Harmonizing ROW paves way for infra dev’t
Commentary

Harmonizing ROW paves way for infra dev’t

/ 04:25 AM February 28, 2024

To achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth, the Philippines needs to build up its infrastructure. The current administration is very much aware of this, and this is evident in the level of priority it has assigned to infrastructure building through its “Build Better More” program.

Partnership and collaboration with the private sector are important to achieving the country’s infrastructure goals. There is also a conscious effort to improve our regulatory and business environment so that investors, foreign and local, would be attracted to bring their funds here and keep them here. Similarly, initiatives to foster transparency, accountability, and efficiency in government transactions will do much to boost investor confidence in the Philippines.

But there is one more aspect that determines whether investment plans and public-private partnerships (PPP) could achieve their aim as intended: right of way (ROW). This has been a cause of delay especially in the government’s major transportation infrastructure projects. A problematic ROW situation has the potential to stall a project with long legal battles from the owners of affected properties. Indeed, challenges associated with developing infrastructure in the Philippines are best addressed by the strategic utilization of PPPs and coordinated and streamlined execution of ROW services. Central to this is improving coordination among agencies involved and enhancing the process by which ROW is acquired.

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OPINION

Republic Act No. 10752 or the ROW Act, approved in 2016, focuses on the legal process of acquiring the ROW, site, or location intended for infrastructure projects of the national government. The ROW Act serves as the legal framework for acquiring land for implementing infrastructure projects.

This law, which has improved considerably from its predecessor RA 8974, includes a shift in the basis for offer prices, payment responsibility for capital gains tax, recognition of partial payments, timing of writ of possession issuance, and provisions for subterranean acquisition.

The law notwithstanding, the ROW acquisition process still faces challenges such as the displacement of landowners and households. Because of the lack of budget allocated to ROW matters, there is a need for better coordination among agencies, coordination that transcends land evaluation and concession matters.

As a result, there has been another legislative initiative intending to address this. On Feb. 6 last year, the House of Representatives passed on third and final reading House Bill No. 6571, which provides additional guidelines in the acquisition of ROW, site, or location for infrastructure projects of the national government. This is a consolidation of five proposed measures intending to amend RA 10752.

Specifically, the amendments aim to expedite the building of roads, bridges, expressways, railways, airports, among others, by decisively addressing ROW issues. The bill also seeks to address squatting by mandating the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development to establish resettlement sites for squatters and provide for their needs. If this new bill becomes a law, agencies could offer landowners the current market value of zonal value of the land as determined by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This means that upon the execution of the deed of sale, the implementing agency shall pay the landowner 100 percent of the agreed price so long as the property title is clean.

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ROW issues are tricky because they touch on people’s rightly owned spaces that are homes for their families or sources of livelihood that will suddenly be disrupted in the name of progress. Thus, provisions should include proper relocation and resolution of land disputes.

Adopting these amendments to the law ensures the socioeconomic well-being of those affected, and minimizes the roadblocks for a smoother, timelier implementation of infrastructure projects. The effort goes hand in hand with the conduct of consultations with local government units where the projects are located. This will facilitate the alignment of local policies with the objectives of national development.

ROW acquisition is a perennial problem that is responsible for higher costs and longer delays in the implementation of projects.

We believe that the government should take the lead in addressing this perennial ROW problem, in a true spirit of collaboration with the private sector as partners for building the critical infrastructure we urgently need to sustain what is already an encouraging growth trajectory.

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Dindo Manhit is founder and CEO of the Stratbase Group.

TAGS: economic growth, infrastructure, opinion

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