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Stop Smokey Mountain deal, Colmenares asks COA

A former legislator has asked the Commission on Audit to stop the National Housing Authority from entering into a compromise deal with a private contractor of the controversial landfill development in Manila.

Former Bayan Muna party-list representative Nery Colmenares, in a letter dated June 26, 2020, told COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo that as a taxpayer and public interest advocate, he is opposing the NHA’s plan to pay P1.12-billion and transfer five (5) hectares of government land in the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project in Vitas, Tondo to settle court cases with private contractor R-II Builders, Inc. (RBI).

Colmenares said state auditors have questioned the compromise deal, a copy of which--he said-- has not been submitted to COA.

“At a time of severe economic hardship and as government resorts to borrowings to feed millions of hungry and jobless Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unconscionable for NHA to disburse limited public funds to pay questionable settlement fees to a private entity,” Colmenares, secretary general of Bayan Muna, said.

According to Colmenares, no less than the Office of the President has instructed NHA officials to first submit the questioned compromise deal to COA and secure its opinion. Afterwards, COA‘s recommendations will be subject to approval by the President and Congress based on the Administrative Code of 1987, he added.

He also cited a May 12, 2020 Audit Observation Memorandum to NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalada, Jr., COA, which noted discrepancies between a court-approved P1.12-billion NHA-RBI compromise agreement and a 2019 NHA briefing paper submitted to Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri where the agency allegedly admitted that it already overpaid RBI by P301.7-million.

Colmenares also questioned the NHA’s dogged persistence to pay RBI for the supposed settlement. “Former NHA officials, including NHA’s own lawyer – the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel – have cautioned against the deal. They question the computation of NHA’s supposed liabilities, legal interests as well as valuation of government land that’s part of the deal. With all these questions, why the rush to pay?” he asked.

He said the NHA “miserably failed” to fulfill its primary mandate of providing decent and affordable housing to poor Filipinos. “Proof of this are the slums of Manila, the victims of typhoon Yolanda in Samar and Leyte and the homeless in Marawi. And yet, NHA managers seem bent on paying P1-billion plus five hectares of government land to a company which, according to NHA’s own accounting department, has been paid more than what it is owed,” he added.

To prevent dissipation of State assets, Colmenares said the NHA should submit all required documents to state auditors who should make a final determination whether it is legally justifiable for the housing agency to enter into the proposed settlement with RBI. “Congress, which holds the power of the purse, should have the final say in a deal of this magnitude.”

Topics: Smokey Mountain , Commission on Audit , COA , National Housing Authority , Nery Colmenares
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