YEARENDER
    Nature benign to CL in 2013, Luisita simmers, taxes raised, Clark airport work in progress

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    CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — Nature seems to have been benign to Pampanga and the rest of Central Luzon this
    2013, with the vortex of disasters – in the past a staple for the region – shifted apparently by climate change to other parts of the country.

    Thus, the year that is about to pass saw Central Luzon folk focusing more on concerns less tragic: the Clark International Airport (CIA) on which they had long pinned hopes for significant economic boost.

    With the past year witnessing the Supreme Court verdict finally mandating land reform in Hacienda Luisita, owned by the family of Pres. Aquino, much anticipation greeted 2013 as land reform unfolded. The lands
    have, indeed, been distributed, but the long years of conflict and controversy of the estate in Tarlac is far from over.

    In Angeles City, one of the economically fastest growing urban centers in Central Luzon, real estate taxes, which
    have remained frozen since 1995, have finally been hiked by over 200 percent, raising howl from local businesses.

    The issue is expected to be carried onto 2014. As elsewhere in the world, climate change has also become a growing concern among Central Luzon folk whose region seemed to have been vortex of disasters that caught national attention, particularly the 1972 great floods and the 1992 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

    The rising waters of the seas and oceans worldwide and the subsidence of lands in the region’s coasts have started to seep into the psyche of local folk and a blueprint of what could be done in the face of the inevitable
    is now being squarely faced.

    Clark Airport developments

    The design for the low cost carrier terminal (LCCT) with a budget of P7.2-billion from the government is expected to be ready in the first quarter of 2014 and would be bid out to qualified contractors in the second quarter, Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) President-CEO Victor Jose Luciano has said.

    Contrary to initial reports that the project would be done under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme, only government funds would be used for it. “It will not be a PPP project. It will be entirely funded by the Department of Transportation and Communications which proposed a P7.2-billion funding,” Luciano said.

    This, even as he reported that Emirates and Qatar airlines, which fl y daily to Dubai and Doha respectively from
    the Clark International Airport and vice versa, have already upgraded their aircraft to cope with higher demand.

    “Just the other day, Emirates unloaded 480 passengers at our airport,” Luciano reported. He said that the French government will provide a grant for the design of a low cost passenger terminal here, on top of the existing terminal which is now being expanded as the cost of P320 million.

    “The expansion project was supposed to be completed this month, but the huge volume of passengers at the terminal has impeded work on the extension area, so we expect it to be completed in January next year instead,” he added.

    Luciano said the P7.2-billion budget for the LCCT would be released in two phases. Some P3.5 billion would
    be for next year, and the rest for 2015, he noted. “But the actual cost of the LCCT project would depend really on the design to be finished by the French within next year’s first quarter,” he stressed, adding that the project would be bid out to contractors after this.

    The Aeroport de Paris of France has offered to design the terminal project. Luciano stressed that the LCCT project was included in the Philippine Development Plan already approved by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

    He noted that the LCCT could service as many as 15 million passengers per year. But Central Luzon
    folk seemed unsatisfied. Soon after then Pres. Ramos issued an executive order declaring Clark as the “future site of the country’s international gateway,” a plan to build a modern railway system to connect the Clark airport to Metro Manila was hatched.

    Work on it started from funds from a loan from China during the Arroyo administration, but was stopped during the Aquino term, a development that many perceived to have been motivated by the present government’s anti-Arroyo sentiments.

    “We will only believe when we see the LCCT standing right there at the Clark airport,” said Ruperto Cruz, chair of the Pinoy Gumising Ka Movement, an advocacy group for the full operationalization of the Clark airport as the country’s international gateway since 1992.

    “Too long have we been presented with masterplans for the Clark airport, only to be frustrated with nothing coming out of them,” Cruz added. Meanwhile, officials of the Manila North Tollways Corp. which operates the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), has confirmed it remains interested in building such a railway along the side
    of the NLEx. But that the government must also move on this.

    Heat in Luisita remains
     
    The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) finished recently the awarding of Hacienda Luisita lands to farm
    workers, finally wresting control from the family of the President in the estate it had owned since 1957. But the heat has not dissipated in the hacienda on which even blood had been shed.

    Only recently, the farm workers protested fences and sentry towers put up allegedly by armed soldiers from the
    3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion (3rd Mech) of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) around some 500 hectares of hacienda lands which was not included by DAR in land reform coverage.

    The Cojuangco-controlled Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco) has claimed ownership of the area where, however, the farmworkers have been cultivating crops. The Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL), the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Tarlak (AMT) and the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda
    Luisita (Ambala) blamed Tadeco for these developments.

    AMGL Chair Joseph Canlas said that Tadeco has used influence to exempt the 500 hectare site from land reform amid expectations that land value in the area would increase significantly, as it did in areas traversed by the Subic- Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) and the recently opened Tarlac-Pangasinan- La Union Expressway
    (TPLEx).

    “Agricultural lands in Tarlac range from P1.3 million to P5 million-P6 million per hectare. The price of lands in Hacienda Luisita surrounded by MacArthur Highway, SCTEx and TPLEx is definitely to expected to jack up even more,” he noted.

    Canlas said the 500 hectares being claimed by Tadeco would eventually cost from P650 million to P3 billion.

    Tadeco personnel, he noted, recently bulldozed some 10 hectares of crops planted by farmworkers in the 500-hectare site where soldiers from the 3rd Mech of the Nolcom have remained deployed. “We have expected this kind of abuse years before the Supreme Court ordered the distribution of Hacienda Luisita lands.

    The Cojuangco- Aquino family has no plan of giving up the lands they want to further profit from by selling them to businesses while government forces serve as their private security guards to keep off protests of farm workers,” Canlas said.

    Ambala and other farmers’ groups have insisted that the entire hacienda subject to land reform should cover 6,212 hectares, but only 4,099 hectares were covered. They also said some beneficiaries listed by the DAR were not qualified.

    They also said that the DAR’s method of distributing the lands via raffle was “illegal and illegitimate” and that the legitimate benefi ciaries were “coerced to sign an application to purchase and farmers’ undertaking (APFU) agreement which criminalized the failure to pay amortization to the Cojuangcos for the lands they got.”

    Real Property Tax hike

    Pushing political will and running political risk, Angeles City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan hiked real property taxes (RPT) by over 200 percent, the fi rst such tax hike since 1995. “This decision which is fully backed by the city council is a make or break move, but I have to use political will for the sake of both the rich and the poor,” he said.

    Some sectors, particularly those coming from business, have expressed opposition to the RPT hike and had vowed to hold protest rallies in the coming days, although the city council had already approved the measure on
    third reading.

    “I have to do what I was mandated to do for the city, where 80 percent are poor,” he stressed. Pamintuan said that RPT would be increased by 120 to 200 percent for residences, 125 percent for commercial establishments,
    35 percent for industrial firms, and 50 percent for agricultural lands. Lands occupied by illegal settlers
    would be entitled to a 60 percent discount on the tax hikes, he also announced.

    “These rates are even much lower than the valuation of the MACCCI (Metro Angeles City Chamber of Commerce
    and Industry),” he noted. He justifi ed the increase in RPT by pointing out that despite provisions in the Local Government Code authorizing local government units to examine RPT policies based on current values every three years, this city last imposed tax hike in 1995 when he was also mayor. In that year, his administration
    raised RPT to P500 per square meter and this has remained the rate up to the present.

    Pamintuan said income from the hike in RPT would enable him to implement vital projects in this city. “Some
    complain on peace and order and yet refuse to raise taxes that can buy us more patrol cars and motorcycles for our policemen and for the hiring of more traffic aides,” he lamented.

    He also cited the need for more funds for scholars at the cityowned Angeles City College, projects for senior
    citizens, increase Phil- Health subsidies for the poor and housing for indigents.” Pamintuan also noted the need to upgrade infrastructure, such as widening of roads, construction of more canals, and a plaza for the city.

    He also bared plans to use global positioning system (GPS) maps to determine improvement in the properties in the city to update the RPT taxes. “This was done in Valenzuela City and their taxes increased 200 percent,”
    he said. The RPT is based on the assessed value which is a certain percentage of the market value of the real property.

    The assessed value is arrived at upon application of the assessment levels to the market value of the property.

    The assessment levels are fixed by ordinance of the local legislative council.

    Bracing for Climate Change

    Officials of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and its corporate social responsibility arm Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) have urged the cities of Angeles and Mabalacat in Pampanga to prepare for the effects
    of climate change that could make their areas, some 170 feet above sea level, the host of migrants from surrounding fl ood-prone towns in the near future.

    The WWF leaders are mapping out a “climate- defi ned” future for local business amid climate change that has made unusual weather worldwide the new “normal.” Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, WWF-Philippines chief executive officer, said that climate change and worsening fl oods could eventually drive folk in low-lying towns in Pampanga to migrate to Angeles and other higher areas in Pampanga.

    “Is Angeles prepared for that scenario?” he asked during WWF’s third and last phase of “business risk assessment and the management of climate change impacts project” that would cover 14 cities in the country.

    Tan noted that “Angeles is not flood-prone, but the United Nations has projected that the impact of climate change would not be so much marginalization as migration.” He noted that the WWF study now being conducted in Angeles would draw up opportunities for the city to cope with the adverse effects of climate change in the next 20 to 30 years.

    The results of the study, based on inputs provided by local business and other groups, would be disclosed in November. A UN study has estimated that over one billion would be forced to leave their communities because of worsening fl oods arising from climate change. In Asia, the estimate is about 400 million, he said.

    “Will Angeles take in the refugees? It’s not just the direct impact of rainfall (that must be considered in planning for climate change) but also the movement within the city,” Tan also said. Tan stressed the importance of preparing for the adverse effects climate change on infrastructure.

    “If you can’t deliver goods nor travel (because of flooding), business stops. Is the North Luzon Expressway
    ready? There is a need for a lot of hardware climate adaptation,” he said. He stressed the importance of the private sector in helping the government cope with climate change, as he cited a study indicating that most ports need retrofi tting because of the rising sea levels worldwide.

    “Heat causes thermal expansion and the greatest thermal expansion is in the Philippine Sea where 80 percent
    of goods are transported on water,” he said, noting that recent studies have indicated that from a two-meter clearance of local seaports from sea level, the clearance has been reduced to only half a meter.

    He urged communities to also consider developing multi-water sources, such as surface waters or rainwater impounding projects, and veer away from pumping from aquifers or underground water which, he stressed, has been blamed for subsidence or lowering of ground level and thus makes areas more prone to flooding.

    WWF Philippines already finished similar studies on how to cope with climate change impacts in the cities of Baguio, Cebu, Davao and Iloilo under Phase 1 in 2011 and Cagayan de Oro, Dagupan, and Zamboanga under Phase 2 in 2012.

    It started Phase 3 in Angeles City this year, to be followed by the cities of Batangas, Naga and Tacloban.

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