Monday, September 06, 2010

@noynoyaquino Reghis Romero's P4.46 Billion Smokey Mountain housing project could end up killing its poor beneficiaries

Inasmuch as Vice President Jejomar Binay has sworn to rid the government shelter sector of corruption, perhaps it should train its guns on Reghis Romero and the controversial Smokey Mountain Project which involves P 4.46 billion.

The money was apparently wasted on low cost housing units that were built so far way below standard that it is now crumbling and POSES SERIOUS THREATS on the lives of the poor people living in them.

Here's reference to it from a previous column of Ducky Paredes:
A letter to the editor was sent to me: “By now, most people already know that the ‘midnight deal’ had been paved by De Castro when he asked President Arroyo last May 25 to release P4.46 billion to be used in paying the claims of Reghis Romero in relation to the controversial Smokey Mountain Project.
“But what Mr. Paredes shone a light on was the apparently long-standing complaint of the ‘beneficiaries’ of the Smokey Mountain housing project undertaken by Romero with the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the Housing Guaranty Corp. led by De Castro as housing czar.
“Citing complaints by the Alyansa ng Mamamayan sa Smokey Mountain and the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or KADAMAY, the housing units turned out to be of substandard quality so much so that many are already crumbling, even threatening the lives of those who lease them.
Likewise, the leaseholders had pointed out that at least seven more housing buildings had been left unfinished by Romero’s R-II Builders, a clear case of breach of contract.
“It’s a wonder how the National Housing Authority and the Home Guaranty Corp. under De Castro had anything to do with a project that is not only overpriced but is also substandard. I mean, didn’t the DPWH even check on the units before they were turned over to the poor former settlers at Smokey Mountain?
“The government officials behind this project, past and present but especially the current ones, should be jailed for this travesty and clear case of corruption bedeviling a government project.
“De Castro should be ashamed of himself.”– Fiona Marie Vallejo Filinvest East, Marcos Highway, Antipolo City
More recently, a Quezon city judge has thrown out Reghis Romero's petition to muzzle two newspapers by keeping them from accepting advertisements appealing to President Aquino to investigate the Smoke mountain project.
QUEZON City Judge Evangeline Castillo-Marigomen threw out a temporary restraining order (TRO) petition filed against two broadsheets by real estate developer Reghis Romero and his company R-II Builders.
The TRO would have stopped the publication of advocacy advertisements asking President Aquino to investigate the Smokey Mountain project and the aborted payment of billions of pesos to R-II.
The judge ruled that what Romero wanted goes against the policy of government to make public projects more transparent and open to the scrutiny of the people.
After all, it is taxpayers’ money that R-II wanted as payment -- P3.17 billion for a project for which it once admitted accomplishing only P211 million worth of actual work done.
Also, the court noted that granting the TRO would amount to the imposition of prior restraint on media. Censorship, said Judge Marigomen, has no place in a democracy. Her decision stated: "The TRO sought by R-II has no place in a democracy like the Philippines because it sought to stop media from fulfilling its mandate to present all sides of a story."
R-II should not take media to task for just doing its job of providing balanced views on a particular issue because the ideal is for all parties to an issue to be given a fair chance to be heard.
It should be pointed out that the same papers had been running countless ads that can be reasonably assumed to be coming from R-II or from its allies. The ads have been defending if not praising to high heavens the Smokey Mountain project.
Now, how can R-II ask P30 million in damages from the same papers who just balanced the many pro-R-II and pro-Smokey Mountain project ads with but a few contrary ads?
Since when did it become wrong for taxpayers to ask government to ensure against the overpricing of public projects? Isn’t that the very essence of fighting corruption, a self-imposed crusade of President Aquino?
At the end of the day, R-II must justify every centavo of the billions of pesos it is seeking from taxpayers, while accounting for the rentals and profit share of the government from Manila Harbour Center, which it has not been remitting remit for the last 10 years.
These are very valid issues, which members of media have the duty to dissect and bring before the people.
The "Dear Noynoy" ads asked for a full-blown investigation on, among other things, why R-II was to be paid P3.17 billion for a project for which it admitted in court having actual accomplishments amounting only to P211 million.
The P3.17 billion was part of the P4.4 billion whose release under a "compromise agreement" involving R-II and the Home Guaranty Corp. (HGC) was endorsed to MalacaƱang by former Vice President and housing czar Noli de Castro before he stepped down from office.
The "compromise agreement" would have been signed before President Aquino took his office last June 30 had it not been exposed in media as overly lopsided in R-II’s favor.
The ad also questioned R-II’s control of the 79-hectare Manila Harbour Center, as well as its non-remittance for 10 years now of government’s share from the rentals and profits generated by the government-owned land.
The Kapisanan Kontra Korapsyon (KKK), which paid for the ads, says of the judge’s decision:
"This is a victory for the people in our fight against corruption and the imposition of prior restraint and censorship on news media." In her order dated August 13, Judge Evangeline Castillo Marigomen said the court could not grant the TRO because it would transgress a "policy of government with respect to the transparency of government contracts as well as prior restraint."
"This is a press freedom issue, as what are really harassment charges filed against journalists, media outfits and crusading citizens should be promptly thrown out by our courts," KKK said.

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