City Hall relocation splits Dagupan officials, residents
DAGUPAN CITY—A seemingly innocent plan to relocate this city’s seat of government has divided residents.
Some agree, saying the city needs a more spacious building because the present City Hall barely accommodates employees and people who transact business there. Those against the transfer argue that the city government has more pressing issues involving the city’s perennial flooding, a garbage crisis triggered by the shutdown of its only dump, and illegal drugs.
But the point of contention is City Hall’s proposed new home: a 1.2-hectare lot along Pantal-Lucao Road (also known as De Venecia diversion road) which was donated by Kerwin Fernandez, brother of Mayor Belen Fernandez.
Residents opposed to the transfer contend that Mayor Fernandez was using her office to benefit her family. Once the City Hall is built in the middle of her family’s properties, the value of the family’s landholdings would skyrocket.
The Fernandez family owns 40 to 50 ha of land at the Pantal-Lucao area, said Vice Mayor Brian Lim, who objected to the relocation plan.
The family also has vast tracts of land in other parts of Dagupan, and owns CSI, a chain of supermarkets, which includes the CSI Mall and the CSI Square (standing on a lot which was leased by the family from the city government). The family also owns the USATV cable company.
Lim said Kerwin Fernandez’s donation violated Section 3B of Republic Act No. 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) which states, “Directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the government and any other part, wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law.”
But Councilor Jose Netu Tamayo, a staunch supporter of Mayor Fernandez, said Kerwin donated the lot to give back to the city “where residents supported the family’s businesses.”
Tamayo said the donated property was worth P90 million (at P7,500 per square meter) but the family was willing to part with the lot.
According to Mayor Fernandez, land values will naturally appreciate if the City Hall is moved to the Pantal-Lucao area.
Other families with parcels of land along Pantal-Lucao Road would benefit from this, Fernandez said.
“The question that begs to be answered by council members and Dagupan residents is: Why does the mayor want to transfer the City Hall to that location alone?” Councilor Red Erfe-Mejia said.
Mayor Fernandez had written to the council about the transfer, he said. “First, she asked for an ordinance to be passed to pursue eminent domain proceedings on Kerwin’s lot, even seeking authority for her to file a case against her brother. She later asked the [council] to pass an ordinance that would transfer the City Hall there because it was being donated,” Erfe-Mejia said.
Fernandez said only Lim and Erfe-Mefia were against the transfer.
The city’s comprehensive land use plan identifies Pantal-Lucao as the appropriate place for the City Hall relocation, she said.
Some objectors believe the relocation could affect the city’s bangus (milkfish) production because the proposed City Hall site is in the middle of fishponds.
Backfilling the fishpond areas, where City Hall would rise, could obstruct the natural flow of rainwater toward the rivers and may worsen flooding in seven villages in the city’s business center, Lim said.
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