‘Build roads now, pay lot owners later’
(Last of three parts)
LUCENA CITY — A bypass in Sariaya town, Quezon province, intended to ease traffic on Maharlika Highway should have been opened in 2017, but development of the project has dragged beyond the deadline because the Department of Public Works and Highways
(DPWH) remains grappling with right of way problems.
Under the Right-of-Way Act, the government must first acquire access to private property and pay the owners before breaking ground.
But as in other road projects in Luzon, the 7.2-kilometer, P467-million Sariaya bypass began construction without first settling right of way.
Funds were initially allocated for the project in 2014, but none of the more than 180 landowners whose properties were affected by the project had been compensated.
Not all of them, however, have submitted complete proofs of ownership.
The papers of those who have complied with the requirement are still going through verification and authentication, according to Roger Crespo, head of DPWH-Quezon 2nd District.
Identified by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific as a priority project in the Asian highways program, the bypass skirts the Sariaya stretch of Maharlika Highway, which will reduce by at least 40 percent the traffic volume along that section of the interprovincial road.
The bypass starts at Barangay Sampaloc 2 and cuts through the Sariaya town center. It passes through parts of Tumbaga 1, Pili and Gibanga, villages that once were mostly rice fields and coconut plantations.
It also cuts through part of Ilayang Talim village in Lucena and exits on the Quezon ecotourism road at Isabang village in the city.
Four bridges that link the sections of the bypass complete the project.
Crespo said only a 1-km stretch of the road remained unconcreted and that the contractor had begun building the bridges.
Work on the Gibanga and Morong bridges is in progress, but no work has commenced on the bridges at Tumbaga 1 and Isabang.
Waste of taxpayer money
There is also no work on a stretch of the bypass from the bridge at Morong to the bridge at Gibanga because the government has not acquired right of way.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is scrutinizing the DPWH 2019 budget for hidden pork, said the allocation for the Sariaya bypass had gone to waste.
The project was suspended several times because of unresolved right of way issues, Lacson said.
Pepito Abratique, a compensation claimant, said the mess began right at the start of the project, with DPWH workers descending on property to be affected by the construction.
“They just came here and conducted location surveys on our properties without our consent,” said Abratique, a farmer from Tumbaga 1 village.
Abratique said he was surprised that the DPWH was dictating the amount of compensation, initially P15 per square meter and then raised to P19.
“From the start, we sensed that there was something illegal going on,” Abratique said.
He said that when staff from Lacson’s office inspected the project last year, the landowners learned that the DPWH plan for the project included nonexistent property.
“We traced the location of the lots as specified in the
DPWH plan. We found nonexistent lots were inserted into the plan,” Abratique said.
The discovery implied fraud, with the government paying fictitious people for fictitious lots and the money going to the pockets of scammers.
Crespo declined to comment, saying he assumed office only in March last year.
But Cesar Genosa, DPWH-Quezon 2nd District “special agent for road right of way,” denied Abratique’s claim, saying all lots covered by the project had been identified through surveys.
“There are no nonexistent lots,” Genosa told the Inquirer.
He said it was found during the surveys that some lots had been divided into several plots by the landowners, further complicating the right of way settlement.
There are also multiple claimants to right of way compensation for several titled properties, posing more difficulty, particularly in cases involving “lots [that] are still parts of a mother title,” he said.
“It requires judicial partition. And that will cause another delay in the [right of way] settlement,” Genosa said.
He also confirmed that no landowner had been compensated for right of way, adding that the unsettled claims covered the whole stretch of the bypass already concreted, about 6 km long.
Project proponent surprised
But some claims have already been approved and are now being processed by the concerned DPWH offices, he said.
Quezon Rep. Vicente Alcala, the project proponent, expressed surprise when told by the Inquirer on Monday that the landowners had not been paid yet.
“I was not aware of that. The DPWH should have already paid them,” Alcala said by phone.
He said he would immediately arrange a meeting with all the claimants to help them and ask the DPWH to explain the “unwarranted delay” in compensation.
Jhong Llubit, project manager of the contractor, JBL Construction, confirmed that right of way problems were behind the delay in the completion of the project.
“I stopped eight months ago and I only resumed this January because of the right of way problems,” Llubit said by phone.
He said JBL Construction had yet to receive payment for its part of the project, a 300-meter stretch of the bypass.
The rest of the project is handled by other contractors, he said. “There are other, much bigger companies,” he said.
Advances from contractor
One of those companies, Tantuco Construction, has no problems with the DPWH.
Rafael Tantuco, owner of the company, said his work covered most of the 7.2-km bypass and that he had not encountered problems involving payment.
“I only have more than 700 meters of unfinished work due to some technical problems,” he said
Tantuco also confirmed that right of way problems were delaying completion of the project.
He said he had been helping the DPWH solve the problem by advancing payments to claimants but only if these involved “a few thousands.”
But he asks the DPWH for reimbursement, he said.
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