This was his reaction to Wednesday’s two-hour presentation of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia who vowed to continue to “restore” underwater lots in the Balili estate and develop the almost 25-hectare property in Naga City as a special economic zone.
“Future gains in real estate investment do not justify any circumvention of the law,” said Sitoy.
He and Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale filed a graft complaint against the governor last Dec. 7 for backfilling a fishpond and submerged parts of the Balili property, allegedly to “cover up” evidence of an irregular 2008 land purchase without authority of the Provincial Board.
“Besides, there is a need to rationalize priorities in budgeting. Millions of pesos in government money should not be spent for real estate endeavors. Rather, it should be spent to enhance the lives of fisherfolk and farmers,” Sitoy told CEBU DAILY NEWS.
“Real estate investment is not a primary function of government.”
He noted that the Capitol budget for farmers in 2013 is only P22 million with nothing for fishermen.
The Balili property, purchased for P98.9 million, is the subject of a Sandiganbayan case. Garcia and seven others face graft charges for buying the former beach resort in barangay Tinaan, Naga that turned out to be mostly under water.
Garcia has denied any wrongdoing, and explained in the Wednesday forum that the land would be developed and not left idle like a “dead body” waiting for a crime investigation to wrap up.
The governor lamented that some of her critics didn’t attend the forum, referring to Sitoy and Vice Governor Magpale.
Another opponent, Gigi Sanchez-Zaballero, was there but left while the briefing was still going on at the Cebu International Convention Center.
The daughter of former vice governor Gregorio Sanchez Jr. said she wasn’t satisfied with the presentation.
“How can an anomalous project not be anomalous anymore? She’s saying that it’s all right because anyway the property value of the filled up land increased.
“Kung imong piso nga kinawat ug mahimong P5, okay na lang? Dili nana kinawat? (If I steal P1 and make it P5, does that make it okay? Isn’t that still stealing?” she added.
Zaballero brought with her news clippings of the governor’s previous statements about the Balili land deal over the years, and referred to them as Garcia’s speech went on.
“It’s one form of twisting an idea. Nilakaw na lang ko,” said Zaballero. She was at the CICC at past 10:30am and left about 12:30pm.
If an open forum was held, Zaballero said she would have asked the governor : “For the longest time, why have you kept this hidden? You should have site development projects written up in the newspaper, di ba?”
She was referring to the backfilling in the Balili compound, where entry is off limits to the public unless one shows proof of permission from the governor’s office. A security guard strictly monitors any intruders.
Garcia on Wednesday showed a copy of a P27.5 million contract for the backfilling of the property.
“It was not done overnight sa kalapad adto. Why did she have to hide it?” she added.
Governor Garcia said the province stands to earn “millions of pesos” from the property after it is developed.
She said the land was worth six times more its purchase price today at P623.1 million because the wet portions were backfilled.
One proposed revenue scheme is for cement company Apo to buy coal ash waste dumped there by the Korean Electric Company.
Garcia said the Capitol would earn P40 per ton from Apo aside from the $1 per ton of ash from Kepco, which is projected to dispose of 600 metric tons of fly ash and 300 metric tons bed ash per month.
With this, the province is expected to earn US$900 every month, she said. /Carmel Loise Matus, Correspondent