GenSan land scam

ernesto-m-hilarioGENERAL Santos City, or GenSan, is now among the most progressive cities in Mindanao, partly because of its reputation as the Philippines’s tuna capital, which underpins its phenomenal economic growth. But the country’s southernmost city is also saddled with a problem that bedevils other places in the archipelago: fake land titles.

In fact, as many as 5,455 fake land titles have been issued in this city, according to those who had invested hard-earned money in real-estate property, only to be left holding the proverbial empty bag.

The affected families in GenSan have recently organized themselves as the Coalition for Reform Against Fake Titles (CRAFT) and urged authorities to go after the perpetrators of the land scam.

The people’s movement in GenSan is gaining ground in other places with the same problem. Andy Rosales, CRAFT convener for Luzon and the National Capital Region (NCR), told us at the Saturday media forum at Annabel’s two weeks ago that no less than 3,000 of their members had marched on the streets of GenSan to call the attention of city officials, including those in the local land-registration office and the judiciary, to take action against the proliferation of fake land titles, lest others fall for the same scam.

Rosales told the media that Judge Panambulan Mimbisa of Branch 37 of the Regional Trial Court in GenSan is now handling the case.

“All eyes are on him [Mimbisa] as the people of GenSan await his decision on November 24, 2014, in a landmark case involving the Original Certificate of Title of a 973-hectare lot in GenSan that was canceled, albeit fraudulently, and subsequently superseded by a fake Transfer Certificate of Title [TCT],” Rosales said. The fake TCT gave birth to—what else—more than 5,000 bogus certificates of title.

It appears, he added, that even the Department of Public Works and Highways had been duped by the syndicate behind the scam into releasing an initial P135 million for the right-of-way for roads that passed through the contested property.

The land-titling scam is now being investigated by the Senate through Resolution 856, filed on August 19 by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights held a preliminary hearing on October 1, followed by another on October 7. The committee is pushing for the passage of the Land Administration Reform Act (Lara).

To drum up support for their cause, the Ugnayan ng mga Samahan para sa Alternatibong Pagbabago held a symposium on the proposed law in Quezon City in August. This symposium was held in coordination with the office of Commissioner Ric O. Domingo of the Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor and the People’s Movement for Democratic Governance.

The 120 symposium participants, most of them urban-poor leaders, decided to constitute themselves as CRAFT’s counterpart in Luzon-NCR to address the problem of fake land titles in this part of the country. They also expressed full support for the passage of the Lara.

I was able to meet Rodrigo “Boy” Olarte Sr., chairman of the National Anti-Poverty Commission’s National Urban Poor Sectoral Council, and others from GenSan who attended the Senate hearing. Olarte is a major figure in this issue, as he is a member of the family that held the original—and, therefore, genuine—title to the 973-hectare property in the heart of GenSan. This large tract of land is now worth billions of pesos.

Olarte said he and his family are determined to see this through, as he feels that they have been the victims of a gross injustice orchestrated by powerful families who managed to grab the property from them through subterfuge and deceit since the 1920s up to the present.

No end in sight to MRT woes

METRO Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT 3) riders are gambling with their lives every time they set foot on any of its stations. So we can readily identify with the opinions expressed in an e-mail sent to us on the congressional hearings on the wretched state of the railway facility:

“In inquiries by the Senate that pry into either the nonstop misfortunes of train passengers or the proposed 2015 transport budget of the Department of Transportation and Communications [DOTC], DOTC executives have been caught repeatedly lying through their teeth in a bid to blame everyone—from supposed private partner MRT Corp. [MRTC] to even the commuters themselves—but [the] government itself for this Edsa [Epifanio de los Santos Avenue] rail fiasco.

“[Transporation] Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and his underlings at the DOTC, the Light Rail Transit Authority and MRT have been brazen enough to obfuscate the facts in these public hearings in a shrewd ploy to sucker senators and [House representatives] into thinking that the MRTC and the MRTC-picked original operation and maintenance [O&M] contractor Sumitomo Corp. are to blame for plunging MRT 3 into such a despicable state that nothing could [be undon e] without an immediate 100-percent government takeover.

“In fact, Abaya and his factotums, like Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla, have had no qualms about throwing red herrings—such as baring plans to sue the MRTC for an illusory breach of contract or unduly accusing Sumitomo Corp. of cannibalizing train parts prior to its unceremonious replacement by temporary O&M contractors Philippine Trams Rail Management & Services Inc.  and, later, Autre Porte Technique Global Inc.—just to take Senate and House probers off the scent of DOTC-style corruption and mismanagement that have put over a half-million MRT 3 passengers in harm’s way on a daily basis.”

What do MRT 3 riders have to say on this matter? It would be very interesting to find out.


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