Davao Gov Bautista terminates $24B deal with Pionaire, seeks NBI help in taking down BVI-company

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The provincial government of Davao Occidental is disputing a claim made by a Hong Kong-based firm that its $24 billion Marina and Industrial Park project in this town has been terminated due to the government’s “inconsistencies” in legal and land use plans.

Davao Occidental Governor Claude Bautista, through his lawyer Atty. Caesar Europa, said that it has terminated its deal with Pionaire Finance Limited,and that its planned groundbreaking ceremony was carried out without the knowledge of the provincial government.

Pionaire had scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony on October 27 but later announced the termination of the project through its executive assistant Maydeeh Libago.

In a press conference at the Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City on Friday, Libago alleged that legal and land use plan inconsistencies triggered the project cancellation.

Europa told reporters in a press conference Saturday afternoon that the governor was surprised why Pionaire would push for the groundbreaking of the project when government has yet to finalize the conversion of the project site from agricultural to industrial.

Europa pointed out that the planned industrial park has the pre-qualification approval of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).

“Hindi naman siguro kami aabot ng ganun kung walang prior qualification (We could have not reach such if we have no prior qualification),” Europa said.

Europa said the documents for the land conversion were submitted to the national government. He said the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has the authority to approve the land conversion.

“Di puwede ang (It is not allowed) groundbreaking because a single shovel of land for other purposes would be illegal,” Europa said.

Until all the requirements for land conversion are met, the province cannot start the development of the land into an industrial park.

Before Friday’s announcement of Pionaire, Europa said the provincial government had cut ties with the firm by terminating the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered between the provincial government and Pionaire on August 2, 2017.

Europa said the province sent the notice terminating the MOU to Pionaire on October 25.

In an irrevocable notice sent to Pionaire with office address in Hong Kong and the Israel-based Watergen firm, Bautista stated that the province has no more interest to pursue a joint venture with both firms.

Bautista asked both firms to desist from making unauthorized or warrantless representations for and on behalf of the province.

Europa said information reaching the governor said Pionaire was reportedly collecting huge fees for accreditation from would-be contractors of the industrial park.

He added that Pionaire was also using the province to make it appear that it has the support of the governor by using the province’s design of the industrial park.

Given the information, Europa said the province conducted its own background of Pionaire that led to the termination of the MoU.

Europa clarified that even before Pionaire made its proposal or the project, the province was already working to make an industrial park.

The provincial government is also ready to help the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in its investigation against Pionaire.

Europa also said the governor assured aid for people who have paid accreditation fees to Pionaire and later on filed complaints against the latter before the NBI.

Given this development, Europa said the province would pursue the project after it gets the go signal from the national government, noting that the province would continue to entertain investors interested in the project.

The $24 billion Marina and Industrial park project in Malita, Davao Occidental involved the construction of a 1,200 megawatt (MW) liquefied natural gas (LNG) combined cycle power plant, chemical industrial park, water-generation manufacturing facility, LPG & Storage Terminal, 20 million metric tons refinery, petrochemical Complex, and a storage facility together with an associated Terminal and International Port and Cargo Terminal.

Last year, a university professor Bernardo Lopez filed graft raps were filed with he Ombudsman against Pionaire and PNOC-EC President and CEO Pedro A. Aquino Jr. and board of directors Rafael M. Iriarte, Ralph Pastor A. Salazar, Joseph Loreto Emnas, Fernando Petilla, and Fernando L. Zulueta.

Lopez claimed that Aquino and the board defied an order by then Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa on October 5, 2015 to defer its project with Pionaire.