Livelihood, tourism mulled in socialized housing plan

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014


MAGALANG -- A former mayor in this town said that he is eyeing livelihood and eco-tourism in the proposed socialized housing area, which will be developed in a 50-hectare property owned the local government.

Pablo "Sonny" David, who was appointed mayor under former President Cory Aquino's revolutionary government in 1987, issued the statement after some groups expressed apprehensions about the housing project in Barangay Ayala.

David, a consultant of Mayor Romulo "Romy" Pecson, said the project will include other components and the property will be transformed into an industrial estate where livelihood for people will be generated.

The Municipal Government, he said, will ensure that the environment will be preserved to attract more tourists in the area. David said the town is a potential tourism site because of agriculture and environment.

Pecson recently reiterated that he did not forge a joint venture agreement with a property developer for the housing project yet.

Pecson said David introduced the owner of Mardee Trading Realty and Development, Patricio Marcelo only in April this year.

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

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) of about P100 million annually as collateral.

But Pecson clarified that the town’s IRA will not be used as collateral but the property itself. The mayor 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 Sangguniang Bayan, 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".

But 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.

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.

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 the developer and LGU 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.

Pecson assured the people that the joint venture project will undergo a legal and transparent process. Under the proposed agreement, 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 and it will shell out any single centavo as counterpart.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on June 18, 2014.

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