MAGALANG --- Former mayor Lyndon Cunanan has denied involvement in the controversy regarding the illegal selling of the 50-hectare government property in Barangay Ayala here.

Cunanan issued the statement following reports that former town officials illegally occupied portions of the land, which is being eyed by the local government as a venue of a P633-million socialized housing project.

The former municipal mayor stressed that he, or any of his relatives, did not acquire a single parcel of land in the said village because the local government owns it.

"E ku kinangwang gabun karin anggiang ditak mu. Pati kareng kamag-anak ku ala mu naman kinangwang gabun karin uling pibandiyan na ning local government ita (I did not acquire a property there even just a small one. Even my relatives did not because the local government owns it)," Cunanan said.

During his term, Cunanan said the local government’s plan was to develop an eco-tourism site inside the said property.

“Ing planu mi sana kanita i-develop mi ya ing area as an eco-tourism site. Dagdagan mila reng tanaman and then mangabit kaming zipline ampong aliwa pang amenities banta puntalan da kami reng turista (Our plan then was to develop the area into an eco-tourism site with additional trees, zipline and other amenities so tourists will come),” Cunanan said.

He even defended former Mayor Pastor Guiao, saying the two-hectare property the former acquired is outside the 50-hectare property. "In fairness kang Tang Pastor, makalual ya itang seli ng gabun ketang 50 hectares (In fairness to Tang Pastor, his property is outside the 50 hectares)."

Cunanan also disclosed that he advised barangay officials in Barangay Ayala, including chairman Ricardo David, not to distribute or sell lots inside the property.

"Sebyanan ku la na ‘e ra pamisali rights ing gabun kasi mika problema la (I told them not to sell their rights because they will encounter problems)," Cunanan said.

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

Pecson said he assumed as town mayor only in 2009 and that he met the owner of Mardee Trading Realty and Development, Patricio Marcelo only in April this year.

Concerned residents in 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.

Pecson also clarified that the town's IRA will not be used as collateral but the property itself.

Documents obtained by Sun.Star Pampanga showed that Pecson had endorsed the project to the Sangguniang Bayan 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 in an affidavit of 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.

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 disclosed.

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 disclosed.

The residents, he said, are being instigated by former municipal officials who lead the land grabbing and illegal acquisition of some portion of the property, where the socialized housing is proposed to be developed.

Some of the former town officials do not want the area developed because they have “vested interests”, according to Pecson.

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 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 a 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 erosion, mika proper channel ya ing danum, mika drainage (We will follow the right process. We will secure DENR permits. There will be no erosion since water will have channels and drainages),” Pecson said.

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.

Cunanan said the housing project is a welcome development but stressed that Pecson and the other town officials should study it carefully.

There should be a clearance from Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that the area is suitable for a residential site.

"Bangin bangin ya itang lugar. Pota lalu yang mangatibag patye meg construct lang dalan ampong drainage karin kasi mangasira ing gabun kasi pila ita (The area is a ravine. There could be more erosion if they construct roads and drainages because it is made up of clay),” Cunanan said.