Unfulfilled promises


When property developers sell subdivision lots, condominiums and other real estate property, they would always give out glossy brochures depicting a dream community where one would put his or her money to live and work.

In a mannner of speaking, property developers sell promises, because most of their sales are done even before the first bucket of concrete is poured into a building. Everything is presented from the architect’s perspective, and larger-than-life images of beautiful homes, parks, club houses, wide roads and street lights, swimming pools and other amenities are crammed into a brochure.

More than 15 years ago, this was exactly how Fil-Estate marketed the Puerto Real de Iloilo. It was billed as the most luxurious residential subdivision in Iloilo City, complete with sports and leisure facilities, well-lighted and spacious roads, mini-parks, and most importantly, adequate security to give homeowners a peace of mind.

The development came with a big bang. Fil-Estate was then riding on a property boom, and its name became synonymous with first-class living. There was an impressive kick-off party at the Amigo Terrace Hotel. All the big wigs were there.

True enough, the marketing ploy of Fil-Estate penetrated the consciousness of the moneyed-class in Iloilo City. Its subdivision lots were quickly gobbled up by rich businessmen and professionals. Living there was a stamp of class that many people desired and got. Or at least, so they thought at first.

It didn’t take long before homeowners realized they were duped.

The homeonwers at Puerto Real de Iloilo believed they paid for expensive lots to get facilities and services that would be commensurate with the price of the subdivision lots. The promised first class facilities and amenities never materialized.

Since then, Puerto Real de Iloilo was sold by Fil-Estate to the Global Estates Resorts Inc. (GERI), an affiliate of the Megaworld Corporation. Megaworld is also the developer of the Iloilo Business Park in the old Iloilo airport property and a partner in the Sta. Barbara Heights Subdivision.

A life of luxury and comfort was what the sellers promised the homeowners. For the homeowners, life in Puerto Real during the last 15 years has been like hell, a long struggle to compel the developer to make good on their promises.

What are some of the problems? For one, the club house and its amenities — basketball gym, swimming pool and tennis court — are in a state of disrepair. The roof over the basketball gym is leaking, and the other facilities neglected and badly need repair.

The road network in the posh (only in name, so the homeowners claim) subdivision are poorly maintained. At night, the roads are shrouded in darkness, and residents hardly feel safe about strolling after dinner.

Worse, there are still informal settlers in parts of the subdivision. The developer failed to provide them with relocation sites at the start of the construction. Now these people continue to live in the “pulo” where their shanty houses still stand. Some own work animals like carabaos and keep them in their compound. Puerto is where one can find carabaos loitering about, posing a grave danger to motorists.

A bigger issue is security: with poor families living in parts of the subdivision, the subdivision is having a hard time controlling the entry of people. It is a security nightmare for the homeowners.

For a long time now, the homeowners association has pressured the new management — a Megaworld affiliate — to plug the gaping holes in the contract and turn over the subdivision to them. The homeowners feel they could do a much better job looking after their own security and keeping the community clean.

The response of the Megaworld company has been to stall and delay. No progress has been made in the negotiations to bring the company to honor its commitments in the contract to sell. It continues to ignore the complaints of the homeowners.

To add to the problems of the homeowners, it was recently discovered that GERI owes the Iloilo City government more than P20,000,000 in realty taxes. The homeowners have pestered management about the tax indebtedness to the city. The overdue taxes remain unpaid until now.

The homeowners decided enough was enough. A few weeks ago, the association lodged a complaint before the Housing, Land and Urban Regulatory Board (HLURB) to seek remedial action.

Instead of trying to find ways to meet the homeowners halfway and reach a compromise, GERI retaliated by reducing the number of security guards who man the gates. It’s becoming obvious to them GERI is not repentant about its own inadequacies and downright breach of contract.

(In a statement to The Daily Guardian, Fil Estate on Puerto denied that GERI is involved in the project. This is being disputed by homeowners’ representative who talked with me.)

The message to the homeowners was loud and clear. Megaworld enjoys protection from the powers-that-be in Iloilo City, and would not budge even in the face of an administrative case. That the city government hasn’t taken legal action to enforce the P20 million tax liability is an indication that Megaworld is shielded by a culture of impunity.

This culture of impunity cannot be allowed to exist. The HLURB should strictly enforce contracts to which developers have bound themselves to fulfill. In this case, sanctions should be imposed on GERI and warnings given to other Megaworld affiliates. If HLURB rules and regulations are just scoffed at by developers like Megaworld, then property buyers who invest millions of pesos in the properties offered to them through glossy brochures are vulnerable to lose the value for which they paid for.

It is time government strengthens its capability to protect consumers. After all, a breach of contract is an assault on our legal institutions. Violators of the law such as GERI must be required to pay stiff fines and stripped of their licenses to operate. That is the only way to uphold the rule of law.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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