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Biz buzz: Right-of-way shakedown

/ 03:16 AM November 07, 2016

National Grid Corporation of the Philippines—the operator of the country’s electricity grid—is in a quandary as to how to solve the problem of right-of-way that, it feels, is being abused by many owners of land on which its transmission towers stand (including properties over which its power lines traverse).

The problem is basically one of access, where landowners make it difficult for NGCP personnel to enter their properties to service or maintain these transmission facilities, which is key to ensuring a stable and reliable supply of electricity throughout the country.

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In some case, NGCP’s maintenance personnel are prohibited from entering the property. In some case, attack dogs are set loose upon them (literally, attack dogs… Dobermans in one instance, Biz Buzz learned). But in an overwhelming number of cases, landowners have a nice little racket going by charging NGCP personnel a hefty access fee on a per-entry basis.

How much? One property owner wants NGCP to fork over up to P300,000 for each time its people set foot on his land to maintain the transmission towers or maintain the power lines.

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The worst part is, some of these people who demand exorbitant access fees from NGCP aren’t even the real landowners themselves but squa… uhmm, we mean… “informal settlers” who have built their temporary residences around these transmission towers (in one case, using the base of the tower as the framework for fighting cock shelters, we’re told).

And that’s just for the transmission facilities located in urban environments. In rural settings like in Mindanao, some property owners deliberately grow trees under the transmission lines in a move meant to “blackmail” NGCP. That’s because trees and vegetation that threaten to come in contact with the power lines must be trimmed by NGCP, lest they cause the power grid to trip and cause millions of consumers to lose electricity. Of course, if you want to set foot on the property to trim the trees, you have to pay up as well (and good luck to NGCP people wanting to forcibly enter a property controlled by a local Mindanao warlord).

But the company controlled by Henry Sy Jr., Robert Coyiuto and minority stakeholder State Grid Corporation of China has a solution. It needs Congress to pass a law giving it the right to access these properties unhindered. The proposal is now before lawmakers, but it’s unclear how fast this can be approved (if at all).

In the meantime, the company will have to just continue being a victim of “shakedowns” from landowners? And who ultimately foots the bill through his electricity bill? That’s right: All of us. —Daxim L. Lucas

Dead end?

The brouhaha over the opening of another gate at the upscale Ayala Alabang Village has literally hit a dead end, for now.

In a move that apparently stunned both the group lobbying for a new village opening at San Jose Street and the other faction vehemently opposing it, a concrete wall has risen at Filinvest group’s side, turning the proposed gateway into a dead end. (The other gate at Champaca Street has been opened but the continuing battle over there is another story).

Filinvest is apparently not just sealing the much-ballyhooed gateway. It’s part of the Filinvest group’s efforts to “secure the perimeters of the entire Filinvest City,” Filinvest Alabang Inc. executive vice president Catherine Ilagan said, when asked whether this was in response to an expropriation threat by the neighboring barangay. “Our entire perimeter is secured by walls and this is part of our perimeter wall,” she said.
The wall has been widely read as a clear sign that Filinvest is not interested in selling to Barangay Ayala Alabang (BAA) the adjacent property needed to open a new village gate. Homeowners near the area who were worried about loss of privacy and higher security risk if a new gate were to be installed at San Jose St. could only heave a sigh of relief. Suddenly, Filinvest has become their surprise BFF.

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Filinvest’s move followed a pronouncement by BAA of its intention to expropriate the adjacent lot. Expropriation is an act of taking over a privately owned property to benefit the public good and BAA’s council, it turned out, had already passed an ordinance for the expropriation (subject to court imprimatur) of such Filinvest lot to provide ingress/egress point on the east side of the village.
As announced in the village newsletter, BAA intended to elevate the expropriation proceedings to the court. It will then be up to the judiciary to decide on the necessity of the expropriation of such Filinvest lot to be used as right of way “for the general welfare and disaster preparedness” of BAA. It will also be up to the court to determine just compensation due to Filinvest based on the fair market value.
As to whether one barangay can expropriate property outside its territory is another big legal question. But apparently, Filinvest isn’t letting its guard down. —Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

Duterte’s ‘new’ Customs officials

Change has not entirely come upon the Bureau of Customs as President Duterte appointed two former officials to top posts in the agency, which the President himself had said he wanted to reform for being among the most corrupt government agencies.

In a statement Friday, the BOC said among the “new” Duterte appointees included Teddy Sandy Raval, who is now deputy commissioner of the agency’s intelligence group. Raval was formerly director of the BOC’s enforcement and security service (ESS), appointed by former President Aquino during the more than one-year stint of then Customs chief Alberto Lina.

To recall, Lina’s predecessor John Phillip Sevilla in April last year resigned due to mounting “political pressure,” allegedly and specifically from the influential religious sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), which reportedly wanted its people, including Raval, posted in key positions in the agency.

Even as Sevilla had rejected the promotion of Raval, then head of the BOC’s intellectual property rights division, as ESS chief, such promotion eventually pushed through under Lina’s leadership.

Besides Raval, the President also reappointed Ariel Nepomuceno as deputy commissioner of the enforcement group, the post he held both under Sevilla and Lina. Duterte, meanwhile, promoted Edgar Macabeo to become district collector in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. He had been acting district collector in the same port.

Another Customs official, Vincent Philip Maronilla, moved up to be district collector in the Manila International Container Port. He was previously officer in charge of import assessment service at the BOC’s assessment and operations coordinating group.

These four old-timers in Customs are joined by retired major general Natalio Ecarma III, who is new deputy commissioner of the revenue collection monitoring group. Ecarma, a PMA graduate, was a former defense undersecretary. Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon himself also had served in the military until the failed Oakwood mutiny in 2003. —Ben O. de Vera

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TAGS: Ayala Alabang Village, Business, filinvest, National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, Philippine news updates
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