Soil piled on submerged Balili site; Reclamation or restoration?By Peter L. Romanillos
Cebu Daily News
Once submerged in water, a large portion of the Capitol’s controversial Balili property in barangay Tinaan in Naga City is now filled with soil.
Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale and Provincial Board (PB) Member Arleigh Sitoy found this out in an ocular inspection of the site yesterday.
“Di gyud kalikayan, to the ordinary mind, murag ebidensya gyud ang gitabunan (We cannot escape the fact that to the ordinary mind, it seems that the evidence was covered up),” Sitoy told the local media present in the site.
About a hundred people also staged a protest against the “reclamation” of the controversial property.
But Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said the visit can be considered trespassing since both officials didn’t ask permission from her office to enter the site.
By bringing protesters, the governor said Magpale and Sitoy endangered the safety of hybrid goats, vermi-composting worms and milkfish (bangus) being tended in the area.
“The crowd could turn into a mob and (commit) other acts such as vandalism. Obviously, they are using their positions to abuse authority and gain media mileage,” said Garcia.
“With their latest political stunt, are they trying to influence the court and the justices of Sandiganbayan on the ruling of the Balili case?” she added.
The governor and seven other persons face charges before the Sandiganbayan in relation to the irregular purchase of 24.7 hectares of the Balili beach front property in Naga City, southern Cebu.
The Capitol bought the property at P98.9 million but a survey by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed that it was mostly underwater and classified as coastal timberland. All have posted bail in court.
The Sandiganbayan issued hold departure orders against Garcia, provincial treasurer Roy Salubre, provincial budget officer Emme Gingoyon, retired provincial assessor Anthony Sususco, provincial engineer Eulogio Pelayre, former Provincial Board member Juan Bolo, and private land owners Amparo and Romeo Balili.
Magpale told local media yesterday that Provincial Planning Officer Adolfo Quiroga informed her that the first phase of the land reclamation as stated in its contract amounted up to roughly P27 million.
“Wa mi kahibaw asa gikuha ang kwarta (We do not where they got the money) The Provincial Board doesn’t know about this,” she said said.
Sitoy also questioned the overall purpose of the reclamation, saying its budget cannot be traced in the following year’s provincial budget proposal.
“Kung wala nay budget for this in next year’s proposal, para unsa man ni?
Para tabon lang? Supposedly, naay sumpay (If there is no budget for this in next year’s proposal, what is this for? Just to cover this up? Supposedly, there should be continuation),” he said.
Magpale and Sitoy said they asked Quiroga and other department heads to join their visit so they can explain the details of the reclamation. However, they didn’t show up.
Around a hundred protesters carrying blue, red and yellow banners from Sanlakas, Partido Lakas ng Masa, Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) and Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralita ng Lungsod (KPML) on board four passenger jeepneys got off and staged a rally in the area.
In a press conference held at the Capitol, the governor and her brother, Rep. Pablo John Garcia of Cebu’s 3rd district, dismissed Magpale and Sitoy’s visit as “pathetic” since they’re top officials of the province that owned the property.
Rep. Garcia said the provincial government’s move to fill the land with soil cannot be considered as ‘reclamation’ since the term referred to the “filling of foreshore lands which don’t have titles.”
He called it “restoration” because they want to fill the foreshore land with soil for titling purposes.
Rep. Garcia said the governor doesn’t need to consult the Provincial Board for any operations done in the Balili property.
He said under the Local Government Code, the governor has full authority to develop the province’s properties.
The restored land will be used as a sanitary landfill for the dumping of coal ash from Kepco’s nearby power plant said Gov. Garcia.
“We have an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources 7 (DENR-7) for the restoration and make it into a sanitary landfill,” Gov. Garcia added.
The DENR issued an ECC requiring the Capitol to place impermeable polyethylene sheets to ensure that hazardous substances found in the coal waste from the Kepco-SPC coal-fired plant that will be dumped in the property will leach into the ground and aquifiers.
Garcia also reminded Magpale that she was one of the PB officials who initially approved the provincial government’s purchase of the Balili property.
The governor showed the resolution to the media which bore the approval of Magpale and Liberal party stalwarts Peter John Calderon and Wilfredo Caminero.
“Without the approval of the Provincial Board, the governor cannot purchase anything according to the Local Government Code,” Garcia said. “Sometimes, we have senior moments,” she added.
Sitoy said they will call for a Provincial Board meeting and invite the governor and the responsible department heads to explain the operations done in Balili.
“They should appear in the meeting so that we will know the overall plan. As of today, there is no additional budget for further development of this one. We’ll just stop with covering it up? “I hope and pray that its not something illegal,” he added. With a story from Reporter Ador Vincent Mayol