BY ROGER M. BALANZA
A controversial real estate developer linked to the scandalous bribe-laden PEA-Amari deal, a scuttled reclamation project on Manila Bay during the administration of President Fidel Ramos tagged by critics as the “grandmother of all scams,” has offered to undertake a multi-billion peso reclamation project in Davao City’s coastal area from Sta. Ana wharf to the mouth of the Davao River.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said the project proposed by Reghis Romero II would cost about P33 billion in reclaiming 746 hectares.
Romero heads R-II Builders, Inc., one of the country’s biggest land developers. Under the project, the Davao City government gets a percentage of raw lands reclaimed or revenue derived from sale of the reclaimed lands.
In the Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa television program on ABS/CBN-Davao on Sunday, October 19, Duterte said he already had a preliminary discussion with Romero on the project planned to start construction in 2016.
Duterte, aware of Romero’s involvement in the Manila reclamation scandal, said he had warned Romero that the Davao City project should not follow in the footstep of the PEA-Amari deal.
Duterte said the project needs Malacanang approval in conversion of the coastal area from its classification as human habitat into commercial area.
A presidential proclamation issued by then President Joseph Estrada declared a large part of the city’s coastal area as human settlement area. The reclamation project also has to consider the existing Slum Improvement and Rehabilitation (SIR) project, the World Bank-funded resettlement project consisting of thousands of urban poor housing in Quezon Boulevard from the Sta. Ana area halfway to the mouth of the Davao River.
In the television show, Duterte said he had warned Romero not to soil the deal with corruption as his company seeks approval from local government bodies.
I will throw the deal to the garbage bin if I smell bribery, he said.
Romero’s R-II Builders was the developer of the controversial Philippine Estate Administration (PEA)-Amari deal during the administration of former President Fidel Ramos. The PEA-Amari deal, that would reclaim 158 hectares of Manila Bay, was called by critics as the “grandmother of all scams” for alleged bribery involving government officials including Ramos.
The PEA-Amari deal, a scandal that rocked the Ramos presidency, sparked a Senate investigation and a case that reached the Supreme Court, which declared the deal as null and void.
The proposed Davao City reclamation project of Romero first surfaced in 2012, when Duterte was the sitting vice mayor, as a big ticket project under the government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project.
While the Davao City Council took initial steps on the Romero application, reports surfaced that some city councilors initiated a bribery deal with the developer for easy approval of the application.
In wake of the report, an irate Duterte then overhauled the city council committees and dislodged a chairman of a committee who was reported to have led the under-the-table deal bridged through a now sitting senator.
The multi-billion peso R-II Builders project would convert Davao City’s coastal area into a veritable goldmine of commercial establishments standing on premium lands recovered from sea.
With spaces for buildings becoming scarce in the downtown business districts, the reclamation project could provide more elbow rooms for new business.
Duterte earlier said he has tasked Davao City Third District Rep. Isidro Ungab to discuss reclamation projects (there were other offers from foreign investors aside from R-II Builders) with President Benigno Aquino, in relation to conversion of the areas from human settlement to commercial zone.
Ungab has the ears of the President, said Duterte. Ungab is the chair of the powerful House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations.
A Malaysian investor also had offered to develop Isla Verde into a commercial area, earlier said Davao City Investment and Promotion Center (DCIPC) officer Ivan Cortez.
Cortez said the proposal would be studied along with two other similar projects that zeroed in on the 9-hectare portion of the coastal village of Isla Verde, where a massive fire gutted down more than 2,000 houses early this year.
In an earlier edition of his weekly television program Gikan sa Masa Para sa Masa, Duterte also revealed that a Malaysian investor wanted to develop Isla Verde into a commercial venture.
Duterte raising to Malacanang the issue of the reclamation project and conversion of Isla Verde into a commercial area, is a reversal of an earlier position.
Duterte earlier said he is taking the side of the homeless against an offer by the Malaysian investor to develop the coastal village razed to the ground by the massive fire in April.
Duterte has ordered victims of the fire that displaced more than 2,000 families to build their new homes on the spot where their houses stood before the fire that swept through three coastal barangays in Quezon Boulevard.
On the Romero proposal, Duterte said the developer could either relocate the coastal residents or let them stay and reclaim and develop only portions of the coast areas that are not occupied.