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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.

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Definitely not world class

It’s been three months since the last meeting in the Iloilo leg of the APEC 2015 was held at the Iloilo Convention Center, but the grossly overpriced building — originally estimated to cost only P200 million — is far from finished.

I went to the ICC myself on January 4 to see what’s inside the concrete and glass cavern sitting between two hotels of the Megaworld Corp. I am thankful that the young administrator graciously allowed me to tour the building, accompanied by a private security guard as guide.

And what I found inside the building depressed me even more. After the DPWH and TIEZA spent nearly P750 million, the ICC is not 100% completed. The contractor, Hilmarcs Construction, is still awaiting a new P55 million contract to install the folding walls to allow the main hall to be divided into five smaller meeting venues. Both inside and outside the building, work items remain unfinished, including the parking lot and security guard post.

There’s nothing in the building that would justify the expenditure of P800 million when it is finally completed long after the APEC meetings which was the justification for its construction.

That’s right, the final price tag for the ICC once it is completed is P800 milliion, and that’s without the sound and lights system that was scrapped last September.

In fact, a number of people who have attended conferences at the ICC since it accepted space rental are one in saying that it is definitely not world class. There’s a consensus that it fell far short of expectations from the way it was described by its patron, Senate President Franklin Drilon.

As one recent visitor told me, even the restrooms are substandard for a facility that is branded as “world-class”. She described the quality of the restrooms as just about par with the restrooms of a two-decade old mall in Lapaz. She said she is embarrassed by what she saw. It was damning evidence that much of the money spent for the project was carted away in a long convoy of armored trucks.

I don’t know if Drilon still has an iota of conscience left in him and confess his sins to the Filipino people. This is public money we are talking about here through the Development Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Supreme Court had declared as illegal and unconstitutional.

It’s not just the ICC that has become a monument of Drilon’s corruption.

The still unfinished Benigno Aquino Jr. Avenue, or more commonly known as the Iloilo Diversion Road, has cost about P150 million per kilometer for a 6.25-meter widening with the ridiculous pave-tiled “bike lanes”.

From the foot of the Iloilo Bridge going to Ungka — a distance of about 5 kilometers — is already costing us about a billion pesos. And it’s not just outrageously overpriced. The quality of work on the road pavement is poor. Driving along the Diversion Road is like riding a boat in turbulent seas. That’s because the road surface is uneven.

Those LED street light are another scandal. Based on computations I made from the contracts awarded for their installation, each street light would cost P1 million. Drilon must have learned from his cousin, Jed Patrick E. Mabilog, who overpriced traffic lights by as much as 300%.

And to make sure all the evidence to these anomalies remain buried, Drilon has arranged for DPWH regional director Edilberto Tayao to get another six months extension after his one-year extension expires next month.

Drilon needs to keep Tayao in the DPWH regional office because it’s only the soon-to-turn 67 years old regional director who has the gall to execute the corruption-ridden projects. Tayao has only recently undergone a major heart surgery, and he should already be avoiding stressful work by going into retirement. It’s not as if DPWH lacks competent officials who can replace Tayao if qualification and capability are the sole basis. But it’s not. It’s about the willingness to carry out the corrupt deals of the Senate President.

I know it’s useless to be filing more cases against Drilon over these projects for as long as President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III remains in power. Perhaps under a different dispensation, Drilon and his accomplices can be held to account for their misdeeds.

Having said that, the likelihood that Drilon will follow the footsteps of his fellow senators to jail is increasing everyday as survey after survey shows that the Liberal Party standard bearer, Mar Roxas, is sinking deeper into oblivion.

At the moment, I derive consolation from the knowledge that Drilon is facing a jury composed of Ilonggos who witness the ugliness of corruption that he has brought upon Iloilo City. More and more Ilonggos are expressing their disgust over Drilon’s immense appetite for pork and the corruption it entails.

And in the end, it will be God who will judge Drilon. When that happens, there will be a lot of pork lard to drip when this king of pork is roasted in hell.

The Smoking Gun: Deed of Donation for the Iloilo Convention Center