San Pedro
By Lito Banayo
Malaya

HOW could a piece of property sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), and a lis pendens annotated upon its transfer certificate of title, land in the hands of a corporation called Crown Asia, owned and controlled by the so-called “brown taipan”, Manuel Villar, who wants to be president of the land?

The 2.18 hectare property is in the vicinity of a swanky golf course called TAT, before that Filipinas Golf Course, and even before that, during the Marcos years, known as Holiday Hills, in the municipality of San Pedro Laguna. It straddles the boundary of the first town of Laguna with the last city of Metro Manila, and is now connected to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) by an interchange, and to Las Piñas and Bacoor to a so-called Daang Reyna, which in turn connects to Daang Hari. Pretty good property, one must say.

It used to be titled to one Maximo Argana, remembered by many to be the feared and powerful mayor of Muntinglupa during the martial law years. When the dictatorship fell, the newly-created PCGG went after the unexplained wealth of Marcos, his cronies and other public officials. They went after Maximo Argana’s wealth, and this San Pedro property was one of them. Because Argana had meanwhile died, the PCGG attached an encumbrance upon the title, what is called a lis pendens, which means the property cannot be sold, leased, or otherwise encumbered while the case is pending. And up till today, that case pends before the Sandiganbayan.

Meanwhile, the informal settlers who had stayed in the property by tolerance or sufferance of the registered owner, Argana, had hoped that when the government finally got full leave of the court to confiscate the San Pedro property, they could apply for land ownership under the social justice programs of the State.

Their hopes brightened with the enactment of the Urban Dwellers Act during the Cory administration, otherwise known as the Lina Law.

But lo and behold! In the year 2000, a corporation called Crown Asia suddenly claimed ownership of the property, on the basis of a deed of sale executed between it and Capitol Bank. Both Crown Asia and Capitol are owned and controlled by the spouses Manuel and Cynthia Villar. Crown Asia, along with its sister corporations, had already acquired other properties in the vicinity, which it was then developing into medium and high-end housing projects.

How did this happen? There was a lis pendens on the property, and a check with government agencies, including the Office of the President shows that the Argana title should not and must not be the subject of a deed of sale, not even a contract of lease, for as long as the courts would not lift that lis pendens (or pendente lite, which means pending legal resolution of the case.

But apparently, Capitol Bank foreclosed the property from a certain Jose Nunez, who failed to pay a short-term loan, and made no effort whatsoever to restructure or re-schedule the loan, as most are wont to do, but instead, immediately had his property foreclosed by the Villar bank. And the Villar’s Capitol Bank turns around and sells the property also immediately, to Crown Asia. Seems like this is a pattern, a modus operandi of the Villar’s interlocking corporations.

In 2002, Villar’s Crown Asia posted security guards and then ordered demolition of the settler’s houses. The demolition squad succeeded in destroying 30 houses and led to the killing of Quirico “Rico” de los Santos, a leader of the neighborhood association of poor informal dwellers called ironically, Paradise Park. But the informal settlers resisted and they remain there to this day, their Paradise Park Neighborhood Association knocking from one government agency door to another, hoping to seek justice and their urban dwellers’ rights under the laws of the benighted land. There are now some 205 family houses walled inside the 2.18 hectare property, with no basic services such as electrical connections and water. They have to walk to buy expensive retailed water and inter-connect or share one electricity source. Guards of the neighboring walled subdivision, armed with shotguns strictly monitor their movements. They are not allowed to bring in construction materials even to repair their rickety dwellings.

Is this another racket where fake titles are produced surreptitiously, and prey on helpless landowners, such as the Dumagat and Remontado farmers in Norzagaray, Bulacan (read our articles of February 25 and 27, Malaya)? In Norzagaray, the titles issued during the Japanese occupation, which under Commonwealth Act 141, as amended, have been declared null and void, were “foreclosed” by Capitol Bank, and then paid in kind to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas which had earlier issued an emergency loan to the said Villar-owned bank of 1.5 billion pesos.

In San Pedro, property encumbered in temporary favor of the Republic of the Philippines, pending resolution of a sequestration case, is suddenly claimed by a family corporation which “bought” the property from the same family-owned bank, which in turn foreclosed the same from a person, fictitious or real, who “borrowed” a short-term loan and “failed” to pay.

But the Paradise Park homeowners are now in mortal fear of imminent ejection, should this “poor man turned billionaire”, whose heart “bleeds for the poor”, and who makes a holy vow (panata) to end poverty (tatapusin ang kahirapan), become president. Truly, night will fall upon the lives of these poor people “squatting” on government-owned land. Because if Villarroyo succeeds with his money, and buys the presidency come May 10, 2010, with secret help from the woman who replaced the man he impeached in 2000, then the “government” and their nemesis will be one and the same.

“Mayaman na siya. Huwag na niyang agawin sa amin ang karapatan na manirahan sa lupang hindi naman kanya”, said Aling Gloria Barrameda of the Paradise Park Neighborhood Association , who along with some 40 other settlers marched and picketed the front of the historic Laurel House that Money Villarroyo bought two years ago, and from whence he launched his quest for the presidency.

The man who claims to have shared the tribulations of the poorest of the poor, who used to live in a single-room house with his entire family (but transferred as a kid later to a 560 square-meter property in San Rafael Village in Balut, built by his government employee of a father and his industrious fish merchant of a mother) and used to sleep in a narrow bench in Divisoria market (but was schooled in a Catholic parochial school where he and brood were fetched by a stainless steel owner-type jeep), and virtually mocks the toil and sacrifices of his truly industrious parents in order to propagandize alleged poverty, now sends his guards to confiscate property held by the Republic, at the expense of poor, landless settlers, one of whom was executed by his unknown security guards.

As Aling Gloria stated in poignant anger: “Sa ginagawa niya sa aming mahihirap, kasinungalingan ang sinasabi niyang siya ay para sa mahirap at siya ay may malasakit. Siya ang tunay na pasakit. Siya ang tunay na pahirap”.

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Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.