As I See It

Business district in North Triangle a bad idea

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Here is the latest chapter in the fight over the nurseries of Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) on Quezon Avenue, Quezon City.

Background: During the Marcos administration, a 7-hectare property owned by the National Housing Authority (NHA) was granted in usufruct to MSBF, so that the latter could grow seedlings for the government reforestation projects, with some to be sold to home gardeners. In December 2005, the Quezon City government sold the property at public auction—allegedly for MSBF’s failure to pay real estate taxes—wherein the QC government was the highest bidder. MSBF filed a case in court contesting the sale.

On Oct. 6, 2009, the QC Regional Trial Court nullified the sale for lack of due process. Early this year, City Hall tried again to grab the property, this time sending a contingent of city workers aided by 100 QC policemen. They padlocked the gates to prevent anyone from entering or leaving, claimed ownership of the property, and forced the gardener-tenants to pay rent to City Hall.

MSBF filed antigraft cases at the Office of the Ombudsman against city and police officials for the raid, and against the NHA manager for not taking sufficient steps to stop the City Hall takeover in spite of the fact that NHA, as owner, is by law exempt from the payment of real estate taxes.

In their reply, officials led by Mayor Herbert Bautista and City Administrator Victor Endriga said that they acted in good faith, that their actions had the “presumption of regularity,” and that they had sent MSBF notices of delinquency before the takeover. For his part, NHA manager Chito Cruz said he had sent City Hall letters stating that NHA is exempt by law from paying real estate taxes and that the sale of the 7-hectare property is illegal.

MSBF issued a reply-affidavit noting that NHA merely stopped there and “no longer sought other available legal remedies, such as … appropriate court action.” This “abstention … enabled [City Hall] to freely proceed with [its] illegal act,” it said.

MSBF also said City Hall’s notice of delinquency to the foundation, without a notice of assessment, did not fulfill the requirements of due process as enunciated by the Supreme Court.

The RTC agreed with this view and declared that the takeover was illegal and null and void.

In its decision, the RTC declared: “Inasmuch as no prior notice of assessment was served, there is no basis to collect any tax liability, no obligation arose on the part of the Plaintiff to pay the amount of real property taxes sought to be collected. Consequently, Plaintiff never became delinquent in the payment of said taxes to defendant Quezon City, and the latter never acquired any right to sell the subject property in a public auction.”

In spite of this decision, City Hall continues to exercise control over MSBF’s usufruct property and to force the tenant-gardeners to pay rent to it and not to the foundation.

But why is City Hall salivating over the property, to the extent of resorting to “unlawful, illegal and unconstitutional measures”?

It is because of its obsession to have the property absorbed by the P22-billion joint venture of NHA and Ayala Land Inc. to develop the 29-hectare property in North Triangle into a Central Business District where, according to Mayor Bautista’s chief of staff Aldrin Duna, “a high-rise convention center will be put up in the area facing Edsa.” (As I said in an earlier column, Ayala Land should be ashamed of its role in this illegal action.)

A newspaper report quoted Administrator Endriga as saying that “Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp. wanted to buy the 7-hectare property for P100,000 per square meter to put up the second tallest tower in the world, next to Tokyo’s 634-meter Sky Tree.”

The greed is so strong that City Hall even wants to grab the Veterans Memorial Medical Center compound and the Ninoy Aquino Wildlife Center to make them a part of this Central Business District. QC officials are obviously envious of the cities of Makati and Taguig, which have high-rise commercial and residential buildings in their commercial districts.

Regarding this ambition of having a Central Business District in the North Triangle area, I strongly urge our officials to give it a second hard look, and for the residents in and around the area to strongly oppose it.

First, do you realize what will happen if this area is filled up with tall commercial buildings? The traffic will be terrible. It is terrible now because of the presence of three giant shopping malls there—Trinoma, SM North Edsa and The Block—but it will be many times more terrible if a business district is built there. It will be much, much worse than Edsa during rush hours. Imagine the tens of thousands of vehicles clogging Elliptical Road, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon Avenue, North, South, East, and West Avenues, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao Avenues, and all the other peripheral streets. Residents of Philamlife, Project 6, Tierra Pura, Miranila and other neighboring villages will find it difficult to drive to and from their homes because of the traffic.

And think of the water requirements of that Central Business District. Much of the water supply of neighboring villages will be sucked up by the district’s buildings.

Also think of the air quality in the area. The tens of thousands of vehicles and the hundreds of thousands of people doing business there will all pollute the air. Right now, the air there is clean because of the open spaces and greenery. That will change once the Central Business District—which Quezon City does not need—becomes a reality.

Junk that crazy idea.

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