What do we make of the report that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), the government’s official counsel, has declared the land occupied by a mall and condominium project of a taipan in the National Capital Region is still part of a “military reservation” and therefore owned by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)?
If the report is accurate, that can only mean one thing: the property in question remains government property and therefore cannot be used for profit by any private or commercial entity.
The OSG likewise affirmed the findings of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) that the land titles used by the taipan for his publicly-listed company’s commercial development are of “dubious origin.”
In so doing, the OSG also declared as void the transaction entered into by the taipan with a local government unit in Metro Manila over the conversion and development of the prime “military reservation.”
How did this controversial land deal come about?
The prime property, we’re told, used to be one of the military garrisons used by the Americans in the early 1900s.
As early as May 1905, then US President Theodore Roosevelt declared the prime property, along with Fort Santiago, Estado Mayor and Malate Barracks, as military reservations.
In December 1956, the US government turned over the property, along with other military reservations, to the Philippine government, which later allowed the use of the property to a Metro Manila city solely for the construction of schools and a police station.
In April 2006, the LGU entered into a commercial joint venture with the taipan’s PSE-listed company for the conversion of the property into what is now a well-known mall and condominium project.
The taipan also converted another prime area in the military-owned property into a lucrative and posh hotel and condominium project.
The taipan is said to have fostered very close ties with past and present politicians with his wide circle of connections.
With the recent disclosure by the government’s official counsel, will this taipan be able to wiggle out of this controversy using his wealth, connections and resources?
Observers say this might only be the tip of the iceberg.
Has the controversial land deal been replicated in other land development projects in Metro Manila and various other parts of our country?
Do these projects also involve government-owned lands?
With the taipan’s broad interests in various fields—hotels, malls, media and prime real estate development both here and abroad—observers are beginning to wonder if the controversial land deal could well taint his meteoric rise in Philippine business circles over the years.
No end to the drug menace
Don’t look now, but it looks like the previous administration’s bloody war on drugs has not solved the problem, with authorities confiscating some P592 million worth of illegal drugs in January this year.
A recent report by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed illegal drugs seized included “shabu” or crystal meth worth P403.4 million; cocaine powder worth P15.9 million; ecstasy tablets worth P19.9 million; kush worth P19.8 million, and marijuana in the form of dried leaves, bricks, plants, and stalks worth “millions.”
The agency said 4,499 drug personalities were arrested and 7,720 drug cases were filed in January alone.
But there’s also positive news. To date, 64.1 percent or 26,952 of the 42,046 barangays nationwide have already been declared “drug-free.”
The report indicated that authorities have increased their surveillance and monitoring of the nation’s airports and seaports, as well as mail and parcel services, to stop the importation of illegal drugs, prohibited precursors, and vital chemicals.
While at this, we recall an opinion piece in the New York Times in 2017 by former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria entitled “President Duterte Is Repeating My Mistakes”.
We quote pertinent portions of the commentary to give readers another perspective on how the war on drugs in this country can be won.
One, “illegal drugs are a matter of national security, but the war against them cannot be won by armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime.”
Two, Gaviria said, his government and every administration since “threw everything at the problem—from fumigating crops to jailing every drug pusher in sight. Not only did we fail to eradicate drug production, trafficking and consumption in Colombia, but we also pushed drugs and crime into neighboring countries. And we created new problems. Tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in our antidrug crusade.
“Many of our brightest politicians, judges, police officers and journalists were assassinated. At the same time, the vast funds earned by drug cartels were spent to corrupt our executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.
“We do not believe that military hardware, repressive policing and bigger prisons are the answer. Real reductions in drug supply and demand will come through improving public health and safety, strengthening anticorruption measures—especially those that combat money laundering—and investing in sustainable development.
“We also believe that the smartest pathway to tackling drugs is decriminalizing consumption and ensuring that governments regulate certain drugs… Extrajudicial killings and vigilantism are the wrong ways to go…”
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