Balili lot reclaimed, but case to go on—Ombud

Posted on August 11, 2012

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WHAT used to be mostly underwater property in the province-owned Balili estate has been largely backfilled and covered with limestone or anapog.

The ongoing reclamation of the coastal land by the Cebu provincial government was confirmed by residents in barangay Inoburan, a neighboring village of barangay Tina-an where the Balili property is located.

Resident Japoy Encabo said 15 trucks dump limestone in the fishpond daily, an operation noticed from 8 a.m. to 5 pm.

The last time he saw the trucks was last Thursday, he said.

Another resident, Agnes Encabo said that ever since the Balili Property was backfilled, their place gets flooded during high tide.

“There is a riprap but since the reclamation has been done, all the water from the sea that was supposed to be in that area is being pushed here,” said Encabo whose family lives in a small bamboo house at the shoreline.

Jun-Jun Lazarte, another resident, said the limestone is sourced from a quarry in barangay Pangdan and that backfilling would continue till December.

The property is off limits to visitors who don’t present a permit from the Capitol.

“Reclaiming the area will not affect the case. From the start, it was established that the property is submerged in water. It is difficult to cover up a mistake,” said Deputy Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol in an interview.

Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, former Provincial Board Member Juan Bolo and four other Capitol officials and two land owners face graft charges before the Sandiganbayan for the irregular purchase of almost 25 hectares of the Balili properties.

Garcia in her motion seeking a reinvestigation said she was “not aware” the property was largely under water until after the purchase was made in 2008 because she relied on the report of the Provincial Appraisal Committee.

Part of the compound is being developed as a secured landfill to contain coal fly ash that the Korean Electric Company (Kepco) produces as waste.

Near the site is a signage indicating that the Capitol secured an Environmental Compliance Certificate for the landfill facility.

“Based on legal principles, once it is consummated, and there is criminal offense, it cannot be used anymore in any purposes, unless it is freed from the criminal liability,” Apostol said when asked if the property can be used.

“In reclaiming the property, it just proved that that the lot used to be submerged in water,” he said.

Capitol consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda, in a phone interview, said he has no idea about the ongoing reclamation of the Balili beach property.

“As I know, there is a development work being conducted. I don’t know the other activities. (But) I don’t think reclamation is one of them,” Sepulveda said.

He said the province intends to use portions of the property as a coal-ash facility but it is still subject to a case in court.

Sepulevda said the province has the right to reclaim the Balilil property since it owned the land.

“We have the titles. The property is owned by the province. There is no existing case that questions that validity of the titles,” he said.

Sepulveda said anyone wishing to enter the Balili property should ask permission from the province.

In an ABS-CBN report Leo Lastimosa said he and his crew were prohibited from entering the Balili property.

“If he (Lastimosa) thinks he can enter any public property, then why won’t he try getting inside Central Bank or Malacañang?” Sepulveda said.

Last July 19, charges were filed against Garcia before the Sandigbayan in relation to the irregular purchase of 24.7 hectares of beach front property in Naga City worth P98.9 million.

A government survey showed that the Balili property turned out to be mostly underwater or classified as coastal timberland.

Garcia is facing charges of two counts of graft and one count of illegal use of public funds in relation to the case. /Ador Vincent Mayol and Carine M. Asutilla

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