BAGUIO CITY, Philippines -- The embattled Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevCo) proceeded with the opening of its second hotel here on Saturday night amid its legal battles with the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).
The opening of Forest Lodge at Camp John Hay came one day after the BCDA filed an estafa complaint complaint against the company's board of directors and officials before the Department of Justice for "conspiring with one another to perpetuate fraud" against the agency.
CJHDevCo chairman and chief executive Robert John Sobrepeña told reporters that the BCDA had actually tried to stop the opening of the hotel.
"We're opening this to show our commitment to the vision of Camp John Hay. We're here to stay," Sobrepeña said. "We're here basically also to fight for our rights under the existing agreements."
In his speech, Sobrepeña reiterated his company's commitment to build 1,000 hotel rooms in the former American rest and recreation facility, which was transferred to the Philippine government back in 1991.
In 1996, under then President Fidel Ramos, CJHDevCo signed a lease agreement to develop Camp John Hay.
"We started building this facility over 10 years ago and it's gone through a lot, through different presidents, through different eras of the BCDA and through different situations. As you also know, these days we're having some problems but in spite of all of these, we were committed to open this faciltiy for Baguio City. We are committed to tourism. We are committed to bringing in more people to Baguio City to celebrate not just the ecology, not just the environment, but also the culture of Baguio City," Sobrepeña said in his speech.
"Even if it took us over 10 years to get to this point, we believe that we can still fulfill the vision of Camp John Hay that we set out for," he added.
CJHDevCo's first property, The Manor, has some 200 hotel rooms, while Forest Lodge will have an additional 208 rooms once it is completed.
Forest Lodge opened with only 55 rooms, with rates starting at only P2,900 for double occupancy -- about half of those charged at The Manor.
In his speech, Sobrepeña announced plans to add a second wing to Forest Lodge with another 200 rooms, while a third property with 400 rooms is expected to be built near the Mile High commercial center.
According to Sobrepeña, the company's battles with the BCDA has setback its plans by around 10 to 12 years.
He told reporters the company has already pumped in an estimated P600 million to build Forest Lodge but had trouble securing permits to finish the project.
Fortunately, he said the Baguio City government gave them the necessary permits. "I think they know what's right," he noted.
In his speech, Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan lauded CJHDevCo for pushing through with the hotel opening.
"There is no question in our minds that the inauguration of this Forest Lodge tonight, even if it is delayed, is an achievement and the realization of what we have been fighting for -- the development of John Hay," the mayor said.
"We support the development because that is the one that can bring us employment, revenues and help sustain the tourism industry in the City of Baguio," he added.
While saying that the city government isn't siding with either the BCDA or the developer, Domogan said, "We side with what is the truth. We side with what is legal in accordance with the terms and conditions of the contract that had been signed october of 1996."
"It is very unfortunate that the contract was signed in October 1996 yet the development pursuant to the terms and conditions is not yet 30% accomplished," he added.
In his huddle with reporters, Sobrepeña said he is still hopeful that its troubles with the BCDA can still be resolved.
"With BCDA, we've tried our best. We've given them offers. If they took our offer one year ago, they would have P500 million in the bank now, and P2.5 billion on the way. We honored what was in the agreements. Unfortunately it takes two to tango," he said.
"All we want is for our agreements to be honored and responsibilities on both parties be honored," he stressed.
"We're in arbritation with the BCDA and that means they have to go to court with us. And we feel that's where this thing should be settled," Sobrepeña said.