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Echiverri to Gotesco mall owners: Prove corruption at city hall

MANILA, Philippines - Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echiverri dared yesterday the owners of Grand Central Mall to prove in “black and white” their allegations of extortion and corruption against City Hall officials.

Reacting to a statement of a lawyer representing Gotesco Investment Inc., Echiverri said the claim that “sacks of money” were handed over to a certain city official inside an elevator at City Hall was “hearsay and baseless.”

It could not have happened during his administration because all “the elevators at City Hall have not been working” since before he became mayor, he added.

Echiverri said Gotesco must “name names and stick to the issue,” pay its alleged back taxes reportedly amounting to P722 million.

The “real bone of contention” is Gotesco’s “nonpayment of the real property tax for the past 23 years,” he added.

It was the “real reason” why the Caloocan Regional Trial Court had issued a writ of possession over Grand Central Mall in favor of the city government, Echiverri said.

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The Caloocan City government and Gotesco are in a standoff over the Grand Central Mall. Gotesco’s lawyers vowed never to cede the mall’s ownership to the city.

Lawyer Trixie Angeles, Gotesco’s spokeswoman, said the city government “has no legal rights” to assess Gotesco for real property taxes for the past 23 years.

Gotesco was only renting from Caloocan City the lot on which the mall stands until it was sold to the company in September last year, she said.

Angeles said the city government received two manager’s checks from Gotesco for P30 million as down payment, and 36 postdated checks covering the balance of the purchase price of P182,085,078 for the property.

The city government’s action to take over the mall is “a ploy to favor a competitor,” she also said, noting that Echiverri allegedly partly owns another shopping mall competing with Gotesco in Caloocan.

Echiverri dismissed Angeles’ allegation, saying that apart from being mayor of Caloocan, he is just a “plain lawyer,” not a businessman.

The P30 million payment made by Gotesco was for the lot, not for the back taxes, Echiverri said, but he did not state when the lot was purchased. – Pete Laude, Jerry Botial

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