POSTSCRIPT / April 10, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Baguio loses P125M in John Hay standoff

BAGUIO CITY – This Pines City was again beautiful over the Holy Week. Give or take a few rainshowers, the weather was as cool as spring and the sun was friendly enough that you could walk around.

It is unfortunate, however, that tourism here is not doing as well as it should, given the competition from other new sites in the country such as CamSur and Puerto Princesa which have been seeing a great upsurge in tourism lately.

One of the problems, laments Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, is the ongoing quarrel between the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and the developers of Camp John Hay (Camp John Hay Development Corp. or CJHDevCo).

Camp John Hay — a leisure area of almost 250 hectares — could be a major attraction not only in Baguio but in the Philippines by now, with not only a golf course but also an amusement center similar to Resorts World or a restaurant row competitive to what you would find in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands.

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4-YEAR STANDOFF: Unfortunately, CJHDevCo had to stop further developments on the property in 2008 when Camp John Hay Management, the management arm of BCDA (BCDA-John Hay) slowed down, if not eliminated entirely, the processing of permits needed to develop the area.

Under the lease contract and by congressional authority, Baguio City is entitled to 25 percent of the lease rentals that CJHDevCo is paying BCDA for the entitlement to develop the property.

On top of this, the Baguio government is also to be given an equitable share of 2 percent from the gross income of operations within Camp John Hay. This would amount to an additional income for Baguio in the hundreds of millions that it could use for socio-economic, tourism and environmental programs.

Instead, for almost four years now, due to the standoff, Baguio City has been receiving nothing.

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ONE-STOP CENTER: Domogan said that CJHDevCo is in fact willing to pay back payments since 2008 for the sake of completing developments, but wants BCDA to guarantee compliance of its commitment to create a One Stop Action Center (OSAC) to process permits in 30 days.

Otherwise, he added, BCDA would be putting CJHDevCo in a position where it is paying lease for space it cannot develop because of lack of permits.

Domogan said that if BCDA is able to negotiate even just P500 million in back payments since 2008 (it could be more), a quarter of that, which Baguio City is entitled to, would already be P125 million.

The people of Baguio could benefit from that substantial amount. But the mayor said BCDA President Arnel Casanova has refused to negotiate or even reply to the letters of CJHDevCo. As a result, the development firm has been forced to file a case for arbitration.

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CONCILIATION: “I don’t know why BCDA is ignoring the appeals of CJHDevCo,” Domogan said. “I would understand if BCDA wants to hold out for a greater amount, but while they are doing this, it’s Baguio City that is on the losing end.”

The mayor said there is lost income from the rentals share plus lost opportunities in terms of tourism, employment and development. He clarified that he is siding with neither BCDA nor CJHDevCo, but only wants the best for Baguio City.

The Congress has noted this standoff. The Special Committee on Bases Conversion in the House of Representatives has passed a resolution to create a Technical Working Group led by Rep. Bernardo M. Vergara to settle the John Hay dispute.

The city government submitted a position paper requesting the committee to call both parties to speed up settling their legal differences, to evaluate and determine obligations, so payments could be made soonest, and for the City of Baguio to collect its 25-percent share.

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SUSPICIOUS: Many people, meanwhile, are alarmed by the unusual haste with which the Commission on Elections decided to buy, instead of just lease, the old Smartmatic election machines that produced irregular and suspicious outputs in the 2010 presidential polls.

Why buy the bus that failed you in your last trip when you can just pay for a reserved seat when you have to ride it once every three years?

By buying the 82,000 Precinct Count Optical Scan election machines, the Comelec under chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. would:

* Destroy whatever evidence was in the PCOS hardware and software of computerized fraud and thereby obstruct justice and jeopardize resolution of election disputes.

* Allow Smartmatic to get away with – and even get paid handsomely for — its technical deficiencies and non-performance of contractual obligations.

* Absorb what should have been Smartmatic’s expense as PCOS owner for the maintenance and warehousing of the machines that grow obsolete with time.

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SAFEGUARDS DISREGARDED: A sample of alarm and dismay over the Comelec decision is this email from reader Peter Monterey:

“The IT community in the Philippines concludes, with extensive documentation, that nobody really knows who won in the 2010 elections — at all levels.

“First, there were no signatures on all elections returns, as ordered by Comelec. Paniniwalaan mo ba ang eleksyon returns na walang pirma?

“Second, Comelec ordered that the scanners designed to detect whether ballots were fake or authentic should not be used.

“Third, the voter did not get any verification from the PCOS machine on whom he voted for.

“All of these anomalies violated the law.

“A Foreign Observer group concurs with the findings of the IT community and has questioned the legitimacy of the electoral results.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 10, 2012)

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