BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte is lukewarm on the proposed P8.2 billion sports complex project in the University of the Philippines in Mindanao (UP-Min) campus in Bago Oshiro, saying the project is hobbled by land conflict that give the local government a big headache and by funding woes that could make construction of the project a race without a finish line.
Duterte expressed the sentiment as the Davao City Council, which he heads, deferred action on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City Government of Davao and UP-Min on the proposed 20-hectare sports complex to be carved out of the 200-hectare campus of the state-owned university, about 20 kms. from downtown.
The proposed site of the sports complex is presently occupied by farmers who are descendants of workers of the Ohta Corporation who took over the property of the Japanese abaca planting company after the end of World War II in 1945.
Congress has appropriated P200 million in the 2015 General Appropriations Act as seed money to start off the project.
In the Davao City Council regular session on April 7, floor leader Bernie Al-ag deferred preliminary approval of the MOU and sent it back to more committee hearings after a 2-hour deliberation that mostly centered on the plight of the farmers who claim right over the land, the P200M initial funding from the national government that requires a P100M counterpart fund from the local government to start off the project and a presidential proclamation that allocated the property to UP-Min.
This is unfair, Duterte told media in an interview in his office during a break in session at noon. He was referring to the farmers who would be displaced by the project.
He suggested that the local government can evade a potential social problem involving the farmers by junking the MOU and for the city government to instead buy a new site for the proposed sports complex.
The sports complex project is already covered by a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by Mayor Duterte and UP-Min in 1998, two years after the first Mindanao satellite of the state university was created by a presidential proclamation issued by then President Fidel Ramos.
We still have plenty of cheap land around to buy for the sports complex, he said.
Duterte said the sports complex is an P8.2B “progressive project” that needs funding from Congress.
The P200M initial funding for the project was requested by Third District Representative Isidro Ungab, who is ending his three terms.
Duterte said the project could take decades to complete as it would rely on national funding, adding that additional funds after the P200M seed money may not be coming.
In the Tuesday session, Afredo Logronio, president of the Bago Oshiro Farmers Association, narrated the history of the contested land.
He said workers farmed the land after Ohta abandoned the Bago Oshiro abaca plantation after the defeat of the Japanese in World War II.
Their occupancy would be recognized after the property was declared as Experimental Station of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) which allowed the farmers to till the land as tenant-farmers.
The farmers’ claim of right over their farm lots came into bad weather when then President Fidel Ramos issued a Presidential Proclamation in 1996 declaring the BPI complex as site of the newly-created UP-Min.
Logronio said the farmers were not consulted before the proclamation which did not recognize their right.
On the heels of the P200M seed money approved by Congress, UP-Min sought an MOU with the Davao City government to start the sports complex with the area occupied by the farmers as site of the project.
The MOU, sadly, also placed the burden of relocating the farmers on the shoulders of the local government.
In the Tuesday session, floor leader Al-ag said that the farmers need more than a relocation site.
He stressed that the source of livelihood of the farmers, whom he described as “tenant-farmers” and not “informal settlers,” must be properly addressed if they are to be displaced. He said the farmers have been tilling the land for livelihood for decades since after WWII.
In expressing opposition to the deal, Duterte said under the MOA the local government would be inheriting a legal problem involving farmer’s claim of right over the land and a potential social problem in the relocation of the farmers and finding sources of livelihood for them.