As I See It

QC gov’t oppressing MSBF and its tenants

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Land-grabbing in Quezon City is getting worse. The biggest land-grabber of all is the Quezon City government itself, which should be protecting the properties of taxpayers from land-grabbers like squatters. Instead, it is itself doing the land-grabbing, employing brute force and using tax money and government employees paid with taxpayer money to do the dirty deed. It is grabbing one of the last lungs of the city, the seven-hectare Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) Environment Center on Quezon Avenue.

City Hall has sent policemen and members of its Department of Public Order and Safety and has hired private security guards—also paid with the people’s taxes—to seize the MSBF gardens without any court order or any legal document. It has threatened the tenant gardeners, telling them to dismantle their gardens and stores within 24 hours of its Jan. 7 order, or else City Hall itself would demolish their structures. What it cannot do legally, it is doing with the use of naked, brute force.

Officials of MSBF disclosed this oppression to the media at a Quezon City forum last Saturday.

Why is City Hall doing this? Because a land developer wants to transform it into a business and commercial center which would make that part of the city no longer a green area but a concrete jungle.

MSBF was granted a 50-year usufruct on seven hectares of land that belongs to the National Housing Authority (NHA) by presidential proclamation. The usufruct expires in 14 years. Why not just wait for its expiration, then the NHA or City Hall and the developer can have it without any fuss? The developer already has a much bigger tract of vacant land (except for several remaining squatters) behind the Trinoma shopping mall. Why not start constructing there? By the time it finishes construction there, the usufruct would have already expired and MSBF and its gardeners would leave. Why is the developer and City Hall in a hurry?

Because of greed. The current Quezon City government officials would no longer be in City Hall in 14 years and therefore would not get whatever premiums the developer is offering for the property. They want to get those premiums now. Besides, the cost of construction would rise in the next 14 years and the developer wants to maximize its profits.

But because of this greed, City Hall is oppressing its taxpaying citizens and trampling on their rights. They should all be ashamed of this miscarriage of justice. What is the Commission on Human Rights doing about this?

The case is already in the courts. The Supreme Court has confirmed MSBF’s usufruct on the property. The Quezon City regional trial court has decided that City Hall cannot eject MSBF by enacting a zoning ordinance converting the land into a commercial zone. The city council cannot do this. A local law (the ordinance) cannot repeal a national law (the presidential proclamation). The RTC has issued a permanent injunction against City Hall.

The Quezon City government appealed the case to the Supreme Court, and there it sleeps. Because of the slowness of the highest court of the land that dispenses justice, a great injustice is being done on citizens by their own local government. It is a case of lawbreakers oppressing law-abiding citizens.

City Hall obviously wants to complete the land-grabbing before the courts issue their decisions. By then, the decisions would become moot and academic.

What are the judicial and executive departments doing to prevent this injustice?

The Supreme Court can wake up, abandon its usual slowness and decide on the case quickly. MSBF has promised to abide by the court decision. If the decision is unfavorable to it, it would vacate the premises without any fuss.

The Department of Interior and Local Government or the Office of the President can order the Quezon City government to wait for the court decision. No harm would be done if everybody waits for the decision. On the other hand, an injustice would be committed if Quezon City Hall is allowed to continue with its Gestapo-style land-grabbing.

But neither the Court nor Malacañang/DILG is doing anything. Are they both under the thumb of Quezon City officials? How about the third branch of government—Congress?

The Senate or the House of Representatives should quickly make an investigation to prevent an injustice. Where are the gallant lawmakers who, when they were asking for the votes of the people, promised to do what is right, help the citizens and protect them from oppression and injustice? Are they going to allow the gestapos and Kempeitais of Quezon City Hall to trample on their rights?

What is City Hall’s excuse for taking over the MSBF Environment Center? It claims the latter has not paid real estate taxes and that it has sold the land in a public auction. And surprise, surprise, the lone bidder was City Hall itself.

But the owner of the property is not MSBF but the NHA which, under the Urban Development and Housing Act (Republic Act No. 7279), is exempt from income and real estate taxes: “Section 19. Incentives for the National Housing Authority. The National Housing Authority, being the primary government agency in charge of providing housing for the underprivileged and homeless, shall be exempted from the payment of all fees and charges of any kind, whether local or national, such as income and realty taxes…”

Therefore, plain common sense tells us, the sale for alleged nonpayment of realty taxes is totally illegal and void.

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