Subway to evict us for oligarchs’ sake, homeowners cry to Rody
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2019 - 12:00am

The subway is taking our property for giveaway to big business.” Home and lot owners at both ends of a planned Metro Manila underground rail relayed that plot to President Rody Duterte. For “oligarchic interest” the subway is evicting them from prime residential, commercial, and industrial property even though nearby government lands are available as alternatives. The homes and lots are to be expropriated at huge government expense, then granted to influential conglomerates for commercial use.

Anguished are folk from Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela City, north side of the capital region, and Barangay San Martin de Porres, Parañaque City, south. An oversized depot is planned in Ugong, despite Japanese rail experts’ study for only one-fourth the size and at a different site. A previously announced “Bicutan station” is to rise in San Martin, less than a kilometer from the original end-station at Food Terminal Inc., Taguig, where vast public lands are aplenty.

The Valenzuela and Parañaque property owners separately have petitioned Duterte to save them from dispossession. They seek audiences with him to detail their findings.

“We are 100-percent behind our President’s ‘Build, Build, Build Program’,” the Valenzuelans wrote on June 22, 2017. “We realize there is Public-Private Partnership in big projects like [the subway]... Conglomerates that have money, power, and connections look for economical means of expanding their businesses, and use this opportunity to acquire land. As they have the capacity to influence, they do not need to look for land that is for sale, or spend money accommodating and working around resistant landowners. They may simply exploit government’s power of eminent domain.”

They went on: “Unlike multibillionaire businessmen, we cannot find cheap land and turn them to gold. We have to wait and rely on our fate and our government to build us nice roads and highways for the value of our land to appreciate.”

Some petitioners have been living in Ugong for half a century, inheriting ancestral land when there were yet no roads or utilities. Once outback, it is now mostly commercial-industrial, with factories, shops, restaurants, resorts, schools, hospitals, and churches. “Painful for us that just when our land is starting to flourish, it will be taken away,” they said. “There can be no other better land with this much potential for us to move and transfer our residences and businesses. Taking our land is tantamount to taking our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a good future.”

The 32 hectares being taken in Ugong is quadruple what Japan International Cooperation Agency recommended to the Dept. of Transportation in 2015, they said. Elongated, the area has a 2.5-km prime highway frontage. Lots are worth P33,000 per square meter. An adjacent largely uninhabited residential subdivision, across the boundary in Caloocan City, is being sold for far less. Beside it are two abandoned factories and squatter colonies presently being relocated. Unlike parts of Ugong, the subdivision never floods up during rains, ideal for a depot.

Nearly 1,300 lot owners, businessmen, residents, and employees signed. DOTr policy is to use government lands as much as possible, while JICA’s is to minimize socio-economic dislocations.

“At first we were hesitant to bother you with our problem, but it seems you are our only hope,” the Valenzuela petitioners followed up with Duterte on Sep. 13, 2017. “We have to safeguard our property and livelihood against corrupt officials [and] oligarchs, because their motives and actions will adversely affect the future and welfare of our children... We hope we can sit down and discuss this matter with you at the soonest possible time.”

In Parañaque, homeowners of United Hills Village wrote Duterte two years later, Sep. 20, 2019. Along with residents and shop owners of United Parañaque Subd.-2, Makati South Hills, East Service Road, and Malugay, they had been notified by Ecosys of expropriation and displacement for a newly disclosed Bicutan station. Supposedly their property are to serve as temporary road and construction yard, then for “mixed use or commercial business purposes.” They pointed to three nearby government lands, as well as two abandoned private lots, as alternative. One is owned by DOTr itself, another by Philippine National Construction Co., and the third, at least 26 hectares, by the Dept. of Agriculture. The latter is inside sprawling Food Terminal Inc. where the subway end-station originally was proposed.

“Expropriation is unnecessary since the purpose is temporary in nature,” they told Duterte. “There are sufficient available public lands covering many hectares all around the area, which could be utilized by the contractors. As such the government will save millions of taxpayers money as public land is free for government use.”

They added: “There is no necessity for government to exercise its power of eminent domain, otherwise it would lead to oppression and sacrifice of private property to benefit business interests.”

The Parañaque folk asked Duterte to order a DOTr resurvey of the area for new lot plans and site maps using government lands in FTI.

“Nothing would make us happier than to build a future in which our children can live in a prosperous and stable society,” they said. “But expropriation, which would ultimately benefit private individuals and enterprises, will deny that future.”

They also petitioned the Parañaque city council to first publicly hear their side, in accordance with the Local Government Code, before granting permits for the subway works. They cited health and environment hazards of the construction and operation.

“Investigate possible vested interests of big businesses regarding the Bicutan station and sudden interest in expropriation of United Hills Village,” they said in that earlier petition. Any expropriation must be solely for public, not for mixed commercial use. Alarming for them is a Mar. 25, 2018 article in the Philippine Information Agency website, “Gov’t Eyes Commercial Development of Metro Subway Stations to Help Pay Off JICA Loan for Project.”

In Quezon City, where seven of 15 subway stations are to be built, property owners are resisting too. City councilors have asked DOTr to revert to the original alignment along EDSA, to augment MRT-3.

The subway suddenly was rerouted in Dec. 2016 to Katipunan Avenue, QC, onto FTI-Taguig. In that new alignment it would twice traverse a major earthquake fault and flood zones. Cost estimate shot up from P208 billion to P357 billion. JICA engineers had preferred the EDSA route benefiting more riders and disturbing few structures.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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