Remulla confirms meeting with Atom Corp. head but says nothing came out of it
MANILA — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla on Monday said some 1.2 million cubic meters of soil were extracted from an area inside the New Bilibid Prison compound as a result of the excavation activity during the administration of suspended Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag.
Remulla also accused a private corporation of helping Bantag carry out the digging.
“With the amount of debris taken out and you only have one backhoe, kahit mag time in motion ka, hindi aabot ng 1 million cubic meters ang hinukay nun, kahit anong gawin mo,” Remulla told a press conference at the Justice department.
(With the amount of debris taken out and you only have one backhoe, you won't be able to collect 1 million cubic meters even if you apply time in motion or other strategy.)
“So there were more equipment used and these were reported to be owned by ATOM kasi (because) 1.2 million cubic meters were removed from the site and brought somewhere else,” he added.
Remulla said they are still figuring out where the extracted soil was brought, declining to confirm an earlier report that it was allegedly brought to Caloocan through a BuCor truck.
The Justice chief said he has asked his staff to study all the possible cases that may be filed in connection with the extraction.
“Definitely, may damage na sa government yung hukay na yan. Para mafill-up mo ulit, will cost us a lot of money, a lot of time. So there's damage already,” he said.
(Definitely, that excavation activity inflicted damages on the government. For you to fill that space again, it will cost us a lot of money, a lot of time.)
“We’re now talking about the need for another 1.2 million cubic meters to fill in the hole on Earth. Dapat matakpan naman natin yan. Gagastos na naman tayo para matakpan yan,” he explained.
(We need to fill that area. And we will have to spend to be able to do that.)
Bantag, who was suspended following the killing of broadcaster Percival "Percy Lapid" Mabasa, had said the excavation was to build a deep swimming pool for scuba diving.
But on Friday, Remulla countered that statement by claiming Bantag told him in August or September this year that the embattled official was looking for the fabled Yamashita treasure.
“A giant swimming pool of course is not in the budget of BuCor,” Remulla said. “So whether or not, we don't know where this project is coming from, who’s funding it. And if there's any fund, if there's any joint venture of BuCor, it has to be told to the DOJ kung meron silang ginagawa di ba?,” he said.
Bantag had claimed the excavation was part of a joint venture agreement (JVA) BuCor entered into with the Agua Tierra Oro Mina Development Corporation (ATOM Corp.) for the development of the 375-hectare New Bilibid Prison Reservation in Muntinlupa City into a commercial, residential and industrial area.
In exchange, ATOM Corp. would donate 234 hectares of land to BuCor and put up buildings to relocate 28,000 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) or inmates of the NBP, at no cost to the government.
Remulla said that as early as 2021, during the term of his predecessor, former Justice Secretary and now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, there was already a memorandum against the proposed JVA, with notice to Bantag that the project was not viable or not legally feasible or invalid.
“Hindi namin pinag-uusapan because they have not submitted to us any follow-up on the matter. They have not written us about pursuing the project. For me it was really a no-brainer. Wala s'ya,” he said.
“Mukhang the idea was really to pursue it with or without permission, under their own legal theory about how powerful or what the mandate of the BuCor is. Remember, there's a BuCor Modernization law giving it corporate powers. But of course, all of this is subject to limitations because they're also under our national laws, like the BOT law,” he added.
Remulla had earlier explained an unsolicited proposal under the BOT law requires the approval of the DOJ and the Office of the President, and should follow the process under the law.
“It became a deal personally entered into by somebody who thought that or was acting under the impression that he was independent of all the other processes of government. Apparently there's a problem there,” he said.
MEETING WITH ATOM CORP. PRESIDENT
The Justice chief confirmed meeting with ATOM Corp. president Virgilio Bote, but, according to him, nothing came out of it.
“Wala naman makukuha sa meeting na verbal kung wala naman written submissions na pwede namin aktuhan. There was no written submission, so how can we act on any request?,” said Remulla.
“Nagkukwentuhan lang kami. Ano ba yung kwento dun? He wanted to develop Bilibid into a real estate venture and replace it with land in Nueva Ecija that he owned. Basically, yun ang kwento dun. Kaya lang, wala siyang papeles na binigay sa amin on that matter,” he added.
Remulla said Bote had already donated the 234-hecatre land in Nueva Ecija but is now rescinding the donation.
In a TV interview Friday, Bote said they are withdrawing from the JVA.
The Justice secretary reiterated his position that he is opposed to the idea of transferring a megaprison to another facility, which, he said, will not really improve the system.
“I was never keen on that plan kasi as SOJ, I have to look at the overall future of our correction system. I am not project-bound… I will look into the universe of the problem kaya nga regionalization, decongestion. Yung atin kasi, proactive measures to improve the correction system. Hindi tayo project-based na mahilig sa real estate. We don’t want real estate to get into the way of good work,” he said.
Remulla explained why he entertained Bote.
“Ang Filipino b,a 'pag may bisita, tinataboy n'yo ba yung tao? We don’t do that, di ba? Mayor Bote of ATOM is a politician also. He had business in Cavite kaya kilala ko siya somehow, with his wife. So I cannot be unfriendly to him. It's decency na dapat mabait tayo sa bisita natin. Hindi tayo nagpapalayas ng tao dahil may problemang ganun,” he said.
“Wala s'yang sina-submit na written. Wala rin sina-submit na written si DG Bantag. Silang dalawa ang nag-uusap diyan. Hindi ako kasama sa usapan nila,” he added.
ABS-CBN News tried reaching out to ATOM Corp. and its lawyer but received no response as of this writing.