POSTSCRIPT / February 27, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who's behind lobby for LRA's abolition?

LARA DERAILED: Mercifully, the bill being pushed in the Senate to abolish the Land Registration Administration and turn over to Malacanang its P2.5-billion yearly income was overtaken by the adjournment of the 13 th Congress.

Had Sen. Pia Cayetano succeeded in forcing the replacement of the LRA with a new Land Administration Authority directly under the Office of the President, our land titling system would have been set back at least 10 years.

The measure, titled Land Administration and Reform Act (LARA), was already approved in the House and almost passed in the Senate.

Observers in and out of Congress, as well as in the land development sector, have expressed amazement at the insistence of the expensive lobby reportedly pushing for LARA.

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QUESTIONS: Other questions being asked, in anticipation of the resurrection of the bill in the coming Congress, are:

1. Why would a bill for just a reorganization of government office invite so much support in Congress (16 sponsors in the House and six or seven in the Senate) and 37 civic organizations (some of which claim to be from the poor sectors but are able to buy huge newspaper ads).

2. Where is the lobby money coming from? It cannot be from the World Bank or from the Australian government, which gave donations and grants to install a system to improve the Torrens title system.

3. Why pick on LRA, an agency of the justice department that is conceded to be performing well and has become the department’s biggest revenue-earner?

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LEAST GUILTY: If there are anomalies in the long and complicated process of issuing land titles, least guilty is the LRA which simply issues the titles after a patent is issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or a decree by the courts.

Is the LRA being punished because the incumbent LRA administrator terminated a multi-billion-peso contract for the computerization of LRA systems and procedures?

The controversial deal was signed with a consortium allegedly capitalized at P500,000,000, but which after a year could not even pay its telephone and electricity bills.

With the consortium running out of money, its utility lines were reportedly cut off. Even the computer suppliers withdrew their software. Its ten Expedition utility vans were reportedly garnished by the bank, among other financial embarrassments.

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KOREAN SAVIOR: The juicy contract was awarded during the term of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada after a complaint of the losing bidder was thrown out.

The LRA administrator at that time retired and his successor died after a year, paving the way for the present administrator — Benedicto B. Ulep — to take over and set things in order. He terminated the contract, and the question is now under arbitration.

The insolvent contractor reportedly found a savior in a Korean group teaming up with a local electronics and TV firm. The group, said to be awash with cash, is reportedly bankrolling the contractor in paying its obligations amounting to about P1 billion.

Are the lobby and the media hype for LARA also being financed by this Korean adventurer?

And, big question, how did the Office of the President get into the picture?

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LHDC DEFENDED: A reader identifying himself as Aldeem Abdul Malik of Pantar, Lanao del Norte, reacted to my last Postscript and defended the Agus 3 power project awarded to the Lanao Hydroelectric Development Corp.

He said among other things in his email:

“For the last four years we live miserable lives in our province with the almost daily power between 2 to 10 hours because of power shortage. And our government does not care. No TV, no computer, no electrical appliances working straight for a day, and most of them were damaged by sudden surge of power when the lights are back.

“When sometimes you have brownouts there in Manila for just six hours, you shout to the heavens in cursing Meralco and the government. Here, in Lanao we live with it for many years now wondering why we have Lake Lanao that powers the six Agus plants that energize the whole of Mindanao and yet we are the worst hit by power shortage.

“LHDC owned by our former governor Saidamen Pangarungan wants to develop Agus 3 located in his own lands to address our power shortage and you are objecting because you found LHDC price of P4.32 per kilowatt-hour in 2011 as too high, when presently we are paying P4.98 per kwh in Lanao.

“If Agus 3 is not built (Allah forbids), I am certain we will be paying P10 per kwh four years hence in 2011 given the steady increase of more than 10 percent in power rates every year.”

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WOES ADDRESSED: Malik went on: “You object to the LHDC deal for lack of public bidding. Can Napocor legally bid out the lands of the former governor, including the municipal permits and environmental compliance certificate issued to LHDC without violating his legal and constitutional rights.

“You object to Asisclo Gonzaga as one of LHDC officials, but Mr. Gonzaga was formerly Napocor vice president for Mindanao and during his five years stint here at the Napocor Mindanao office here, he built bridges to Muslim-Christian unity. He convinced us Maranaws to open the 80-MW Agus 1 in Marawi City in 1992, after 14 years of angry opposition to the plant due to safety and environmental grounds.

“LHDC may be undercapitalized at P20 million as you ridiculed their paid-up of P1.2 million, but we heard of big investors like California Energy and lenders who announced their interest to fund the $300-million project cost of Agus 3. If you insist on a price lower than P4.32 in 2011, do you think these investors will risk their money in this Mindanao project?

“We cannot care less whether this NPC-LHDC deal is ‘lutong macao ‘ or forged with favoritism. What we care most is someone should come out to address our daily power shortage and woes.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 27, 2007)

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