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[ Cebu ] Capitol blames DENR on lot title

Saturday, August 15, 2009

By Justin K. Vestil, Karlon N. Rama, and Rizel S. Adlawan

THE Cebu Provincial Government yesterday blamed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for issuing a free patent for the seawater and mangrove areas of the Balili property.

Apart from giving the owners 15 days to refund the Capitol the P37.5 million it spent for the purchase, Provincial Consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda reiterated that they will go after the people behind the “economic sabotage” and encouraged other victims to come out.

Following the Capitol’s revelation of its lapse on the purchase, a DENR official said yesterday that the agency is still investigating why the 14,402-square-meter mangrove area and the 80,124-square-meter submerged portion of the Balili property were titled.

Garcia apologized Thursday for the purchase and said the Capitol will recover P37.8 million of the P98 million it paid for the property.

But Garcia’s political opponents, church and environmental officials criticized the governor for what happened.

“It’s becoming a bad habit,” said former senator John Henry “Sonny” Osmeña yesterday in reaction to Garcia’s apology. He likened her to President Arroyo who apologized after the “Hello Garcia” scandal.

Sonny yesterday also became the third person to question the purchase.

He asked the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas office to find out who composed the appraisal committee, what the valuation of the property was and how the amount was determined.

“What was the recommendation of the appraisal committee, in the light of the governor’s admission that they did not even know how much of it was mangroves and/or underwater?” he said in his letter-complaint to the anti-graft office.

Two other people—businessman Crisologo Saavedra and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña—have made similar requests for an investigation by the anti-graft office.

Safety

But the former senator is raising a public safety angle, one that environmental advocates, like Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos and Atty. Benjamin Cabrido of the Global Legal Action on Climate Change have similarly highlighted.

“The Ombudsman should also look into the possibility that Gov. Garcia may have been negligent in protecting the health and well-being of the people of Naga and the neighboring towns,” he said.

“The toxicity of coal ash is well established and not anymore arguable. Allowing that foreign company to possibly poison the people, kill off marine resources and forever destroy the ecological balance in that area is criminal,” he said.

Cabrido, in an interview over radio dyRF yesterday, said that though Garcia’s apology already resolved the issue on the land purchase, his group will keep campaigning against the building of a coal ash plant.

“We will not budge on this issue, as long as the case involves issues on the coal ash plant,” said Cabrido.

Environmentalist Vince Cinches, for his part, said Garcia’s apology only validated irregularities surrounding the purchase of the property.

“We can only hope that those who said their sorry really meant it,” said Msgr. Achilles Dakay, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese on Cebu, when sought for reaction.

But the Capitol is bent on going after the people behind the titling of the properties.

Victims

Sepulveda said an official of the Land Management Services of the DENR acknowledged that there are already many lot buyers who had the same experience.

“We call on those who were victimized to come to Capitol. The Capitol will help them. We’ll go deeper into this,” he said in a press conference yesterday.

They will go after the persons who tried to destroy the credibility of the Torrens System.

He said no free patent should have been issued on a lot that is not alienable and disposable.

In the Balili property, a free patent was issued last Dec. 13, 1977 for the Original Certificate of Title (OCT) 15328 covering the seawater portion while a free patent was issued last Jan. 20, 1978 for OCT 15313, which covered the mangrove area.

Diana Apistar, DENR 7 Technical director for Land Management, told Sun.Star Cebu that they are still investigating the matter.

Demand

In its effort to recover the funds it paid, the Capitol issued yesterday a two-page demand letter to the owners of the property.

Sepulveda also revealed that they have already written the Balilis last July 9 to clarify media reports and claims of environmental lawyers that a portion of the 25-hectare property was submerged but the lot owners’ reply last July 15 failed “to clearly and categorically answer” the Capitol’s concerns.

This prompted the Capitol to commission a survey on the property, which had free patents issued by the Bureau of Lands.

The Capitol’s demand of P37,810,400 represents the amount it paid for the 94,526 square meters of submerged and mangrove areas plus the legal rate of interest from the time of payment.

The Deed of Absolute Sale on the property is dated June 11, 2008.

The letter indicated that if the lot owners fail to comply, the Capitol would be constrained to take the appropriate measures to protect its interests.

Sepulveda also clarified that for Capitol lawyers, Garcia did have to say sorry for the purchase because they have met all the criteria in buying the property, which is through the titles and the Torrens system.

Clean

If there’s somebody who should say sorry, it should be the person who tried to embarrass the province, he said.

Provincial Board Member Juan Bolo admitted that he had introduced the broker, Lumen Durano, to Garcia but he said he did not know that the two titles have flaws. He said that Durano is the wife of former provincial fiscal Loreto Durano.

As an examiner of the Central Bank, Bolo said that Durano had a good reputation and requested that he should not be included in the controversy because he believed all titles were clean.

Bolo, however, admitted that during an ocular survey, he had already noticed the mangrove area but he was told that it was not part of the titled portion.

The anti-graft office has already docketed the incident for fact-finding.

“Due diligence, that’s what the Ombudsman will be looking into,” Deputy Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol yesterday said.

Sepulveda welcomed Osmeña’s request for the anti-graft office to look into the purchase.

“The fact is, she cannot escape her culpability, her liability under the law for having committed a criminal act,” Osmeña said.

“Gov. Garcia’s admission of negligence merely scratches the surface and raises more questions,” he also said in a press statement.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 15, 2009.

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