QC needs parks, not a business district
The press relations officer of the Quezon City government, one Greg Banacia, sent a letter reacting to our Aug. 20 column on the takeover by City Hall of the Manila Seedling Bank gardens on Quezon Avenue. It was published in yesterday’s “Letters” page. It said that the auction sale of the property was sanctioned by the Supreme Court.
True. But the high court ruled on the basis of the legal aspects, not on the malicious motive behind the takeover. Besides, the high court is not infallible. It has been wrong before, and admitted that by rectifying wrong decisions.
Here is a background on the case: The 7-hectare property where the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) grows tree seedlings for distribution to the government and the public, and other gardeners grow and sell ornamental plants, belongs to the National Housing Authority (NHA). The MSBF has a 25-year lease, or usufruct, on it. The NHA has not been paying real estate taxes on it because government entities are exempt from paying realty taxes—until the passage of the Local Government Code which removed the exemptions.
Under the New Civil Code, the owner of the lot under usufruct has to pay the realty tax, not the lease holder. But City Hall sent the collection letter to the MSBF, not to the owner, the NHA, ordering it to pay P57 million in realty taxes. Where in heaven’s name can the MSBF get that much money?
City Hall allowed the back taxes to accumulate precisely so that the taxpayer would not be able to afford them, and then issued the collection letter. No previous reminder like “Hey, you did not pay your realty taxes last year. You may have forgotten so we are reminding you.” Suddenly, after the back taxes have accumulated, it issues a final collection letter. It is legal, but is it fair and moral?
And why did City Hall send the collection letter to MSBF and not to the NHA? Because the motive is not really to collect the tax but to eject the MSBF from the property so that it could be turned over to Ayala Land (Ayala should be ashamed of its role in this affair) for development into a business district that some City Hall officials are obsessed with.
City Hall claims it also sent collection letters to the NHA but got no response. Here is why: Because the NHA may be part of the conspiracy.
Remember that the NHA also tried to eject the MSBF from the property some years ago, also to turn it over to a land developer. But the courts stopped it from doing so because the MSBF has a valid lease on the property. So City Hall cooked up the realty tax and auction caper.
City Hall does not need the money. It can do without it. It boasts that it is the richest city in the country, with more than P2 billion deposited in the banks. It doesn’t know what to do with this much money (although so many things need to be done, like housing for squatters, more parks, developing decaying parts of the city, etc.), so that some councilors and City Hall officials steal the money, the former through “ghost” employees and the latter through overpriced projects.
What I’m driving at is that City Hall can give the NHA time to pay the tax and time for the MSBF lease contract to expire. If it (or Ayala) is in a hurry to start the business district, why not do it on the other side of Quezon Avenue, where there is a property bigger than the MSBF gardens that is a blot on the city because it is overrun by squatters? These squatters are not paying realty taxes. They do not pay business taxes although they have stores, shops and other enterprises; they do not pay rent to the lot owners although they derive profit from the use of those lots. Neither do they have building permits for their shops and dwellings. So why doesn’t City Hall eject them instead? By the time this first phase of the business district is finished, the MSBF contract on its lot would already have expired and the government can then take over it without any problem.
Even if you have business buildings on the MSBF property, nobody will move their offices there because right across the street is a squatter colony that will detract from the stature of any “business district.” Officers and employees of these business offices will be afraid to go to and leave their offices after dark because of the danger of mugging and holdups. Remember, it was here where a student of the Philippine Science High School was stabbed dead by squatters in broad daylight.
Quezon City does not need a business district. There are many business districts nearby—in Makati, Bonifacio Global City, Ortigas Center, etc. What it (and other cities in the metropolis except Manila) sorely needs are more parks. City officials should be obsessed with parks, not a business district. As we said earlier, the people need more parks to escape the confines of the concrete jungle that is slowly engulfing them. Without more parks, Metro Manila will be hell to live in within a few years, even with all these new condominium buildings going up. As a matter of fact, there should be zoning rules to temper the greed of the land developers.
Parks should take priority in the zoning. Quezon City is lucky to have plenty of room for parks. But look what City Hall is doing to its lone mini-park, the Quezon Memorial Park. It is slowly being converted into another concrete jungle. It has become an annex of City Hall. Seminar halls, museums and the like that should be within City Hall grounds are being built in the park.
Parks are supposed to be big open spaces with plenty of grass, trees, plants, flowers, birds and butterflies, and fresh air. But what is the Quezon Memorial Park now? A huge parking lot, with plenty of sari-sari stores, a permanent carnival, and so many other structures. It has ceased to be a park.
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