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China firm tapped in Dumaguete reclamation project

The Filipino-owned reclamation proponent entered into a ‘secret’ subcontractor agreement with the Guandong-based group, says lawyer

‘SMART CITY’ The proposed 174-hectare reclamation project in Dumaguete City called “Smart City” shows a mixed-use commercial and residential area, featuring malls, condominiums, hospitals, business hubs and a docking port for a yacht club, according to this perspective made public by the city government. —DUMAGUETE CITY GOVERNMENT PHOTO

DUMAGUETE CITY, Negros Oriental, Philippines — A Chinese construction company that has no license to operate in the Philippines has been tapped as a subcontractor of the proposed 174-hectare reclamation project that has drawn criticisms from different groups in this city.

EM Cuerpo Inc., the proponent of the private-public partnership (PPP) that would put up the P23-billion project called “Smart City” in Dumaguete, actually signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a Guandong-based China group, Poly Changda Overseas Engineering Co., on April 29, 2019, for the latter to be the subcontractor for the reclamation component of the project, according to a lawyer opposed to the project.

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As payment, EM Cuerpo will sell its share of the reclaimed land and use the proceeds to pay Poly Changda, the MOU said.

Initial verification, however, revealed that Poly Changda does not have the required license from the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board nor is it registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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“I got a copy of this controversial MOU last week, and my first reaction was: Is Poly Changda qualified? Where do they come from?” said lawyer Golda Benjamin, one of those who opposed the reclamation project that will cover 85 percent of the view of Dumaguete’s coastline.

The MOU between EM Cuerpo Inc. and Poly Changda was signed seven months before formal talks were held between EM Cuerpo and Dumaguete.

Efforts were made to reach EM Cuerpo but failed.

Copies of the MOU with Poly Changda first surfaced online after the Dumaguete City Council passed a resolution in its July 7 session, granting Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo the authority to sign a joint venture agreement (JVA) with EM Cuerpo.

Based on a copy of the JVA, 51 percent of reclaimed island will belong to Dumaguete and the Philippine Reclamation Authority, while 49 percent will be the share of the developer.

Smart City was envisioned to be a mixed-use commercial and residential area, featuring malls, condominiums, hospitals, business hubs, sports facilities and a docking port for a planned yacht club, among others.

Red flags

On Dec. 13, 2019, Remollo issued an executive order creating the PPP committee tasked to oversee the comparative bidding process of unsolicited proposals. The selection committee was to submit a report by Jan. 28, 2020.

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Benjamin said two particular stipulations in the MOU between EM Cuerpo and the Chinese company were red flags.

Based on the JVA, Dumaguete will not be able to decide to whom the reclaimed land may be sold.

“What if EM Cuerpo will sell it to casinos and offshore gaming operators that will not even hire Dumaguete residents [as workers]?” Benjamin said.

Another possible violation is the confidentiality clause where EM Cuerpo and the Chinese company expressly agreed to “keep all information to themselves as confidential.”

They also agreed that any dispute would be resolved by arbitration in Singapore.

“Why is this MOU between EM Cuerpo and the Chinese group Poly Changda secret? Don’t the people of Dumaguete need to know who will cultivate 174 ha of their seafront? Could this possibly be invasion—making islands in Dumaguete as extensions of their territories?” said Benjamin, a law professor at Silliman University.

She said she had asked Vice Mayor Karissa Tolentino-Maxino to instruct the PPP Regulating Authority to post the feasibility studies, bidding documents, and other information for the entire project.

So far, Maxino has only shared the documents that are already available online.

“These documents were not attached with the draft JVA on that day (July 7) when the city council voted to allow the mayor to sign the deal with EM Cuerpo. Our PPP ordinance has a transparency provision. Transparency and honesty are what we need in Dumaguete now,” Benjamin said.

Rich in marine life

Several groups, including environmental advocates, opposed the reclamation project, which they said was deliberated hastily and would destroy marine life in the city.

In an ANC Headstart interview on Friday, Remollo said no corals would be affected by the project contrary to a video footage taken by Floramae Neri, a member of Stewards, a student organization of Silliman University Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences.

Based on their studies, these marine ecosystems will be buried once the reclamation will push through.

Rene Juntereal, a local diver in Dumaguete, also shared video footage online to prove that Dumaguete is rich in marine biodiversity.

“We decided to dive there because of what [the mayor] said in a previous statement to ANC that the corals were already dead,” Juntereal told the Inquirer over Facebook Messenger.

—WITH REPORTS FROM KARLOWE BRIER
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TAGS: Chinese construction firm, Dumaguete reclamation project, Poly Changda Overseas Engineering Co.
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