Sobrepeña’s John Hay lawyer convicted of perjury, faces jail term

A SENIOR litigation lawyer of the ousted developer of Camp John Hay was found guilty Friday by the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City for the crime of Perjury.

The MTC-QC Branch 32, presided by Judge Janet Abergos-Samar, found the accused Manuel T. Ubarra Jr., CJH Development Corp (CJHDevCo) Vice President for Litigation, guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the said crime under Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code.

CJHDevco is one of several companies led by Robert John Sobrepeña, a businessman who also made news during the past years for his involvement in the controversial issue on the College Assurance Plan, a pre-need company which ended up in a prolonged legal battle for reportedly defaulting on its obligations to thousands of plan holders.

The crime of Perjury is the act of knowingly making untruthful statements under oath or in an affidavit.

Arnel Paciano Casanova, president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) hailed the court’s decision saying that “truth has prevailed over lies, fraud and deceit.”

“The decision will bolster government’s efforts to hold CJHDevco accountable for its acts and omissions and to regain Camp John Hay from a fraudulent private developer,” he added.

Ubarra was sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from one month and one day of arresto mayor, as minimum, to one year and eight months of prision correccional, as maximum.

“The crime of perjury becomes twice as serious when it involves an officer of the court, a key official of a private developer and supposed business partner of the national government,” he added

It would be recalled that Ubarra, as the VP for litigation of CJHDevCo, filed a Complaint-Affidavit with the Ombudsman charging Casanova and other directors of the BCDA of failing to promptly reply on letters and requests from the public within fifteen days from receipt thereof, in violation of Sec. 5 (a) of RA No. 6713.

Casanova said Ubarra’s allegations were false because he was not yet the President and CEO of the BCDA when the letters were sent and therefore he could not have replied to the letters.

In July 2015, the Court of Appeals (CA) 14th Division denied Ubarra’s appeal to overturn the decision of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 41 of Quezon City that has found probable cause against him for the crime of perjury.

The appeals court said “the appeal is devoid of merit” and further explained that “Ubarra had, in fact, made several untruthful statements and false accusations against appellee Casanova that would constitute the crime of Perjury.”

Aggrieved by the false statements against BCDA, Casanova filed a criminal complaint for perjury against Ubarra.

“The culture of impunity, of lies and fraud must end so we can redevelop Camp John Hay and help benefit the people of Baguio and the Cordilleras,” Casanova said.

Earlier, BCDA discovered that CJHDevco has been declaring dividends for its firm and stockholders while asking for restructuring in deferment of payments to the government.

The Sobrepeña Group declared hundreds of millions of annual dividends from the time of the contract restructuring in 1998 up to 2010 but has not remitted any amount to BCDA as rental fees.

“That is fraud, plain and simple,” Casanova said.

“In fact, Mr. Sobrepeña is presently on bail and is on trial for the criminal charges of malversation of public funds filed by the Department of Justice against him before the Baguio RTC,” he added.

Following the BCDA’s disclosure of undeclared dividends, CJHDevCo stopped submitting audited financial statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Casanova added.

On February 26, 2015, the Bureau of Internal Revenue filed an Php88-million tax evasion case against Camp John Hay Leisure Inc., also headed by Sobrepeña, for allegedly filing erroneous Income Tax Returns for a four-year period.

“All efforts to uphold good governance will come to naught if we allow the likes of Sobrepeña and CJHDevco to continue belittling our justice system,” Casanova added.

The legal row in Camp John Hay stemmed from CJHDevco’s failure and refusal to pay rentals to the government for their use of the former American recreation camp.

The rentals, which already amount to more than P3 billion, are supposed to be turned over to the national government and the local government of Baguio City for use in development. The local government of Baguio City stands to get 25 percent of the P3 Billion or some P720-M./BCDA-PR


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