Today's Punto
Today's Punto
No deed, indeed!
By Bong Lacson

Mar 02, 2017

FROM OUT of the blue comes the news Wednesday of the Paskuhan Village sale to SM Development Corp. under full investigation by a congressional committee.

This came as a surprise, if a most pleasant one to the Capampangan culturati, given the general resignation hereabouts that the cultural icon has been lost forever to commercialization.

A new champion of mekeni culture, it now appears, has risen in the person of Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales who initiated the investigation.

To us, this investigation is a vindication of sorts: Punto! breaking the story of the sale in its issue of Jan. 15, 2015 with the banner headline: SM buys Paskuhan, and this column that came out four days after our scoop.

OUT OF the goodness of the heart of Tatang Jess Lazatin for Kapampangan culture and the arts, in fact for anything and everything Kapampangan, the Paskuhan Village was birthed.

The patriarch of San Fernando’s, if not Pampanga’s, foremost Buena familia donated a large chunk of the primest of his clan’s prime real estate to site the Christmas theme park. For the singular purpose of showcasing his town’s signature craft, lantern making, and affirm its claim as “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”

So it was that on December 11, 1990, as a most fitting celebration of Pampanga Day, President Cory Aquino inaugurated Paskuhan Village, dubbed as the first and only one in Asia and the third in the world, purportedly after those in Germany and the United States. At least that was the briefing we received from then Gov. Bren Z. Guiao and then Tourism Undersecretary Mina Gabor.

Its centerpiece building was designed by Pampanga’s top architect Nestor Mangio in the shape of the iconic San Fernando lantern when viewed from the air. For which he was bestowed, in 1995, the Design Achievement Award by the United Architects of the Philippines which he subsequently headed.

Public enthusiasm over the project waxed in the first two years but waned soon thereafter. In the words of then San Fernando Mayor Pat Guevarra: “What is there to look forward to, especially for our children, if we have Christmas everyday?”

From Paskuhan, the village earned the derisive moniker “Pastulan” – a grazing ground for carabaos. With but the regional office of the Department of Tourism showing some nonrustic life there.

In 1998, the site was “re-developed” as the Philippine Christmas Village and reopened by then First Lady Amelita Ramos with Florikultura ’98, “the first national horticulture exhibition in Southeast Asia.”

The end of the so-called Gardens of the World exhibitions also marked the demise of the reinvented village, falling again into virtual neglect, finding but little vibrancy in the establishment of the regional consular office of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which after a few years transferred to the Clark Freeport, and much, much later, to the malls.

Aghast at such a waste of prime property, the sangguniang panlalawigan of Pampanga, with then Vice Gov. Mikey Macapagal-Arroyo endeavoured in 2002 to entice a branch of the Casino Filipino to locate at the Paskuhan. The proposal was immediately shot down by the religious sector, parents and educators for the (im)moral cost it would entail, and by the local culturati for its deviancy from what was publicly held as the Paskuhan’s exclusive use – as showcase of Kapampangan culture, notably the lantern craftsmanship.

Wow, Hilaga

In 2003, Paskuhan Village was rebranded as “WOW North Philippines Hilaga” under the auspices of then Tourism Secretary Richard J. Gordon.

As Hilaga, it was supposed to be some cultural and trade showcase not only of Pampanga and Central Luzon but all the regions north of Metro Manila, as its name conveyed.

Still, it failed to sail.

Throughout its short history, two things remained constant in the public mind regarding this Christmas-themed park: its name, Paskuhan; and its sole purpose – cultural showcase purportedly mandated in a “deed of donation” executed by the Lazatin family.

Hence, the general disbelief to Punto’s breaking news that SM had already acquired Paskuhan Village in a bidding conducted by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) last December 17.

It cannot be. The deed of donation explicitly forbids it. Until now, that is still being said of SM’s latest acquisition in Pampanga.

To his dying day, says the Inquirer’s intrepid Tonette Orejas,Tatang Jess regarded his family’s donation of the Paskuhan site as one “lasting legacy.”

“In the many conversations I had with him when he was already ailing, Paskuhan Village never failed to crop up,” Tonette remembered.

Reported our banner story though: There was no “deed of donation” that explicitly expressed exclusivity for the use of the Paskuhan Village for Christmas-themed purposes.

There was a “deed of sale” executed with the then Philippine Tourism Authority by one “Robert David, in his capacity as the attorneyin- fact of the Lazatin-Singian patriarch Jesus Lazatin.”

These, according to the source privy to the SM-TIEZA transaction but requested anonymity for absence of authority to speak on the matter.

Don Robert

Robert David definitely makes the best authority to talk on the matter.

Absent any contact though with Pampanga’s once premier real estate broker – he negotiated the SM City Pampanga mall and Robinsons Starmills deals – we were resigned to pure speculations. Given too that no documents anent the transaction have been made public by either SM or TIEZA.

Less enterprise than serendipity though did Punto get hold of what passes off as transcript of the Jan. 7, 2002 en banc committee hearing at the sangguniang panlalawigan on the junked casino proposal for the Paskuhan.

Here are some excerpts, unedited, relevant to the issue at hand:

Mr. Frank M: Ang hindi po malinaw sa amin ay kung sino ang nagmamay-ari ng Paskuhan.

VG Arroyo: Sasagutin po yon ni Board Member Robert David.

BM David: Maganda pong katanungan yan. Unang-una po ang may-ari po ng Paskuhan Village ay ang Philippine Tourism Authority. It is a government corporation under the Department of Tourism. Bukod duon gusto ko pong ipaalam sa ating lahat ang kuwento kung paano nagkaroon or tungkol sa Paskuhan Village kung ano ang kanyang concept. Tama po yung sinabi nyo na to showcase the kapampangan culture the products yung ating gawa. Yung ating pinagmamalaki sa pagshowcase ng mga kapampangan products. Nung panahon pong yon ang ating president Cory Aquino kung saan tayo ang pangatlong Christmas village sa buong mundo. Una ang Michigan at Germany. Ang kapampangan po may katunggali sa Christmas capital of the Philippines ang Imus Cavite. Sa legal issue po, meron pang kondisyon ang pagbenta ng lote diyan. Na yun lamang nakapaloob sa sinasabi nila yun po ang condition that it is only for the showcase of our products, culture etc. No. 2 po, yun po ay pinirmahan kasama si Mr. Jesus Lazatin at ako po kasama ko siya sa pagpirma ng Memorandum of Understanding. Nagkaroon po ng Deed of Sale, nakapaloob po yung condition na yon at hindi maaaring mabali. Pangatlo po, at that moment, yun pong paggawa ng Memorandum of Agreement, 1991 po binigay po ngayon sa isang Foundation, Paskuhan Village  Foundation. Ang Chairman po duon si Mr. Jose Capistrano na Chairman ng Philippine Tourism Authority, member po duon ang ating Gobernador Bren Z. Guiao. Nung panahon ni Erap anong ginawa? Pinasara ang Paskuhan, sasang-ayunan po ng DTI yan. Pagkatapos po pinatuloy ng national government ang operasyon ng Paskuhan Village. So kung itutuloy po yung pag-showcase ng Paskuhan Village mas marami tayong matutulungan na mga kababayan nating nagpapawis. Salamat po.

Mr. Frank M: Mr. Chairman, with that statement of Board Member Robert David, puwede po bang angkinin ulit natin ang Paskuhan Village? Na ang Kapitolyo na ang magma-manage nito…

BM David: Mahirap po yan kase hindi natin makukuha basta na lang yan dahil ito po ay pagaari ng Philippine Tourism Authority. Makukuha lang natin yan kung babayaran natin. I think it will cost us about P500 million.

What can we make of this?

No deed of donation whatsoever spoken there.

There was a deed of sale with the condition “only for the showcase of (Kapampangan) products.”

There was a memorandum of understanding signed by David and Tatang Jess Lazatin with the aforesaid condition.

There was a memorandum of agreement authorizing a “Paskuhan Village Foundation” for the management of the village.

The paper trail gets too complicated for this simple writer. This is better handled by seasoned lawyers.

Would anyone dare?

SM buys Paskuhan. Fait accompli all written there.

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