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Gunfight at the Camp John Hay Corral?

/ 10:24 PM February 02, 2012

The Baguio Regional Trial Court has issued another 17-day temporary restraining order (TRO) against a forcible takeover of Camp John Hay by the government. The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and the Fil Estate-led Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco), developers of the former American rest and recreation center, have been locked in dispute over the billion-peso debts of the developer to the BCDA.

CJHDevco said it was forced to seek the second TRO because of reports that the BCDA “had massed up 300 security guards ready to take over John Hay.” The Baguio RTC had earlier issued a 72-hour TRO against the BCDA.

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The new TRO prohibits the BCDA and its subsidiary, estate manager John Hay Management Corp. “from committing any act tending to wrest control and/or possession of the property subject of this case or any part thereof, including all improvements found therein, from petitioner (CJHDevco) and/or persons claiming rights to the leased property or portions thereof from said petitioner, including any act of forcible entry or forceful occupation and/or (ejection) of said petitioner or its authorized representatives and/or any award of rights in the subject property to a new entity.”

This is the second attempt by the BCDA to forcibly take over a former American military camp. The same armed tactic was employed by the former head of the BCDA, former AFP chief of staff Narciso Abaya, at Poro Point. The attempt failed and served only to create an atmosphere of fear among businessmen and investors. Abaya brought in heavily armed groups in a bid to take over the Poro Point seaport and terminal. Images in media of Abaya’s troops firing at civilian guards raised serious questions regarding BCDA’s ability to protect its own investors. Abaya’s successor is Arnel Casanova.

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Casanova was Abaya’s chief legal officer during BCDA’s Poro Point misadventure. The reported plan to use force, again, in John Hay appears to have been justified legally by Casanova.

Prior to the reported planned takeover, Casanova had gone on a public relations bid to lay down the premise: that CJHDevco is in arrears and that BCDA is left with no options but to retake the facility.

We do not want to argue with Casanova on the legal points. He must be a brilliant lawyer to be able to convince leaders like Abaya and current BCDA Chair Felicito Payumo to take high-risk moves like armed takeovers. But we hope he is aware of the fallout that such a violent confrontation at John Hay could bring about. The possible collateral damage could be irreparable. Imagine what could happen if shooting breaks out and some people are killed.

Baguio City could be the biggest collateral damage. That is why Mayor Mauricio Domogan is reportedly worried over Casanova’s planned armed takeover. Already, Baguio is losing a good share of the tourist market to other spots closer to Metro Manila like Subic. John Hay is Baguio’s major attraction to the high-end tourist market. Images of this prime destination caught in a shoot-out like Poro Point is sure to drive away Mayor Domogan’s visitors.

We assume Casanova’s plan is to kick out CJHDevco and replace it with his own investor. That could take some time because Casanova will have to cloak the entry of his investor with some kind of legitimacy, such as a semblance of public bidding. What will happen to John Hay in the meantime? The possibilities are grim: Casanova’s armed groups will have to barricade the premises, padlock offices and install checkpoints. The place will look like a garrison until Casanova is able to legally justify the entry of his new investor and reopen the facility.

In the meantime, while John Hay is garrisoned, Baguio will not have much to compete with. John Hay’s Manor is now Baguio’s top hotel. But who will stay at Manor while Casanova’s camouflaged guards swarm the place?

BCDA insiders say Casanova’s planned takeover is based largely on the premise that BCDA is the landlord and CJHDevco is a mere tenant. Therefore, the former can kick out the latter anytime, even without a court order. Casanova must believe this is legally tenable. But that is not the way business is run. You do not settle business disputes with heavy firearms. BCDA already tried that at Poro Point. Abaya failed there.

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The way to do this is to let the court settle the dispute. Casanova, a lawyer, should convince a court that it has run out of options in its conflict with CJHDevco and that the court should therefore intervene. The legal route may be more protracted, but that’s why there are lawyers. Resorting to legal processes would avoid a scenario where a tourist haven becomes a garrison.

That may be the problem with Casanova: he is not a businessman. As such, he is not sensitive to the ways of business. But that is why Payumo is there as chair. Maybe Payumo can help Casanova see the bigger picture.

The problem is nobody knows who is calling the shots at BCDA. Payumo apparently has no direct line to the Palace.

But Payumo should at least remind Casanova that P-Noy’s main economic policy is based on a Private-Public Partnership. It would be difficult to bring in the private sector when the latter knows that the only way BCDA settles disagreements is to threaten its partners with high-powered firearms.

If this were just a shoot-out between BCDA and CJHDevco, then we don’t mind. But the stakes are bigger than the interests of the two. We all have a stake here. And we don’t want Casanova’s cowboy tendencies to rule the day.

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TAGS: Baguio City, BCDA, camp john hay, corporate dispute, featured column, opinion
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