Private use of public C. Mina Street
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - March 31, 2019 - 12:00am

Roads and public plazas are known as public domain. Lawyers characterize public domain in a rather technical lingo as “beyond the commerce of man.” Unfortunately, whenever they happen to use this term, they assume everyone else understands what they mean. Well, in our layman’s language, we take the term to mean such matters as roads and plazas for the use of the general public and not for anyone’s private purpose. So that the law doesn’t allow roads and public plazas to be usurped by anyone and converted for his own benefit. In fact, any structure built on, say, a road, is considered by law as nuisance per se and may immediately be demolished.

While this legal precept on public domain is rigid, it is, to use a hyperbole of Fr. Joaquin Bernas, “as dead as a dead Coconut tree” when authorities sleep on their sworn duties to uphold it. Always there are people who, borne out of utter need or perhaps prompted by sheer selfish motivation, appropriate public domain for their own use. They are all the more emboldened when government leaders either fail or refuse to uphold the law. The examples of houses built on riverbanks and small stores put up on the roads are in brazen contempt of legal order and open for all of us to see.

What I am saying above may be exemplified by what we see in Barangay Mabolo. The barangay hall sits at the corner of M.J. Cuenco Avenue and C. Mina Street which I consider as a side road. I don’t know when C. Mina Street opened to the public, although I noticed it continues to receive regular maintenance.

Today this is a concrete road, and while it is narrow it serves primarily the barangay-maintained firetrucks and ambulance which are parked near the road’s dead end about 200 meters from the corner. But its public domain character is more honored in breach than in observance. This intrusion is open for everyone to observe. To my personal chagrin, this road has been appropriated by few individuals to the prejudice of the many. At any time of the day, we see private vehicles parked on it as if vehicle owners possess Torrens title to the road. There are also makeshift food stands with dining tables and chairs on the road. To top it all, we notice some families putting sofas and tables for their lounging. Ah, le dulce vita.

What I don’t understand is the unconcerned attitude of government officials. They just seem not to care. It’s possible that they are unaware that their inaction is at least administratively sanctionable. Their apparent failure to lift a hand protective of public interest led a friend of mine to imagine that bribe money changed hands. I do not want to believe that though, because I have always seen the service orientation of public servants.

The loss of the public domain character of C. Mina Street is in plain view of Barangay Mabolo officials. Every morning they report to the barangay hall and each time they leave the office the sight of parked vehicles, food stalls, and other forms of private use of this public road greet their eyes. I believe city government officials also know about the conversion of C. Mina Street into private use. It’s their duty to make sure public funds spent on whatever project is protected. If we don’t perceive of any effort to restore the public domain character of C. Mina Street by ridding it of private intruders, it will be good for us to find more responsible officials this coming May elections.

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