Marlen V. Ronquillo
IF you were observant enough, you would know the current physical make-up of the 100-hectare plus National Government Center in Quezon City. You would not see the original mandate of the choice urban land—which was to host spanking and gleaming government buildings with contented civil servants packing the area. The original dream to see Quezon City rise up as a mini Washington DC, a real seat of government and host to most if not all of the vital state institutions, is not what you will see.
Instead, you will see mixed-use developments choking the area, north and south, east and west, mostly giant, boxy malls and skyscrapers. Privately owned. Whatever government facilities have been recently built—mostly minor ones such as the Jose Fabella Hospital which has been relocated from its Sampaloc site—are being drowned by skyscrapers mostly built or being developed by the companies mostly owned by the 14 Filipinos named by Forbes as the country’s wealthiest.
The following are a puzzle to the general public:
. What deal with the nabobs of real estate covered outright sale, and which lucky real estate nabob acquired what properties?
. What deal with the nabobs involved lease, or long-term lease which is practically the equivalent of virtual ownership?
. Under what administrations were the choice urban lands given away, a violation of the original purpose of the NGC?
. What were the terms of the sale and lease agreements?
Lastly, why did Congress, which can file impeachment resolutions based on the itch of a particular member, fail to use its power of investigation to look into this brazen giveaway of choice urban land to the super wealthy?
You know what? The real story on land and property is not Kadamay’s takeover of some of the completed mass housing for the poor and the low-income Filipinos. Of course, it is getting a lot of media space, given the daring and the element of surprise that the Kadamay members employed. But some have raised a valid point. Why has the virtual land grab by the super wealthy of choice urban lands never become a topic of media and the investigative news outlets?
The virtual land grab of the NGC by the nabobs of the real estate industry has come and passed without the media being scandalized by it. Yet, the coverage of the Kadamay’s actions has been non-stop and akin to carpet-bombing.
No one dared to ask this fundamental question: Is government and its various arms and agencies really empowered to change the nature of the NGC’s original mandate and give away these lands to only one class of Filipinos, the super wealthy?
That the nabobs of property development paid fair and just prices for the acquisition of these real estate crown jewels is even doubtful. Many feel that the government not only altered the use of the NCG to allow the lease or sale deals. It even sold or leased these prime pieces of real estate for less than the just market price, or the current terms for leasing prime urban lands.
At the low end of the land pricing scheme, every square meter of the property given away at the NGC should have commanded a fair price of P75,000 per square meter. If you pool the money from the sale or lease, on the premise the deals were aboveboard, that would be enough to build enough mass housing sites to accommodate one-half of the total squatter population of Metro Manila.
But we will never know how much money was raised, for one, because of the mystery and secrecy that have attended the land disposition.
Was there graft of the highest order in the land deals?
The Duterte administration has the moral authority to look into these land deals because it was not a participant. Allies of Mr. Duterte in Congress, instead of being enthralled by soap operas from two women-loving, powerful congressmen from DU30’s own Davao, should push for a congressional inquiry into the giveaway of the real estate crown jewels at the NGC.
They will probably uncover deals most prejudicial to the interest of government, deals worse than the Napoles pork barrel scam.
The bold actions of the Kadamay members should be a take-off point for a larger, broader re-examination of the state’s land and housing policies. It would unravel what we already know. The land policy of government has been this: the giveaway of prime lands to the nabobs of real estate through sale or lease terms that are the equivalent of virtual ownership. Prop up the super wealthy by fattening their property portfolio.
On mass housing for the poor and the homeless, the policy is non-existent. There is infinite demand, but building mass housing sites is at the periphery of government’s priorities.
At the emerging urban areas outside of Metro Manila, the policy is to allow the LGU leaders to run amuck with land conversion orders. Who primarily benefits from this? The same real state nabobs that have gobbled up the choice lands at the NGC. The boxy malls they have been building with a frenzy have been the opiate of the urban areas outside of Metro Manila.
We need empirical studies to know which is growing faster, the mall building frenzy of the real property nabobs or the rise of slum colonies.