Another suit looms over Balili property

By Morexette B. Erram September 13,2017

The whistleblower who successfully convinced the Ombudsman to indict former governor Gwendolyn Garcia for the purchase of the Balili property in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City, now wants to file complaints against incumbent Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III for the latter’s plans to sell the controversial 24-hectare land to the local government of Naga City.

Businessman Crisologo Saavedra said he is “determined” to file an administrative case at the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas against Davide if the plan to sell the Balili property will push through.

“Why are you going to sell a property of the national government? We all know now that the Balili property is considered as a timberland. What are they going to do with that?” Saavedra asked.

He said that Capitol officials including members of the Provincial Board (PB) who will endorse Davide’s plan will be named as respondents, too.

Davide revealed on Monday that he planned to dispose the 24.7-hectare Balili property following Naga City Mayor Vanessa Kristine Chiong’s proposal to acquire the land from the provincial government to turn it into an industrial zone.

“Let him file a case. That’s his right. It is his right as a citizen to file a case or a complaint if he feels aggrieved,” said Davide.

The governor reiterated that the provincial government’s plans are still subject to discussions and approval from Capitol’s Economic Enterprise Council (EEC) and the PB.

The Balili property was purchased in April 2008 by the Cebu provincial government then headed by former governor and now deputy house speaker Garcia, at a cost of P98 million to build an eco-industrial zone within the site.

However, a land survey conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR – 7) showed that only four hectares of the land can be used to construct an industrial zone.

The rest of the 20 hectares was considered as timberland since it was submerged in brackish water and planted with mangroves.

Reports of Garcia and other Capitol officers attempting to backfill the submerged portions of the Balili property prompted Saavedra to file a graft and corruption case against them in 2010.

It was elevated to the Sandiganbayan in 2012. In the same year, Saavedra also filed a complaint against Garcia for another controversial province-owned property, the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) in Mandaue City for alleged overpriced expenses.

A year later, the CICC was declared unsuitable for occupation by engineers and building experts after it sustained double damages from the 7.2-magnitude earthquake and Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

When Davide took over the provincial government after winning the gubernatorial race in 2013, he vowed not to spend “a single centavo” for CICC, believing it to be marred by corruption.

Last August, his administration officially sold the CICC to the Mandaue City government for P300 million after Mandaue City Mayor Gabriel Luis Quisumbing revealed his plans to convert the decrepit arena into a commercial property through a public-private partnership (PPP).

The Balili property, if sold, will be the second controversial property acquired by Garcia’s administration to be disposed by the current provincial government.

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