private individuals. They stem from friar lands, which are government lands with titles.

In April 2001, Armando Adiao, a representative of the Cuenca heirs, filed a complaint before the LMB asking for investigation on how the land titles ended up being owned by Adelfa Properties. It turned out that the real estate company acquired the titles to the land through the heirs of Catalina Vda. De Villanueva.

The LMB said that based on available records, such as the certificate of sale and decree awarding the land, it was Adiao, representing the Cuenca family, and not the heirs of Villanueva who has ownership of the questioned property. The LMB is responsible for administering, managing and disposing of alienable and government lands not under the jurisdiction of other government agencies.

In its finding, the LMB recommended to the Office of the Solicitor General the filing of proceedings in court to cancel the Villanueva mother title and all other titles emanating from the Adelfa property.

Lawyer Mendoza, who was the in-house counsel of Adelfa Properties at the time, questioned the LMB probe, arguing that the firm was not informed that the subject property is being investigated.

Mendoza would later learn that the case was crucial in the efforts of the Villar group to settle its billions of unpaid obligations at the time. The contested land is one of the properties involved in the deal with another property firm, Ayala Land.


Backed up by what he initially thought were genuine documents, Mendoza defended Adelfa Properties’ position before the LMB. The case was one classic example of layering ownership, which is commonly employed by Villar’s group of companies, to legitimize claims.

(Click here for interactive graphic on How Villar company obtained titles to contested land)

Purportedly, the transfer certificates of titles (TCTs) of Adelfa Properties were derived from the TCT of Household Development Corp. (HDC), also part of the Villar group. HDC’s TCT, in turn, stemmed from the TCT of the heirs of a certain Manuel Villanueva.

On the other hand, the TCTs of Villanueva’s heirs derived its origin from the Villanueva patriarch and one Eugenio Villanueva. The TCTs of these two Villanueva’s for their part have its origin from the TCT on one Catalina Villanueva.

Catalina Villanueva, in turn, acquired the title from the questioned property by virtue of a deed of conveyance issued based on sales certificate issued by then Director of Lands Jose Dans in 1952.

Yet, in the original LMB probe, not one of the Villanuevas appeared during the hearing.

The 5-man committee also concluded that the Deed of Conveyance allegedly listed in Catalina Villanueva’s name does not exists, including supporting documents like friar lands sale application, investigation reports, report of bidding, sales certificate or letter of transmittal of an alleged deed of conveyance in the Register of Deeds.

“This clearly show that the Deed of Conveyance, if one has been issued, did not pass through the regular process such as filing of an application, investigation of the application between payment of the purchase price and issuance of a sales certificate and deed of conveyance, “the report stated.

Setting aside the initial findings of the 5-man LMB committee, the LMB ordered a reinvestigation. However, this time, a surveyor was tasked to conduct the probe.

In the exchange of motion and manifestations before the LMB, Adiao argued that the deed of conveyance of Catalina Villanueva was invalid.

Granting that the Villanueva title was invalid, Mendoza argued, “the fact that it has undergone several transfers to innocent purchasers has validated and consolidated the title.”

He cited a Court of Appeals ruling in 1998 where it upheld the validity of transaction of innocent purchasers who relied on the correctness of certificate of titles issued to them.

“Every person dealing with the registered land may safely rely on the correctness of the certificate of title issued and the law will in no way oblige him to go behind the certificate to determine the condition of the property,” the CA ruling said.

Fictitious documents

SIDEBAR: Imus Estate land key to Villar-Ayala deal

MANILA, Philippines – The parcel of land in Imus Estate was crucial to Adelfa Properties and to the entire Villar Group since this was part of what was then a pending financial transaction with another property company, Ayala Land.

At that time, Villar’s real estate companies were burdened with heavy debts as a repercussion of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Villar’s companies, including the former flagship company, Camella & Palmera Homes could not pay debts that peaked at P12.28 billion in 2001.

Villar’s companies resorted to payment-in-kind arrangement, or dacion en pago in industry parlance. They were using real estate assets to pay for the mounting obligations. READ MORE

While the legal defense was being prepared, one of Villar’s senior officers, engineer Mommar Santos, “wasted no time in talking to LMB officials on how Adelfa could secure the reversal of their previous decision in favor of Adiao,” Mendoza explained in his complaint filed at the labor department.

Santos is a known fixture and fixer at LMB, according to LMB officials interviewed by Newsbreak who requested for anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. Two of the LMB officials told Newsbreak that Santos tried to offer them bribes in relation to the Imus Estate land case.

Mendoza said he was instructed by Santos to file motion for reinvestigation. Mendoza obeyed, submitting documents provided by Santos, such as sales certificate, letter authorizing registration and letter from the Director of Lands to support Adelfa Properties’ claims.

At that time, Mendoza said he was “amazed at the resourcefulness of Mommar (Santos) because in a short time, he was able to secure the documentary evidence.”

He would later find out that the documents were fictitious, “as would be later on admitted to him by Mommar.”

In contrast with Adelfa Properties, which provided original documents, Mendoza pointed out that Adiao could not produce original documents to back up his claim.

In his labor complaint, Mendoza said (Mommar) Santos would later admit to him that the Adelfa Properties documents were all falsified with the help of LMB officials.

“The falsified sales certificate indicates the applicant-awardee as Villanueva and used dates prior to the ones existing in favor of Adiao. Worse, complainant (Mendoza) was also told that the existing documents initially found in the name of Adiao were pulled off from the records to make it appear that only the falsified records were existing,” Mendoza narrated.

The surveyor’s findings went in Villar’s favor.

P7 million settlement

LMB officials that Newsbreak interviewed could only shake their heads that a surveyor’s finding in favor of the Villar group on the Imus friar land estate could overturn that of a 5-man committee composed of lawyers.

They heard money exchange hands, but could not corroborate it with other evidence or testimony.

In documents supporting his labor complaint, Mendoza noted that concerned LMB officials received money for a favorable ruling. “Here, I witnessed the brazen power of corruption when Mommar (Santos), the senior engineer handling the case with me, immediately met with the officers at LMB, including the hearing officer to devise a way to counter the previous ruling. Upon the advise of the LMB officials, the company presented falsified mother titles, sales certificate and other documents that would establish that the title of Villanueva is validly issued when in truth it was not,” Mendoza wrote in his labor complaint.

Mendoza said he would also find out that Adiao’s heirs were paid P7 million in bribe money as settlement for the Imus Estate case. The settlement money was a drop in the bucket as it salvaged what could have been a P300 million reinstated debt of Villar to Ayala Land, Mendoza said.

It was at this point that Mendoza said he struggled internally, whether he was winning his cases or through “lakad,” or under the table negotiation.

Eventually, he had a falling out with his superiors, then he was dismissed. – With reports and additional research from Ma. Althea Teves and Purple Romero, abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak

Carpio declines anew chief justice nomination

Carpio declines anew chief justice nomination
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reiterated to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) yesterday that he does not want to be named chief justice by President Arroyo.

Replying to the JBC’s invitation for an interview, Carpio said the Constitution bans Mrs. Arroyo from naming the successor to Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who will retire on May 17.

“I wish to reiterate that I am not interested to be nominated to the said position at this time,” read the letter.

Earlier, the 60-year-old Carpio, the most senior SC justice, accepted his nomination for the post of chief justice on condition that he would be named by the next president.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, a JBC member, told reporters they would discuss whether Carpio would be included in the shortlist to be submitted to Mrs. Arroyo.

Members of the JBC are divided on the issue, he added.

Agra said some JBC members believe that those who have signified lack of interest in their nomination should not be included in the shortlist, even if they are qualified.

“Again, all the six nominees were invited for the interview,” he said.

“We are hoping that they will attend. If they don’t, then JBC should meet to discuss what is the implication of such an absence.

“Some of us may think this is a waiver and therefore an abandonment of one’s nomination and acceptance. Some of us may just say regardless of his or her absence, we will still submit the name.”

OSG: Judiciary appointments  are not midnight appointments

Appointments in the judiciary cannot be considered midnight appointments because they pass through the JBC, according to the Office of the Solicitor General.

Raising this argument, the OSG asked the SC yesterday to affirm its ruling last month allowing President Arroyo to appoint the next chief justice and extend the exemption to the constitutional ban on midnight appointments to the entire judiciary.

“There can be no midnight appointments when we speak of the judiciary because of the indispensable and deliberate participation of the JBC,” the OSG said.

“No midnight appointments in judiciary since JBC publishes list, accepts complaints, conducts interviews and submits shortlist to the President.”

The OSG also asked the SC to clarify whether Mrs. Arroyo can also appoint judges in trial courts and justices in appellate courts and reverse its 1998 decision on the appointments of Judges Mateo Valenzuela and Placido Vallarta.

“There is merit in the ruling of this Honorable Court that Valenzuela and Vallarta should be reversed,” the OSG said.

“The framers never intended to extend the prohibition contained in Section 15, Article VII to the appointments to the judiciary. Otherwise, they could have explicitly done so.”

Agra, concurrent solicitor general, said the SC could still declare the entire judiciary as exempted from the midnight appointments ban.

“Since the issue is now with the Supreme Court, we believe the Court has prerogative to rule on this,” he said.

The OSG said the JBC’s principal function is to recommend appointees to the judiciary and to prepare a list of nominees for every vacancy from which the President will choose his or her appointee.

“This duty is unqualified,” the OSG said.

“Consequently, it is a ministerial duty which respondent JBC is mandated to perform under the Constitution.

“To be sure, this ministerial duty to submit its list to the President is separate and distinct from its discretionary duty to determine who its nominees will be.

“As regards the latter, it can only be compelled to act, but not act one way or another.”

The OSG said contrary to the claims of critics, the SC did not infringe upon the independence of the JBC, a constitutional body, when it ruled on the petitions.

“The exercise of jurisdiction over these cases is not an infringement upon the independence but an affirmation of the supremacy of the rule of law,” he said.

“The Court was not exercising its power of supervision but its judicial power when it took cognizance of the cases and rendered the assailed decision.

“Such exercise of jurisdiction was proper and entirely within its constitutional duty to settle actual controversies with its exercise of judicial power.”

The case is included in the SC’s agenda for its session in Baguio City today, according to court administrator and SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez.

Sol Gen has 10 days to comment on abolish PET petition

Sol Gen has 10 days to comment on abolish PET petition
By Dateline Philippines

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday directed the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to comment within 10 days on the petition filed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal to abolish the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

Macalintal asserted that the PET, which decides election-related cases involving the President and Vice President, was unconstitutional.

“In the case of Macalintal, the Solicitor General is being ordered to comment on the petition in its capacity as Solicitor General within 10 days,” Court administrator and SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said during a press briefing.

Solicitor General Alberto Agra, who is also the Justice secretary and member of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), earlier told reporters that he does not agree with Macalintal’s view although he used to work with the latter. Agra served as Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer during the impeachment proceeding in Congress in 2006.

The PET, which has been operating since 1957, is composed of all 15 justices of the High Court with the chief justice as the ex-officio chairman and the associate justices as members.

Although it has been operating for many years now, Macalintal noted that the SC promulgated the rules governing the tribunal only in 2005.

Under its Rules, PET provides for its membership where its head is called the “chairman” and the others are simply called members instead of being addressed as chief justice and associate justices of the High Court.

The PET chairman is authorized to appoint personnel and confidential employees of every member of the tribunal.

The rules also provide for a separate “administrative staff of the tribunal” with the appointment of a clerk of court and deputy clerk of court.

The petitioner claimed that the national government has allotted a budget of P55.971 million for PET’s operations this year.

Teodoro: GMA should not appoint next chief justice

Teodoro: GMA should not appoint next chief justice
By Jaime Laude
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. says President Arroyo should not name a new chief justice.

Speaking to The STAR editors yesterday, Teodoro said the Supreme Court (SC) can function with just 13 members.

Teodoro pointed out that “if there is no vacancy, there should be no appointment.”

“How could you appoint somebody to a position which is not vacant in the first place?” he asked, adding that the last thing the country needed was another divisive issue so it was better to be prudent.

He said an appointment under such circumstances would also not be good for the appointee, who will always have a cloud of doubt and controversy hanging over him.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has asked the SC to compel the Judicial and Bar Council to submit to Mrs. Arroyo its shortlist for next chief justice.

The move triggered speculations that the government wants to clear the way for Mrs. Arroyo to name Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s replacement ahead of his May 17 retirement.

Solicitor General Alberto Agra said the JBC does not have the power to defer the submission of its shortlist to the President.

The appointment of a new chief justice is not covered by any election ban, he added.

Meanwhile, former Senate president Franklin Drilon said yesterday the issue is about what the Constitution allows and forbids, not who between associate justices Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona should be named chief justice.

Speaking at the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Hotel media forum, Drilon said Article VIII Section 4(1) of the Constitution provides that any vacancy in the Supreme Court shall be filled within 90 days of the occurrence.

On the other hand, Article VII Section 15 requires that two months preceding the next presidential election and up to the end of his/her term, the President shall not make appointments except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies will prejudice or endanger public safety, he added.

Drilon hopes that debate would not be a fight between Carpio and Corona because both are qualified to be chief justice.

“There must be correct interpretation of the Constitution,” he said.

Drilon said the Supreme Court has ruled that during the period of the ban under Article VII Section 15, the President cannot make midnight appointments.

“A precedent case in this situation is the 1998 Supreme Court case ‘In Re Appointments of Valenzuela and Vallarta,’ where the Tribunal was confronted with the question of whether, during the period when appointments are banned, the President is required to appoint a Regional Trial Court judge in view of Article VIII Section 9, which mandates that the President shall issue the appointments within 90 days from the submission of the list by the JBC,” he said.

Carpio and Corona are frontrunners in the race for the next chief justice.

Drilon said in 1962, the SC voided 350 appointments President Carlos Garcia had made in December 1961 before President Diosdado Macapagal assumed office.

The SC ruled that the outgoing President was no more than a caretaker administrator whose duty was to prepare for the orderly transfer of authority to the incoming President, he added.

In 1998, President Fidel Ramos allowed his successor President Joseph Estrada to appoint the new chief justice.

Lawyers ask SC to dismiss petition seeking to allow GMA to name CJ

A group of lawyers has asked the SC to dismiss a petition seeking to allow President Arroyo to name the next chief justice.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said Mrs. Arroyo is not allowed by the Constitution to name the replacement of Chief Justice Puno before or after the vacancy occurs.

“The President is still prohibited to appoint, since the vacancy in the Chief Justice position will fall within the prohibited period of 60 days before the presidential elections,” read the NUPL petition.

“Such an appointment is referred to as a ‘midnight appointment’, which is expressly prohibited by none other than the Constitution, the highest law of the land.”

The NUPL said waiting for the retirement of Puno is also not an option for Mrs. Arroyo since the vacancy falls on a period covered by election ban on midnight appointments.

“Since the President no longer has the authority to appoint the next chief justice by the time Puno retires, existing rules should be followed in filling up his post, which is the designation of the most senior associate justice of the Court as acting chief justice, until the new president appoints a new chief justice,” read the NUPL petition.

“In (her) desire to appoint a new chief justice, President Arroyo will be transgressing several laws and the Constitution and will also be breaking a long tradition already in place in our judicial system, and will also be encroaching upon the powers and the independence of the judiciary.

“The NUPL will not stand idly while the outgoing president tries to pull another sleight of hand while the country is in the middle of the election turmoil.”

Earlier, lawyers Nestor Leynes III and Christian Robert Lim asked the High court to dismiss the petitions supporting the appointment of chief justice by Mrs. Arroyo.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Pasay, Parañaque, Las Piñas and Muntinlupa president Peter Irving also filed a similar petition.

Last Friday, the OSG supported consolidated petitions of the Philippine Constitution Association and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza seeking to allow Mrs. Arroyo to name Puno’s replacement.

The case will again be included in the SC’s session today.– Jaime Laude, Helen Flores, Edu Punay

Supreme Court asked: Let GMA name chief justice

Supreme Court asked: Let GMA name chief justice
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The government has asked the Supreme Court (SC) to compel the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to submit to President Arroyo its shortlist for the next chief justice and allow her to appoint the successor of Reynato Puno who retires on May 17.

The Office of Solicitor General (OSG) has supported consolidated petitions of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and lawyers Arturo de Castro and Estelito Mendoza that sought answers to the issue of whether or not Mrs. Arroyo can appoint the next SC chief.

In its comment filed on Friday afternoon via mail, the OSG said the President is allowed by the Constitution to appoint the successor of Puno and that the JBC does not have the power to defer the submission of its shortlist to the President.

On the first issue, Solicitor General Alberto Agra argued that the election ban on midnight appointments under Article VII, Section 15 of the Constitution does not cover the chief justice post based on “mathematics” and “deliberation of framers of the Charter.”

Agra explained that the appointment ban, which lasts from 109 to 115 days in regular elections, is longer than the 90-day period within which an SC justice must be appointed under Article VII, Section 4.

“If the midnight appointments ban were to be applied to appointments in the Supreme Court, at least 19 occasions may be conceived where the President will never be able to comply with her constitutional duty of filling a vacancy in the Supreme Court. Surely, the framers of the 1987 Constitution, in deciding these dates and periods, could not have meant or intended to allow such an absurd situation to happen,” he said.

Agra added that framers of the Charter “made no mention or reference to the midnight appointments ban or its effects on such period (for appointment of SC justices), and vice-versa.”

He said they had even extended the mandatory period of appointments from 60 to 90 days – “oblivious to the midnight appointments ban or period covered by it.”

The OSG said the framers of the Charter could have expressly stated that the ban covers appointment in the judiciary – especially since they had included restrictions or limitations on the President’s power to appoint members of the SC to ensure independence from political vicissitudes.

Assuming that the judiciary is covered by the appointment ban during polls, the OSG argued that there are compelling reasons to exempt the chief justice post from the ban.

“It is quite expected that there will be a deluge of cases involving sensitive political issues before this Honorable Court. National interest compels the President to make such appointment for it is particularly during this crucial period when national leaders are seeking fresh mandates from the people that the Supreme Court, more than at any other time, represents stability. Hence, a full court is ideal to ensure not only due deliberation on and careful consideration of issues but also expeditious disposition of cases,” it explained.

It added that the SC acts as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), which is “sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President and Vice President.”

The OSG also argued that this importance of the chief justice post has been proven by recent history, which shows that there is no vacancy in the post that lasted more than one day.

For these reasons, the OSG asked the SC to declare that Mrs. Arroyo has the power to appoint the next chief justice.

As for the second issue, the OSG said the JBC should be compelled to submit the shortlist to the President and should not be allowed to decide when it will submit the shortlist, which is a ministerial act.

It is also on this premise that the JBC cannot be compelled by the SC to exclude the names of nominees who accepted nominations on certain conditions, the OSG said.

As for the petition of lawyer Jaime Soriano, the OSG said it is incorrect to claim that the SC has the power to appoint the chief justice.

It can be recalled that the JBC told the SC that it would await its ruling on the consolidated petitions before deciding when it would submit the shortlist of final nominees to the Palace.

No need

Meantime, Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer and Bar topnotcher Gilbert Teodoro Jr. believes there is no need for President Arroyo to appoint the next SC chief.

Teodoro emphasized that for now, despite mounting calls, the SC cannot intervene in the appointment of the next chief justice because there is no case to rule with regard the issue.

The Harvard-trained lawyer said the vacancy will occur in May and “there is no vacancy so there’s no appointment.”

Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., on the other hand, urged Mrs. Arroyo to await and respect the decision of the SC on the appointment of the next chief justice.

At the proper time

President Arroyo’s spokesman said yesterday she would make her decision on whether or not she would appoint the country’s next chief justice when the proper time comes.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said Mrs. Arroyo will wait for the shortlist of those who could succeed Puno.

He added that the debate on the matter is whether the President is allowed to appoint a chief justice within the banned period of 60 days before her term expires on June 30.

“She is studying this and she is getting advice from many people. She will do what is best for the interest of the country,” Olivar said. – With Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez and Paolo Romero