Houses for informal settlers cost P2.8M eachBy Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon
GENERAL TRIAS, Cavite—Houses built for informal settlers on a 20-hectare lot in Barangay (village) Santiago here at a cost of P500 million appear to be among of the “most expensive” low-cost housing units in the country.
The housing project was planned almost five years ago for 2,100 informal settlers who would be displaced once the government starts constructing the 11.7-kilometer Light Rail Transit (LRT) Cavite Extension from Baclaran to Bacoor City.
To this day, however, only 180 houses have been built and these remain unoccupied.
Gov. Juanito Victor “Jonvic” Remulla, who took the provincial helm in 2010, said the housing units, studio-type with a floor area of 22 square meters (sq m) each, were overpriced.
Taking out the other expenses and dividing what remained of the P500 million among the 180 units put the cost of each house at P2.8 million.
“That is the most expensive low-cost housing development in history,” Remulla said.
He said real estate developers, who inspected the houses, placed the actual cost of each unit at only P240,000. In a relocation site in Calauan, Laguna, the average cost of a 30-sq m housing unit is P175,000.
In February 2008, the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and the provincial government, under then governor and now Imus Rep. Erineo “Ayong” Maliksi, agreed to develop the resettlement area.
By 2009, the LRTA released to the provincial government P500 million for the acquisition of the land, construction costs and other expenses.
The controversy hounding the housing project started with the notice of disallowance (NOD) issued by the regional office of the Commission on Audit (COA) in March 2011.
The audit commission issued the notice to Maliksi, former provincial accountant Doris Ensomo and a certain Cynthia Monteclaros, for the P26.5 million that was released by the province as payment for the tenants’ disturbance compensation and real estate brokers’ commission.
The COA said “P26,492,677 was disallowed in audit because the payments made by the Provincial government of Cavite had no legal basis as the deed of sale it signed with the vendors provided that the purchase price of P125,488,200 is already net of taxes, fees, expenses, brokers’ compensation, tenants’ disturbance compensation and damages.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer obtained a copy of the NOD from provincial government records.
Responding on behalf of the former governor, lawyer Charlene Hernandez, said Maliksi was able to justify the disbursement of the fund in his appeal to the COA in June 2011.
In fact, the same regional audit team later formally recommended on Aug. 9, 2011, that the NOD be reversed, Hernandez said. However, the COA has yet to approve the recommendation to reverse the NOD, she said.
Remulla said the COA report prompted his office to look into the project. “It turned out, only 180 houses out of the supposed 2,100 were built,” he said.
Hernandez said the relocation of the families was the LRTA’s call.
Remulla believed that the previous administration spent only P45 million for the resettlement site. “So where did the rest of the P500 million go?” he asked.
In an earlier e-mail to the Inquirer, Hernandez said the provincial government under Maliksi “acquired 14 parcels of land for P125,488,200 at P600/sq m (and spent another) P26.5 million for related expenses.
“The balance of the P500 million was used for the development of the road, perimeter fence, main water and drainage system and 180 housing units.”
Hernandez said the LRTA in 2010 allocated another P500 million supposedly for the construction of the remaining 1,800 housing units.
Remulla, however, said the LRTA had not released the amount.
Maliksi, a member of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), cried political harassment when five people, claiming to be among the supposed housing project beneficiaries, sued him just weeks before he filed his certificate of candidacy for governor early this month for the May 2013 elections.
“In the first place, no (family) has been dislocated yet. The DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communication) has not yet even started bidding out the project, so no one has been affected yet,” Hernandez said.
The charges were filed by Flordeliza Fajardo, Rolando Gordola Jr., Noligie Gonzales, Flordeliza Gordola and Jovelyn Salazar, all of Parañaque City.
At the LP proclamation rally in Cavite in September, President Aquino announced that the construction of a P61.53-billion LRT extension would start in January 2014.
The President said he expected the project to proceed with the appointment of former Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya as the head of the DOTC.
Remulla said he had nothing against the LRT extension project that was expected to ease traffic congestion especially in Bacoor City.
“But if they really are up for the tuwid na daan (straight path), someone must first be prosecuted (for the alleged fund misuse). Finish the resettlement first and give justice to the people who paid for the P500 million,” he said.
No power, water
Sherwin Abdon, whose father was one of the erstwhile tenants of the land now used for the housing project, said his family was also promised a housing unit by the provincial government when it agreed to give up its right to the land. The Abdons have not received any word since, he said.
Even so, “I don’t think anyone would want to live in there, still without electricity and water connection,” said Rolando Pagkaliwangan, the village chief of Santiago.