A MEETING the Capitol hosted yesterday to try to settle a conflict over a fire-ravaged lot in Lahug, Cebu City ended without definite results.

Cebu City officials left early to verify a report that tension was running high between some fire survivors and guards of the University of the Philippines (UP), which owns the property.

Provincial Administrator Mark Tolentino said the parties have yet to come up with an agreement that will spell out conditions for the turnover of a two-hectare Capitol-owned site in Busay to UP.

The university may then develop it as a relocation site for some of the more than 530 individuals who lost their homes in a fire in Sitio Avocado, Lahug, last Dec. 26.

“I hope ma-resolve kini nila (they will resolve this) between the City Government and the property owner, which is UP,” said Gov. Hilario Davide III.

UP’s case

UP is planning to file an injunction case against the Cebu City Government, which allegedly prevented the state university from using its 2,000-square-meter property that the fire hit.

Lawyer Liza Corro, UP Cebu dean, said in a press conference yesterday that legal remedies are being crafted by the university’s lawyers to stop the City from reblocking the site and letting informal settlers back in.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, at least 36 policemen under the Regional Public Safety Battalion were deployed in the area.

Corro decided to seek police assistance, considering the tension in the fire scene and the removal of UP’s tents last Sunday, allegedly by Cebu City employees.

A portion of the property in Sitio Avocado had been donated by the Cebu Provincial Government to UP Cebu and will be used for the construction of a P65-million high school building.

Corro said that the contract for the building was awarded back in 2013, but the presence of informal settlers kept them from constructing the high school building.

While it was UP’s original intention to reclaim the 2.6-hectare property, Corro said, they will only claim 2,000 square meters for the high school building.

Dean’s appeal

UP, she added, also plans to file robbery cases against DWUP and PROBE for removing their tents.

“Why are we being ejected from an area that is ours in the first place?” Corro asked.

The lawyer-dean urged the Cebu City Government to focus their energy on developing a relocation site in Barangay Busay that’s being offered to fire survivors.

Corro said that the two-hectare relocation site in Busay can hold 81 families, who can transfer there without fear of being evicted.

She also urged City officials not to take advantage of the plight of the fire survivors for their own gains.

“I appeal to the informal settlers nga mobotar ta ug politiko nga naglantaw sa kaayohan sa tanan. Dili ra nga sa eleksyon ta magtagad (to vote for politicians who look after everyone’s good and not just focus on the elections),” Corro added.

Some fire survivors, however, intend to stay and support the City’s plan to re-block the area.

Eliseo Gulfan, Lahug Homeowners’ Association president, said they stand pat on their decision to remain in Sitio Avocado and refuse UP’s offer of relocation.

‘Not ready’

At the Capitol meeting, lawyer Colin Rosell said that the relocation site was not yet ready. The head of the Department for the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP) and Cebu City Legal Officer Gerona Castillo represented the City at the meeting.

Lawyers Rene Abcede and Michael Francis Abad represented UP.

Meanwhile, suspended Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama visited the fire survivors and told them they will be consulted on the plans for the fire scene.

Wa ta mangangkon aning yuta pero respetaran lang sab unta mo kay kamo may nagpuyo diri (We are not claiming this land for ourselves, but you deserve respect since you have been living here),” he said.

Rama said he also wants to find out the conditions the City Government set when it donated a five-hectare lot in the South Road Properties (SRP) to UP Cebu several years ago, before his term as mayor.

He mentioned reports that the fire site was part of the land that UP allegedly offered to the City Government, after the university received five hectares in the SRP.

Rule of law

Given the tension, Rama also requested Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan to “maintain sanity in the area.”

“Police should not be aggravating the situation,” Rama said.

Sought for comment on UP’s plan to file an injunction case against the City, Acting Mayor Edgar Labella said he welcomed the move.

“Let them file it, that’s their right, and it’s also good that a case will be filed because we will adhere to the rule of law,” he said.

While City Hall recognizes UP’s ownership of the land, Labella said that the City is also obligated to take care of the residents left homeless by the fire.

If they allow their transfer, Labella said, it might set a precedent for other land owners who want to clear their properties of illegal settlers.

“We don’t want to become the city of fire,” he added.