Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia yesterday said she will continue to “restore” underwater portions of the Balili property in Naga City even though the property and her decision to buy it for P98.9 million is the subject of a graft case in the Sandiganbayan.
She said the value of the coastal property has gone up sixfold to P623.1 million since she had wet portions of the nearly 25-hectare land backfilled with limestone.
Comparing the controversial land to a “dead body” that is “rotting” while a crime investigation goes on, Garcia said she refused to leave it idle.
“I will always fight for the advantage of the Cebu provincial government,” she said in a public presentation before an audience of 2,000 at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) in Mandaue City.
In a few years, she promised, the land would be earning revenue in different ways.
Garcia said she would continue plans to develop the former beach resort into a special economic zone. She filed an application for this purpose with the Philippine Economic Zone authority (Peza) last Nov. 16, 2012 based on a document she showed.
Yesterday’s forum was mounted to answer criticism that submerged lots were being covered up to tamper with evidence in the Sandiganbayan case and that P27.5 million was being illegally spent for new reclamation work without authorization of the Provincial Board.
Garcia said she was “disappointed” that critics like Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale and PB Member Arleigh Sitoy, who filed graft complaints over the backfilled property with the Visayas Ombudsman’s Office, were not present.
However, businessman Cris Saavadra, who has filed a series of graft complaints against Garcia over her centerpiece project, the Cebu International Convention Center, showed up and sat near the front row.
In a two-hour presentation, Garcia flashed slides showing before-and- after photos of the Balili property, land titles, newspaper clippings, appropriation ordinances and other documents to prove that her actions were all above board.
Last August, the Ombudsman charged Garcia with two counts of graft and one count of illegal use of public funds at the Sandiganbayan for the Balili land purchase in 2008.
It turned out that at least 19 hectares of the land was under water or classified as coastal timberland not subject for sale. Five other Capitol officials and the land owners Romeo and Amparo Balili were included in the criminal charges. They all posted bail and are waiting for a schedule of arraignment for the Sandiganbayan trial to start.
Garcia insisted the purchase was above board and that the 10 lots purchased are titled lands with no legal obstacle for their purchase.
Garcia yesterday confirmed that the Province was spending P27.5 million for “backfilling” the property.
She showed a notice to proceed and contract with Supreme ABF Construction and Construction Supply Inc. for the supply and delivery of 110,732 cubic meters of filling materials.
She asked the owner, Bernabe Gilbor, to stand up and be acknowledged by the audience. The crowd, composed of barangay health workers and barangay nutrition scholars, clapped their hands in approval.
(A copy of the Notice to Proceed flashed on the screen didn’t indicate the date of the engagement. It said the backfilling materials was for the “Land Development Project” in barangay Tinaan, Naga “for use of the Provincial Health Office.”
BIR ZONAL VALUE
To show the “benefits” of the Balili land purchase, Garcia said the current real estate value of the filled up fishponds and resort land has increased six fold to P623,115,000.
She based this computation on the zonal valuation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue for land in barangay Tinaan, Naga City at P2,500 per square meter for land located “200 meter along the national road.”
The Balili property measures 249, 246 square meters and was purchased by the Capitol for P440 per square meter.
Questions have hounded the 2008 Balili land purchase as a real estate transaction quickly made without a land development plan, feasibility study or geodetic survey to verify its boundaries.
“It would appear that the governor was only concerned with the purchase price of the transaction,” said the Visayas Ombudsman’s Office which recommended filing the case in the Sandiganbayan.
Environment lobbyists were the first to protest the land’s classification and its use as a coal ash waste pit when the Province of Cebu signed a $1 million agreement with Korean Electric Company to use the property as a landfill for the ash waste of its new power plant in Naga.
Yesterday, Governor Garcia said the Province would pursue its original plan to make the Balili property a special economic zone. She said this would include an international port, a waste water treatment facility, light industry, manufacturing services, eco-park and a waste to energy facility.
Garcia said the Balili property can earn revenue in the future with this potential:
— P7.2 million from r a five-year contract to dump fly ash from cement company APO Corp.
— P850 million as total revenue and shares from a 25-year contract with Sinova Capital for a waste-to-energy facility
— P45 million from Kepco for dumping coal ash for a period of 25 years.
She said she could not let the property be left idle.
“Ang buot ba nilang ipasabot na pasagdan nalang nato ang patay nga lawas na madugta hantud mahuman ang kaso? I will be remiss to my duties as governor of this great province of Cebu kon musunod ko sa ilang gusto nga pasagdan lang nako,” Garcia said.
NO AUTHORITY NEEDED
Garcia said she did not need authority from the PB to go ahead with backfilling because this was covered by the 2010 to 2012 annual budgets for the province that was already approved by the board.
She said the expense for the activity is covered in the item of “airport, seaport and other economic enterprise site development program” in 2010 (P60 million), in 2011 (P150 million) and in 2012 (P170 million) for the item “Airport/Seaport/Reclamation and Other Economic Enterprise Site Development Program”.
“Since 2010 it has been budgeted. It was approved by the PB including Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale. Since 2009, Vice Gov. Magpale knew that the property will have to be backfilled. Dili man ta pwede na magsige nalang og pamuhi og bangus og bakasi,” Garcia said.
The governor said the activity was “restoration” and not “reclamation” because the property had land titles and was not a foreshore land owned by the State.
She said mangroves will still be in place.
She said seawater just seeped into the land so they call the backfilling work land restoration.
Garcia said the criticisms were politically motivated since it was already election season.
“Unsa man inyo gusto – Pamulitika or kalambuan?” she asked the audience. (What do you want – politicking or prosperity?)
The crowd answered back in chorus: Kalambuan. /Marian Z. Codilla, Senior Reporter with Correspondent Carmel Loise Matus