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House seeks amicable settlement on Smokey Mountain dispute

MANILA-- The House ad hoc subcommittee on Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation this week conducted a hearing on the long-standing dispute involving the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project (SMDRP) to determine whether a settlement to the prolonged dispute is possible.

Rep. Rodel Batocabe (Party-list, AKO BICOL), ad hoc subcommittee chairman, explained during the hearing that the body has been tasked to conduct a review, in aid of legislation, of the Smokey Mountain controversy and determine whether a settlement among the parties to the prolonged dispute could be arrived at.

He mentioned the National Housing Authority (NHA), Home Guarantee Corporation (HGC), R-II Builders, Inc., and the Commission on Audit (COA) as among the parties to the dispute.

Batocabe said the ad hoc panel has conducted a total of seven hearings on the Smokey Mountain project during the previous Congress and came up with several findings and recommendations, which it submitted to the mother committee, the Committee on Housing and Urban Development.

First, an amicable settlement of the controversy must not be an option but an urgent necessity considering the public interest involved, said Batocabe.

Litigation is no longer a viable option, taking into account the endless lawsuits, expenses, and time wasted by the parties, said Batocabe.

Amicable settlement is the most viable option, provided that it is validated by the COA and considered advantageous to the government, said Batocabe, a lawyer.

Second, the ad hoc body directed the COA to take a more active role in the resolution of the dispute, by providing recommendations that can help achieve an amicable settlement.

The ad hoc committee directed the COA to not only audit the property and validate the documents submitted by the parties but give judicious recommendations that can help achieve the objectives of settlement, Batocabe explained.

Third, the ad hoc committee underscored that the main function of the Home Guarantee Corporation (HGC) is not to develop, manage, or operate its acquired assets but to dispose of its properties the soonest in order to ensure its liquidity and thereby provide guarantee.

Rep. Manuel Luis Lopez (1st District, Manila) said that although he lauds the housing project for the Smokey Mountain residents, he highlighted the need for providing them with livelihood programs.

We need to provide sustainable development for the poor people of Smokey Mountain, said Lopez.

We are so focused on housing but livelihood is equally needed, Lopez stressed.

During the hearing, the NHA reported that around 3,500 housing units have been generated, about 2,500 of which were constructed under the medium-rise building projects.

The NHA further said that nine buildings have recently been completed and generated almost 1,000 units.

On the issue of livelihood for Smokey Mountain residents, the NHA bared there are ongoing preparatory activities for the implementation of various projects to be undertaken by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and other government agencies.

The NHA expressed hope that the livelihood projects would be implemented before the end of the year.

Batocabe suggested to the NHA to coordinate with Lopez relative to the livelihood projects to be provided the Smokey Mountain residents.

Batocabe pointed out that the support of Lopez is needed to ensure that the budget for the said projects is included in the national appropriations.

He urged the COA to take the lead in convening a regular meeting among the COA, HGC, and R-II Builders, Inc. to be able thresh out the issues surrounding the Smokey Mountain project.

Batocabe also asked COA to find an amicable settlement at the soonest possible time.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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