Ocean Adventure owner sues SBMA chair
by Randy V. Datu
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines – An American businessman and theme park owner in this freeport has filed a case before the Ombudsman against Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Chairman Roberto Garcia for allegedly "masterminding" attacks against his company.
Timothy Desmond, chair and CEO of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. (SBMEI), which operates the Ocean Adventure marine park, filed the case before the Office of the Ombudsman in Luzon.
In his complaint, Desmond said the SBMA chief was behind "false accusations of non-performance" that resulted in loss of investor confidence in his company and damaged its reputation.
Desmond said SBMEI also now "runs the risk of loan default and invalidation of its business insurances" and its employees are being put out of work and illegally detained.
Desmond claimed that Garcia appeared to be coddling corrupt officials of the SBMA.
"We brought the conduct of several of them to his attention with well documented instances of malfeasance. Our hopes, however, were dashed when he aligned himself with these unscrupulous persons rather than taking disciplinary action. We earned his ire by not letting the damage of his inaction be swept under the rug," Desmond's complaint read.
"The situation developed into an all-out campaign to put us out of business with the imposition of Common Use Service Area (CUSA) fees," it added.
Desmond said he was "the most vocal and leading oppositor" of CUSA fees. He said such fees were beyond SMBA's power to impose and were "a blatant violation" of the existing lease agreement between SBMEI and SBMA.
Garcia previously said that CUSA fees were necessary to recover the cost of municipal services such as street cleaning, street lighting, fire fighting and law enforcement inside the free port.
He said stiff fines and penalties would be imposed on locators who would not pay the fees, such as the cancelation of their certificates of registration and tax exemption, effectively shutting down their businesses.
As of the moment, Garcia has not issued a statement in response to the charges filed against him.
Desmond claimed that Garcia singled out his company for opposing to pay CUSA fees. He said Garcia, in a meeting with Ocean Park officials on January 18, offered to support SBMEI on the issue of land friction cost if the company, in turn, supported the imposition of CUSA fees.
He said in his complaint: "Garcia categorically stated that if we want our issue on the land friction cost supported by SBMA, we should reverse our opposition on the CUSA. He likewise stated that the CUSA was his pet project and that any opposition to it will be treated commensurately. We argued that we can not bring the CUSA issue on the table together with the Land Friction cost because we sincerely felt that the CUSA is illegal for being in violation of our Lease Agreement and a veiled taxation on the locators which is beyond SBMA’s authority to impose. We requested him to let the judicial process handle/settle the CUSA issue. "
According to the affidavits included in the complaint, Garcia told him, “No, we deal with things holistically. We are aligned on everything or none at all.”
In addition, Desmond said Garcia stated in that meeting that a lot of “people in Malacañang are upset about the dolphin situation” in Ocean Park and that "we could have trouble with our next import of dolphins."
"He made it clear that unless we backed down on our CUSA lawsuit we would get nothing from SBMA," Desmond said. – Rappler.com