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GSIS sues Baguio City officials over condotel project

Saturday, June 13, 2009 [ ]

BAGUIO CITY: The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) has sued the city government and its officials headed by Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr., for declaratory relief over its joint venture project with the SM Development Corp. planned at the forested area near the Baguio Convention Center.

Bautista said he was surprised by the GSIS move but assured that he is prepared to face the case in court.

He said his position to preserve the forested area as a tree park was in accordance with the sentiment of Baguio City residents.

In the petition, an advanced copy of which was sent to city legal officer Carlos Melchor Rabanes, GSIS assailed Ordinance 51 series or the Revised Comprehensive Zoning Regulations of the city, which was the basis of the city’s disapproval of the GSIS’ application for a building permit for said condotel project dubbed Baguio Air Residences.

The ordinance classified the Baguio Convention Center as within an institutional zone while the forested area beside it is zoned as “parks and gardens.”

The GSIS maintained that it is the registered owner of the 33,606-square-meter lot located at the Government Center, a portion of said lot with an area of 14,430 square meters adjoins the Baguio Convention Center lot, by virtue of Presidential Decree 396 issued by former President Ferdinand Marcos purportedly “to augment the retirement funds and actuarial solvency of [GSIS]” and thus the area was intended as an income-generating asset.

The GSIS said the city’s move to disapprove the building permit based on the assailed ordinance defeated the purpose of P.D.396 and thus compromised the chance to generate income for the benefit of GSIS members.

In the petition, the GSIS sought the invalidation of the provision of the ordinance, which declared the subject area as a park and garden. It also asked the court to order the city officials to process and issue the building permit and other clearances or papers for the project.

City officials earlier manifested opposition to the plan to transform the tree park into another commercial hub citing environmental concerns.

They said there are also pending court cases questioning the status and ownership of the subject land.

The corporation through representative Carlo Alampay last year presented before the city council a concept plan for a condotel project which would involve the development of the 1.4 hectare area with the construction of four 13-story condotel buildings and commercial complex as highlights.

Alampay said that under the joint venture, SM would finance and undertake the constructions while GSIS would contribute the land.

It would also include the “redevelopment” of the Baguio Convention Center and the Sunshine Park.

He said the company has inventoried a total of 967 trees in the area. A total of 313 trees were recommended for cutting and 105 for balling and transplanting thus, a total of 549 trees would remain.

The city council then maintained that SM should consider the status of the land, the pending cases on the lot’s ownership and the city’s contract with GSIS for the purchase of the convention center.

Three proposals are presently pending before the city council calling for the preservation of the pine forest as such and opposing any plan to development the same into anything but a pine forest.

Councilor Richard Carino filed a resolution “opposing any plan to cut trees or construct a building by SM properties or any other persons over the lot situated between the Baguio Convention Center and Court of Appeals building.”

Councilors Fred Bagbagen, Isabelo Cosalan Jr. and Elaine Sembrano’s joint resolution also opposed the “removal of the pine forest at the BCC grounds to allow construction of a commercial structure by private developers.”

--Thom F. PicaƱa and Aileen p. Refuerzo


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