Focused on haciendas, probers miss stinking land deals

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There was shock and awe over the recent bid of P500,000 for every square meter of Bonifacio Global City land. A fitting tribute to the Great Plebian it was not. The irony of a record land sale at a former military facility named for one who chased the twin dreams of freedom and egalitarianism would probably make Gat Andres squirm in his grave.

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Was the term “record-high” already part of common usage in the 19th century as Gat Andres was drawing the economic contours of the new republic that he was to build from the success of his Katipunan-led revolt? That is something we do not know.

What we perfectly know is this. The BCG land deal also pushed people with long memories to expose the fact that not all government lands disposed had gone through the process of fair and accountable bids. Most state land sale transactions, at the very least, have raised the issue of fair valuations. Or, raise questions on the fairness and legality of the bidding process. In fact, most state land deals stink.

Like this one: In 1988, a 40-hectare land sitting on a prime area of the Manila Bay development was sold for an unbelievable price of P1,500 per sqm. This is in the general area of what is now known as the Coastal Mall area and adjacent to what is now the Mall of Asia. The land is prime now and was prime then. How did this literal giveaway of prime state property get past the anti-graft bodies, the various oversight bodies and those looking after shady and questionable disposition of public lands? If you quote P100,000 per square meter of land in that same general area right now, you will have a queue of prospective buyers. Or, you will get guffaws from the real estate players for selling so low.

What kind of bidding was conducted by the Public Estates Authority (PEA) that made the below par bid tendered by a firm called Manila Bay Development Corporation (MBDC) the winner and new owner of the prime land? From fair land valuations and real estate pricing benchmarks in 1988, the bid of P1,500 per sqm for a land in Manila Bay was way too low. Unless the agenda of the PEA was to shaft the national government and literally give away prime land to favor the winning bidder.

Mind you, no overzealous investigator in the two chambers of Congress has ever taken notice of this stinking land deal, just a few kilometers from the Senate offices. Oh, where were the zealous probers when we needed them?

Instead of chasing haciendas – whether of the imaginary variety or the real thing—congressmen and senators should do a full-court press on land sales undertaken by the various government agencies that have left trails of irregularities. Like this giveaway land deal that sold a sizable slice of Manila Bay property at P1,500 per sqm.

The land deal between the PEA and the MBDC was exposed in a civil case—filed in the form of a taxpayer’s petition before the Parañaque City Regional Trial Court—that now wants the PEA to void the land deal with the MBDC. The filer of the taxpayer’s petition, the Uniwide Sales Realty and Resources Corporation (USRRC), said it leased 20 hectares of that 40 hectares and was well aware of the “ low low tender” quoted by MBDC. The case alleged that the MBDC not only got the land at bargain basement price but it also willfully violated the terms of the award.

The MBDC, according to the court filing, committed to build a “Greenhills—type“ commercial center within five years after the 1988 sale. It committed to fast-track the development of the area through this strategic investment.

The USRRC said it leased the 20-hectare portion of that land based on that commitment from the MBDC. And it built the Coastal Mall on 10 hectares of the 20 hectares leased. But the MBDC failed to deliver on its commitment to the PEA. And the MBDC’s failure to carry out the promised investment to develop a “Greenhills-type” commercial center in that Bay area constituted a brazen violation of the terms of award with the PEA.

The USRRC said the MBDC even detailed an “implementation schedule” of its supposed five–year commitment to the PEA, perhaps to convince government that it was dead serious in developing the area.

Why can companies get prime public land for a song, then brazenly violate the terms of the award? Why has the PEA tolerated such brazen transgressions of the terms of the award? How much has the government lost in this stinking deal? It is now very clear that the MBDC was interested in holding on to the prime land for speculative purposes, not really to open up a new area of commercial development.

Another question. Why have the zealous probers of haciendas real and imaginary missed these land deals that truly violated the public interest and welfare?

mvrong@yahoo.com

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3 Comments

  1. This is like demanding that the Gambino crime family in New York investigate a fellow member for shafting the government. Most likely that fellow will be made a leading contender for the top post in that family. The right party to approach should be the equivalent of the FBI namely, the NPA. But they haven’t nor does it look like they intend to make a move against these felons in this government, and that is the real mystery.

  2. There is just so much to investigate in this country its so difficult to know where to start. I know where i would start & thats at looking at korea on how quickly they get a case into court & get a verdict. Take the erry disaster or over a year ago, its been to court & the captain has been found guilty & sentanced ( 36 years ) now thats justice. Get your courts sorted like that & you will have time to chase every single corrupt person & soon you will have a thriveing industry in jail building. There will be that many more people needing to go to jail.