Manila, Feb. 26, 2003 -- Two foreign investors in a 750-hectare Manila Bay reclamation deal which has been voided by the Supreme Court are seeking reimbursement of P9 billion in expenses.

Italian Development (BVI) Co. Ltd. (Ital-Thai) and Centasia Group Ltd. said the amended joint venture agreement between project developer Amari Coastal Bay Development Corp. and the Public Estates Authority provides for payment in kind (reclaimed land) or cash.

The Supreme Court ruled on July 9, 2002 that the contract was null and void because reclaimed land is not alienable.

The demand for reimbursement is contained in a petition for intervention filed by Ital-Thai and Centasia.

"With the SC decision, foreign investors face the possibility of not only failing to make profit on their investment but worse, being left unpaid for services already rendered," said the investors' legal counsel, Francis Ed. Lim.

Lim said the government would unjustly enrich itself if it would not pay for the expenses incurred by the developer.

"Worse, this sends an alarming message to the world that the Philippine government and its system of laws, including its chief executive, are a party whose word cannot be relied upon," Lim said.

The original agreement was approved in 1995 by the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and the Office of the President.

The amended agreement, signed in March 1999, had the approval of the Office of the President and the Government Corporate Monitoring and Coordinating Committee which is composed of the executive secretary, the secretaries of finance, of budget and of trade, the NEDA director general, the Government Corporate Counsel, the head of Presidential Management Staff, and the governor of the Bangko Sentral.

Lim said the SC erred in its ruling because it nullified the amended agreement without first invalidating the laws that directly and specifically authorize repayment, including the arrangement involving reclaimed land.

"The SC has disregarded the well-established operative fact doctrine, which gives legal recognition to acts done pursuant to, or in reliance upon, a law prior to the declaration of its nullify," Lim said.

Stockholders of the consortium include Prime Orion Philippines Inc. (Filipino-owned), Ital-Thai Development and Centasia Group (both Thai-owned), and Cosco Land and Amari Holdings (both Filipino-owned).

Prime Orion (formerly Guoco Holdings) also filed a motion for intervention last month, saying that being a publicly listed company and a major investor, it is duty bound to protect its rights and the rights of its shareholders.

"It bears emphasizing that the dire consequences of the SC decision will not only affect some faceless corporate entity but will impact directly on the innocent man on the street who has put his hard-earned money into a corporate venture which he was led to believe by his own government to be not only legitimate and aboveboard but will also be beneficial to the country as a whole," said Prime Orion in its petition.

The reclamation deal, which is part of the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and Reclamation Project or Boulevard 2000, involves developing and improving the previously reclaimed 157.8 hectare Freedom Islands a well as reclaiming another 500 hectares adjacent to the islands. (Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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