MANILA, Philippines—With their pleas falling on deaf ears, Ateneo de Manila University and Quezon City subdivisions took their fight against the construction of a 42-storey condominium unit to the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday.
Ateneo and village representatives filed a graft case against the members of the 17th Quezon City Council, a building official and SM Development Corporation officers for the allegedly unjustified exemptions from the zoning ordinance given to SMDC for the construction of the Blue Residences on Katipunan Avenue.
They alleged that SMDC, through a certificate of exemption from the Quezon City Council that was approved in one day, was given preferential treatment and allowed to build the 42-story commercial and residential building when the latter’s height was supposed to be six-storeys only.
“In granting the certificate of exemption, the 17th Quezon City Council presented, on a silver platter, certain benefits and privileges to SM Development Corporation which the latter is not entitled to,” they said in their complaint.
“Clearly then, the acts of the 17th Quezon City Council in granting the certificate of exemption and passing the resolution violate Republic Act 3019 (the anti-graft and corrupt practices act).”
The complainants also said that the SMDC building failed to comply with height and parking space requirements, as well as the floor area ratio and gross floor area.
Charged were Councilors Jorge Banal; Vincent Belmonte; Jaime Borres; Winston Castelo; Dante de Guzman; Dorothy Delarmente; Victor Ferrer; Allan Butch Francisco; Bernadette Herrera-Dy; Antonio Inton Jr.; Joseph Juico; Edcel Lagman Jr.; Eufemio Lagumbay; Voltaire Godofredo Liban; Raquel Malangen; Ramon Medalla; Eden Medina; Franz Pumaren; and Jesus Manuel Suntay.
They served during the 17th City Council, whose term ended in 2010. Several of them are still councilors, while several others have joined congress.
Also charged were Isagani Verzosa Jr., the officer-in-charge of the Department of Building Official of Quezon City, and SMDC officers Rogelio Cabuñag, Rudy Concepcion and Adelaida Cobres.
The complainants were Ateneo de Manila University, the officers of the Sangguniang ng mga Mag-Aaral ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila; La Vista Association, Inc.; Varsity Hills Homeowners Association; Villa Aurora Townhomes Homeowners Association Inc.; and Xavierville II Homeowners Association, Inc.
The complainants’ lawyer, Giovanni Vallente, said in an interview they were not objecting to the construction of the building, but to the fact the rules and proper processes were not followed.
Vallente noted that there were too few parking slots in the building compared to the number of units. Because of this, the vehicles of those staying in the building might clog up the roads and cause traffic.
Vallente said the complainants decided to take legal action after their attempts to convince the SMDC to follow the zoning ordinance and the National Building Code of the Philippines, as well as to talk to the councilors to rescind the exemption, was not fruitful.
“This is about good governance,” he said of the complaint.
The complainants said that while exemptions to the zoning ordinance were allowed, there were conditions that must be met and steps that must be taken.
But they said the councilors did not follow these. No public consultations were held with the Loyola Heights community, the very constituents whose interests the councilors were supposed to serve, they said in their complaint.
They also noted that there was no reason given for exempting SMDC from the ordinance, and a fruitful debate on the exemption also failed to take place. As such, the benefits that SMDC got from the ordinance were unwarranted, they said.
They said the council passed the ordinance under suspended rules. But they added that there was no pressing reason—such as an urgent budgetary requirement or peace and order concerns—for this suspension at that time.
“On the contrary, because of the suspension of the rules, the 17th Quezon City Council railroaded the process in passing and approving resolutions. This resulted in utter prejudice to the Loyola Heights Community because the rise of a building such as SM Blue would bring about long term and irreversible effects which the community was not even consulted about,” they said.
The city council, in granting SMDC a zoning ordinance exemption, also effectively granted it a free pass to violate the National Building Code, the complainants said. But the council has no authority to grant exemptions from the building code, since this authority rests with the Public Works Department, they added.