Friday, August 21, 2009 [ sunstar.com.ph ]
CEBU CITY -- The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Central Visayas Thursday said the agency should not be faulted for problems in the Capitol’s purchase of the 25-hectare Balili property in Naga, an official said.
Had the Province asked for information, DENR could have told Capitol officials that as early as 2001, eight titles issued to Amparo and Luis Balili were recommended for annulment and reversion, said DENR Central Visayas Executive Director Leonardo Sibbaluca.
As of Thursday, he said, DENR Central Visayas has not received any letter or request from the Provincial Government regarding the matter.
Also Thursday, the Global Legal Action on Climate Change (Glacc) “urgently requested” the Provincial Board (PB) to inspect and investigate coal ash dumping in Toledo City and Naga.
In their three-page invitation, lawyers Gloria Estenzo-Ramos and Benjamin Cabrido attached photos of coal ash piling up near the banks of the Pangdan River in Naga.
“The negative effects of coal ash to our health and environment are well-accepted scientific findings. Burning of any material is harmful to our health and ecosystem,” they said.
“We need to hear the people’s voices—how they are suffering and the anxieties they are feeling. Some cannot even use the artesian well anymore since the waters are already contaminated. It is sad indeed that our marginalized Cebuanos are victims of environmental injustice in their own homeland,” the lawyers said.
The Capitol has announced it plans to use the Balili property as a dump for coal ash from a Korean-owned coal power plant.
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia received, on behalf of the Province, half of a $1-million payment when the memorandum of agreement with Korean Power Corp. was signed in early July.
Lately, however, the Capitol has blamed the DENR for failing to inform the Province that part of the Balili property should not be titled. These are either underwater or covered by mangroves.
The governor earlier said she had announced the Capitol’s planned purchase of the Balili resort, “yet nobody stepped forward” with information that could have warned the Province.
The Province has asked for a refund of nearly P38 million, out of the P98 million it paid for the property.
After its investigation, the Province can file for reversion proceedings for the portions of the property that cannot be titled.
Capitol consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda also emphasized Thursday that the eight titles for the Balili property did not have annotations.
Provincial Attorney Marino Martinquilla said the Capitol exercised due diligence in the purchase because what it has are original titles.
Capitol officials confirmed last week, quoting survey results by geodetic engineer Roy Cabunilas, that about eight hectares of the property were underwater, while 1.4 hectares held mangroves.
Lawyer Fernando Alberca, chief of the DENR Central Visayas legal division, said eight titles held by the Balilis in Tinaan, Naga were listed for possible cancellation by their Anti-Fake Title Program. He said the program has been in effect since the 1970s.
On Sept. 7, 2001, DENR Central Visayas sent the case folders and draft complaints for annulment and reversion of 21 titles to the DENR central office. These included the eight Balili titles, Sibbaluca said.
The respondents in the cases prepared by DENR Central Visayas were Amparo and Luis Balili and the Register of Deeds of Cebu.
“If only this information was obtained from DENR Central Visayas, this issue would not have come out and perhaps our records on file would have paved the way for a more enlightened and well-thought- of decision,” Sibbaluca said in a statement.
When there are doubts on land titles, he said, “it would be sensible and judicious” to conduct a verification survey, comparing conditions on the ground with entries in the titles.
Sibbaluca said he instructed the DENR field office to assist the Provincial Government.
For Ramos, Cabrido and Glacc, the purchase of the Balili property and the problem of coal ash dumping in parts of the province are related.
“I hope this matter will not distract us from looking at the real issues surrounding this controversy. There are many questions that demand answers,” Ramos said.
The lawyer-environmentalist lamented that until recently, the Province ignored her formal request for documents.
Ramos, in an e-mailed statement, said she only got the papers she asked for after she and Cabrido filed a complaint against Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and all but one member of the Provincial Board (PB) with the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas last Aug. 17.
Sent on Thursday, Atty. Ramos’ statement was in response to Governor Garcia’s challenge last Wednesday that the lawyer take back previous statements that the titles for the purchased property have already been nullified by the Regional Trial Court (RTC).
“We do know that that there are two titles covering properties in Tinaan, Naga issued to the Balilis, which were cancelled by Order of then RTC judge, now Court of Appeals Justice, (Isaias) Dicdican. That is a fact and can be duly verified,” Ramos said.
But since they were not allowed access to the paperwork until recently, Ramos said they did not know then if the titles Judge Dicdican nullified were the same ones covering the property sold to the Province.
This, she said, was why statements issued to the media “were always qualified.”
Interviewed separately, Atty. Cabrido said that the Office of the Ombudsman should take the lead in investigating the flawed sale.
A committee created by the governor will formally begin its investigation on the purchase on Monday.
“But to look for those culpable, the ombudsman should have jurisdiction,” Cabrido said. (EOB/KNR/RSA/GMD/Sun.Star Cebu)