Ex-Magalang execs accused of land grabbing

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014


MAGALANG, PAMPANGA -- Mayor Romulo Pecson has accused former municipal officials of land grabbing and illegal acquisition of some portion of the property where the socialized housing is proposed to be developed.

Pecson also denied reports that he forged a joint venture agreement with a property developer for the housing project in Barangay San Agustin (Ayala Area) here in 2008.

The proposed project, estimated to cost around P633 million, will be located on a 50-hectare site owned by the local government at the Orchard Village of the barangay and will be funded by a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines allegedly using the town's internal revenue allotment (IRA) as collateral.

Concerned residents in said village are reportedly opposing the huge housing project being pushed by Pecson on the slopes of Mt. Arayat.

Pecson, however, said that the informal settlers have no rights over the property. Less than 300 families are illegally occupying a portion of the property and they built their shelters sans building and mayor’s permits, the mayor said.

Former mayor Lyndon Cunanan ordered the placing of “No Trespassing. Government Property” sign boards which were allegedly removed by some barangay officials and unscrupulous residents engaged in the illegal selling of parcels of lands inside the property, Pecson said.

The residents, he said, are being instigated by former municipal officials who led the land grabbing and illegal acquisition of some portion of the property, where the socialized housing will rise.

Some of the former town officials do not want the area developed because they have “vested interests", according to Pecson. One of the former officials, the mayor added, took about two hectares from the property.

Documents obtained by Sun.Star Pampanga showed that Pecson had endorsed the project to the Municipal Council last March 18, requesting authority to enter into a joint venture agreement with the said developer.

In his letter to the Municipal Council, Pecson said the project will involve site development and amenities, including the construction of housing units complete with basic facilities “to accommodate the Magalang constituents living in dangerous zones needing emergency relocation should typhoons, floods and similar calamities strike the Municipality”.

Pecson also clarified there was no joint venture for the project, as he assumed the town leadership only in 2009 and that he met the owner of Mardee Trading Realty and Development, Patricio Marcelo only in April this year.

He also clarified that the town’s IRA will not be used as collateral but the property itself. Magalang, a first-class municipality, has no less than P100 million IRA annually.

In a formal protest, officers of the Banal A Bunduk Upland Farmers Association (BABUFA) said there has been an existing community in the proposed site for more than 20 years now.

“Being continued and uninterrupted possessors of said site for a long period of time and in good faith, we acquired ownership and property right over said land in issue,” the affidavit said.

Barangay Ayala, including the Orchard Village, was established on vast tracts of lands previously owned by the Pampanga Agricultural College, now Pampanga State Agricultural University, sometime in the 1970s during the administration of former President Ferdinand Marcos in partnership with the old-rich Ayala family, thus the name.

Old-time residents and occupants of the lands and new settlers from various towns in Pampanga now make up the barangay's growing population of about 2,000 people.

The barangay was subdivided into three villages according to their means of livelihood, namely Rice, Livestock and Orchard.
Apart from their fears that they will be deprived of their property rights, the villagers also expressed concern for the impact of the proposed project on the physical condition of the mountain.

Last year, huge run-offs from the mountain's slopes inflicted huge damage on houses, public infrastructure, agriculture and businesses on the low-lying areas of the Rice and Livestock villages.

Pecson said that the developer and the local government unit will secure permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) if the project pushes through.

Marcelo, for his part, said that the DENR will conduct a geo-hazard testing before it will issue an environment compliance certificate for the project to assess its ecological impact.

The developer said they are willing to conduct regular consultation with the settlers, who themselves will become beneficiaries of the socialized housing project.

“Hindi naman sila aalisin sa area. Qualified silang lahat at yung hindi qualified ay tutulungan natin para ma-qualify,” Marcelo said.

According to him, there are three ways to acquire a property in the housing site --- Pag Ibig Fund membership, socialized housing finance corporation, and group land distribution acquisition.

Marcelo said the project will greatly help the people of Magalang. “No community development, no economic development,” he said.

Pecson assured the people that the joint venture project will undergo a legal and transparent process.

“Dumalan tamung prosesu. Kuma tamung permit keng DENR. E naman mika ersosion mika proper channel ya ing danum, mika drainage,” Pecson said.

Under the proposed venture, the LGU will secure a letter of credit with Land Bank by assigning its IRA as part of its security in favor of the developer.

The local government shall also take care of all the informal settlers in the locality and to relocate all the informal settlers in the municipality within the proposed project which shall be known as the Magalang Green Community Project.

As joint venture partner, Magalang will get 40 percent of the profit while the rest will go the developer.

Pecson he said sees the project as advantageous to the local government as it will not shell out any single centavo.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on May 28, 2014.

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