Did the Provincial Government of Bohol enter- wittingly or unwittingly- into a lopsided agreement with Oasis, a private corporation to create five islands measuring 450 hectares off the seas of Panglao?
This seems to be the initial impression gleaned from the public hearing conducted by the 16th Sangguniang Panglalawigan (SP) of Bohol held last Friday afternoon at the SP conference hall.
The proponent of the controversial proposed island reclamation project in Panglao, Oasis Leisure Islands Development (OLDI) presented the project for the first time to the new SP during the public hearing convened by SP committee on environment and SP committee on tourism.
Prov’l Board Member Abeleon Damalerio, chair of the committee on environment, presided over the public hearing together with Board member Godofreda Tirol, SP tourism committee chair and Board Member Romulo Cepedoza.
Atty. Lucas Nunag, chairman of the Provincial Tourism Council (PTC), who was present during the public hearing, deemed that it is not to the best interest for the province and the assailed Joint Venture Development Agreement (JVDA) between the Provincial Government and Oasis Leisure Islands Development Incorporated (OLIDI).
Section 7.1 of the JVDA provides that Oasis shall pay the Province a “Transfer price” of One Million Pesos (Php1,000,000.00) per hectare upon transfer to Oasis of the title of the reclaimed lands.
Nunag told the committee that at Php5,000/sq.m. which is a very conservative estimate of the prevailing prices in Panglao beach front properties, the One million pesos per hectare “transfer price” would come out as a mere 2 percent if considered as a commercial land transaction.
Nunag said that at Php5,000/sq.m. the 45 has. reclamation project can fetch Php2.25B. The Php450M the province gets as transfer fee from Oasis is therefore a paltry 2 percent.
“A consideration of 2 percent is not a relationship of partners. The 2% is even less than what brokers get from land transactions in Panglao” Nunag claimed.
Nunag further emphasized that several years from now the value of the project would further increase. Since the province is getting a fixed amount and not a percentage of the value of the project “there is not much in it for the province in this present arrangement”
Upon clarification from BM Damalerio, the PTC chair concluded that the JVDA in its present form has placed the province in a “disadvantageous position”.
On a per square meter basis, the one million peso per hectare valuation will come out a mere P100/sq.m.
But Norris Oculam, president and chairman of the board of Oasis explained that since the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) is mandated to get 30 percent of the total development cost of the project and the province its 2 percent, a ratio that ” no developer/investor would give more”
Oculam added that ” if not for the mandated 30% share of PRA in the total project development cost Oasis could share more to the province. And aside from that, the province will not be shelling out a single centavo for the project”.
Oculam further said that the amount of annual real estate and business taxes and job opportunities the reclamation project can generate for the province is unquantifiable.
When pressed by Damalerio on the manner the one million per hectare “transfer fee” was determine, Oculam could not come up with an explanation.
“It was a generous offer and they accepted it gladly”, Oculam lamely answered without elaborating.
Damalerio also noted that the JVDA did not provide for an escalation clause that would have been beneficial to the province in terms of land price increases.
BM Cepedoza also questioned the apparent haste in which the application for the reclamation project was submitted to the PRA. Damalerio, Cepedoza together with Tirol, noted that the JVDA documents showed that it was notarized on June 19, 2010 although no date of the signing of the agreement appeared on the documents.
Two days later or on June 21, 2010 after the documents were notarized, the application for reclamation was received by the PRA General Manager’s Office.
Atty. Raul Barbarona of the Environmental Legal Assistance Office branded this as a “midnight application” since this was done nine days before the term of the Aumentado administration ended.
BM Tirol informed the body that SP Resolution No. 2009-633 sponsored by former BM Corazon Galbreath authorized former Gov. Erico Aumentado to represent the Provincial Government to enter into a negotiation for a joint venture and development agreement with Oasis.
There was no mention of an authority to enter into an agreement with Oasis.
Ellen Gallares of Padayon denounced the manner in which Oasis portrayed Panglao Bay as “not high in biodiversity” even as she acknowledge that Oasis was using BMT data to support some of their claims on biodiversity.
Citing studies conducted by Bohol Marine Triangle, forerunner of the present Padayon Bol-anon, Gallares disclosed the validation done by her group based on the presence of sea grasses that are the spawning ground for fishes.
Gallares made known to Oasis that the Provincial Government of Bohol has an existing Memorandum of Agreement between the fisherfolks from Baclayon, Panglao and Dauis to preserve Panglao Bay.
“The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has funded a number of marine protected areas, two of which is in Panglao. This is in recognition of the richness of the biodiversity of the area” Gallares stressed.
Oculam informed the committee that they were not disputing the species found in Panglao Bay as reflected in the BMT data.
“BMT covers 1,125 hectares but the project will only occupy a fraction of one percent of the total BMT area”
Dr. Justinio Kimio, a PhD on Ecology admitted that they don’t have the data since they are still awaiting the go signal from the province to start the study. “Upon the completion of the study, let the data speak for itself and let us not talk about our feelings about biodiversity” Kimio said in an apparent dig on Gallares statement on the issue.
But Gallares pressed on by questioning the academic qualifications of Dr. Kimio prompting a retort from Oculam on Gallares/ own qualifications.
At this point, BM Damalerio wondered why Oasis presented the unsolicited proposal to the Provincial Government without first conducting the necessary studies and results presented to the Provincial Government for its consideration.
Oasis Board of Director Atty. Castillo answered “We could not conduct a study by ourselves because we don’t have a legal personality. We might be stopped by the LGU and other groups if we insist on conducting the study without the government as our partner”.
David Bailley, president of Panglao Nature Advocates (PANA) painted a grim picture regarding the size of the planned 450 has. Oasis Island and the Waterfront reclamation projects.
“The Oasis island reclamation project is equivalent to 3 Pamilacan and one Balicasag islands combined while Waterfront is one Pamilacan and 2 Balicasag islands”.
Bailley added that Panglao has an area of 5,050has. Of this, 3,000 has. are still undeveloped with no viable water supply system to support major infrastructure developments.
Bailley bemoaned the inexperienced of both the Oasis and Waterfront reclamation projects in handling complex development projects.
Bailley stressed that the “accelerated decline and the eventual loss of the marine component of the Bohol Tourism Package that includes diving, snorkeling and dolphin watching is the overall issue and not the existing Panglao investors concerns over increased competition”.
The LGU-Panglao represented by Mayor Benedicto Alcala together with the Sangguniang Bayan insisted that the planned comprehensive environmental study should be pushed through even without the nod of the provincial government.
The statement of the mayor came in contrast with an earlier stand of the Panglao SB which passed a resolution stating their opposition to the planned reclamation project.
Pressed for time, Damalerio promised the group that another round of public discussion will be scheduled by the SP. (CMV)