AN ARGUMENT ensued between Cebu City Administrator Lucelle Mercado and University of the Philippines Cebu Campus (UPCC) president Liza Corro over UPCC’s plan to fence the site of last weekend’s fire in Sitio Avocado, Barangay Lahug.
Corro and some UPCC personnel were at the fire site to take measurements of the lot when Mercado arrived with lawyer Colin Rosell, Cebu City Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP) chief, and Raquel Arce of the Prevention, Restoration, Order, Beautification and Enhancement.
Mercado said that fire victims asked her to intervene as UPCC does not want residents to rebuild their houses in the area.
Corro told reporters that UPCC owns the lot where more than 80 houses were razed by fire on Dec. 26, leaving more than 700 persons homeless.
She said that UPCC identified the area as site for the new UP High School building. The plan for the building was hatched two years ago yet.
Cebu City Hall criticized UPCC’s move.
Salt on wound
Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella described the university’s plan to fence the area as “rubbing salt on a wound.”
“These people are wounded because of the calamity and this is holiday season,” he said.
He asked UPCC officials to reconsider the plan to fence off the area.
He said that the ownership of the lot can be discussed later but City Hall needs to look after the basic needs of the fire victims, like food and shelter.
Gov. Hilario Davide III confirmed UPCC’s claim on the lot.
He said that the Provincial Government donated five parcels of land, having a total area of 14 hectares, to UP in 1963. The deed of donation was signed in 1963 by then governor Francisco Remotigue and Dr. Carlos P. Romulo, who served as president of UP at that time.
“UP is the owner of the lot. The City has no equity on that property,” Davide said.
Corro said that UPCC has tried to coordinate with City Hall regarding its plans for the site but no one from the local government replied to the university’s official communication.
On the other hand, Corro said, City Hall made its plan to re-block the fire site known to residents even though it does not own the lot.
Corro said that UPCC offered to relocate affected residents to a two-hectare lot in Barangay Busay and some agreed.
Aurora Acebedo, a fire victim, said that they support the City's plan to re-block the area but objected to UPCC’s offer of relocation. She said that the relocation site is not accessible to public transport.
Mercado said that UPCC should be more considerate to the fire victims who are homeless during the holidays.
“Ang concern ron nila (fire victims) is nga makabalik sila og pamuyo ug tarung. Nga naa sila’y klarong atop, bungbung ug kahigdaan. Nasunogan na gane ang tawo, nagkalisud na siya, imu naman noon iduot (The main concern of fire victims is that they will be able to build a roof above their heads. They are suffering and UP is making it worse),” Mercado said.
She said that she did not receive any word from Corro about the plan for the UP High School building.
She said that UPCC cannot build a fence around the area unless it is able to secure a permit from the City Government.
She urged Corro to conduct consultations among residents.
Labella questioned the timing of UPCC’s move to impose ownership on the lot.
He said that the families have been occupying the lot for many years yet UPCC only decided to build the fence after the fire.
Davide told Sun.Star Cebu in a separate interview that the memorandum of agreement between the Capitol and UP on the relocation of the residents is still being finalized.
He said that the Capitol has identified a portion of a Province-owned lot donated to the Cebu Public School Teachers’ Association as relocation site for families in Sitio Avocado.
Davide said that he was informed that there was a homeowners’ association that agreed to the relocation.
He said that he hopes that UPCC and the Cebu City Government would be able to settle the issue as both are government institutions.
“The right of the property owner should be respected,” he added.