MMDA's fault?


We are happy to note that an issue raised by cause-oriented groups and picked up by media recently appears headed for closure.

We refer to the Payatas dumpsite which returned to the limelight following the 10th anniversary of the tragedy that struck that site and claimed hundreds of lives. For the longest time, cause-oriented groups have urged the Department of Environment of Natural Resources (DENR) to act on the alleged illegality of the dumpsite based on Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

Last week, we heard DENR Secretary Ramon Paje announce in a radio interview that Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista has written a letter assuring him that the QC government “is prepared to close the Quezon City Controlled Disposal Facility on or before December 31, 2010”.

The assurance by Mayor Bautista is laudable. By giving the assurance, he has put a closure to that long debate over the alleged illegality of the continued operation of Payatas. He has also laid to rest concerns over the health and safety implications of Payatas’ operations.

There are worries, however, that the closure of Payatas could be the beginning of yet another garbage crisis for Metro Manila. The big question is, where will Metro Manila’s local governments bring the more than ten thousand tons of daily garbage that can be dumped at Payatas only until December this year?

This is definitely no longer Mayor Bautista’s problem. He has done his share in the solution with the impending closure of Payatas. He has also bared plans to convert Payatas into a sanitary landfill, but that conversion will take several years. In the meantime, where will the tons of garbage go? The answer appears to be, none.

Will fingers point to the DENR again? The DENR chairs the National Solid Waste Management Commission which is tasked to come up with an overall waste management plan, right?

Secretary Paje, however, explained in the radio interview that the gap may not be their fault alone. The way it looks, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) may have been unfairly spared from the public’s ire and the strong take of cause-oriented groups on the issue of garbage and dumpsites.

We were told there is a Supreme Court decision in a case filed by Metro Manila residents against the MMDA, or the famous Manila Bay case, where the High Court said that the MMDA, as one of the entities primarily responsible for the implementation of RA 9003, has the “duty to put up and maintain adequate sanitary landfills”.

The SC also pointed out that the “grace period under RA 9003 for the establishment of a sanitary landfill has already lapsed, and the use of non-compliant landfills are now prohibited by law”.

We are, therefore, constrained to ask the question: What has MMDA done to comply both with the law and the SC ruling? Was the continuing operation of Payatas merely the result of an MMDA failure to establish sanitary landfills as provided for under the law?

Did the MMDA have the answer in its hands all along? If yes, why did the MMDA allow the Payatas row to fester when it should have long ago obeyed the law and the High Court and built these sanitary landfills?

Did the MMDA unfairly escape public ire when the Payatas dumpsite issue was brewing?

Now that its role in the controversy is out in the open, what will the MMDA do?

Empty promises

A group of Filipino-Chinese investors claiming to have been victims of a large-scale investment scam that went unsolved for more than 10 years has asked concerned government agencies including the Securities Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice to reinvestigate a company called Power Merge.

The complaint came on the heels of reports that Henry Sy Jr., the eldest son and namesake of the country’s wealthiest man, has entered into an agreement to acquire 45.5 percent of publicly listed and investment holding company from a group led by Luis J.L. Virata. 

Virata, a nephew of former Finance Secretary Cesar Virata and listed in Forbes Magazine as the 33rd richest man in the Philippines in 2009, was one of the biggest stockholders of Power Merge Corp., reportedly a business investment company established in 1997.

The said corporation was in its glory years a decade ago, after attracting more than a thousand investors to put in their hard-earned millions in investments, despite the company’s paid-up capital of only P9.35 million.

Halbert Uy, one of the investors allegedly victimized by Power Merge, however, said that the company’s operation was illegal to begin with, as it was not even registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Its certificate of registration was revoked on March 15, 2004 for non-compliance with SEC reportorial requirements.

Reports have it that Power Merge worked hand in hand with the defunct Wincorp, a company owned by former Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu. Wincorp reportedly acted as the broker between possible incorporators and Virata’s investment company.

Being affiliated with the Westmont Investment Bank— now Singapore-owned United Overseas Bank—Wincorp convinced investors that they entered into a secured investment, with a promise of high returns.

But Uy claimed that there wasn’t any return of investment that came, until investors started to file complaints against Wincorp and Power Merge. These complaints resulted to the filing of estafa cases against these companies. Uy added that since the companies’ owners reportedly had the blessing from the previous administration, the estafa cases filed before the DOJ were dismissed in 2000.

When confronted by the complaints of its more than 1,000 investors, Wincorp representatives urged them to re-invest their money to earn greater interests.

When flooded with more complaints, Power Merge admitted that it could no longer pay its investors in full. It promised to return half of the investors’ money within 10 years and on the end of the tenth year, the remaining 50 percent will be returned as well. But the promise was never happened fulfilled.

When civil cases piled up against Wincorp and Power Merge, Wincorp claimed that their company was merely an investment broker, thus, it should be Power Merge that should be liable to the investors.

But Uy pointed out that Power Merge easily denied its identity as an investment firm since it was not even SEC registered.

He laments that until now, after more than a decade, their hard-earned money never returned. And because it has been a long and tiring fight, many of the investors seemingly have given up.

Uy added that the parties interested to acquire shares from Virata’s UEM have to watch out since Virata, who owns more than 90 percent of Power Merge, must first deal with the complaints filed by his erstwhile investors.

In one case filed by Alejandro Ng Wee against Westmont and Power Merge which is still pending, the Manila Regional Trial Court issued a writ of preliminary attachment and the South Forbes Park property of Luis Virata was among those levied.

Last year, the Makati RTC Brancg 66 ordered the two companies to pay a certain Amos Francia, also an investor.

A petition filed by Uy himself against Westmont and the board of directors of Power Merge led by Virata, acting as trustees-in-liquidation, pending before the Quezon City RTC for the issuance of a writ of preliminary attachment was granted.

According to Uy, a number of investors are also contemplating on filing cases for the non fulfillment of the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement that Power Merge and Westmont offered to its lenders.

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]

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