Right of way woes
At its first Philippine Economic Briefing in London last year, the government highlighted the country’s economic progress, characterized by rising foreign investor interest, strong gross domestic product growth, under its “Build, Build, Build” program.
The government implemented said program in response to President Duterte’s 10-point Socioeconomic Agenda. It envisions the reduction of poverty to only 13 to 15 percent by 2022, from a high of 21.6 percent in 2015, by accelerating infrastructure development and developing certain industries.
In its Philippine Development Plan for the period covering 2017 to 2022, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) reported that infrastructure development in, among others, the transport sector, will support the Philippines’ socioeconomic development by enhancing its efficiency and improving the quality of the public transportation system.
“Like the rest of the economies in the world, the Philippines is not exempt from challenges,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez earlier said. “But what differentiates our economy from many is the decisiveness, extent and the pace by which we are implementing policy and infrastructure reforms.”
Despite the importance placed on infrastructure development, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is threatened with severe budget cuts for supposedly undertaking road projects before settling its right of way issues. “… [T]he right of way issues must be settled before a project can be funded, in pursuance of Republic Act No. 10752 (or the Right of Way Act),” Sen. Panfilo Lacson told reporters amid the Senate hearing on the DPWH budget.
The Supreme Court defines “right of way” as a privilege constituted by agreement between the parties or granted by law to a person or class of persons to pass over another’s property when his tenement is surrounded by real properties belonging to others without an adequate outlet to the public highway. A right of way maybe demanded through a certain estate, provided that the owner thereof is indemnified for the beneficial use of his property.
Under the Right of Way Act, the government may acquire real property needed for its national infrastructure projects through donation, negotiated sale, expropriation, or any other mode of acquisition as provided by law.
These right of way issues have reportedly hampered the completion of critical road projects and the landowners’ and occupants’ right to be timely compensated for the government’s acquisition of the required right of way for said projects, supposedly in violation of the Right-of-Way Act.
In the case of the DPWH, the agency had opted to negotiate for the sale of the affected lands with its owners at the outset. Under a negotiated sale, the implementing agency may offer to the concerned property owner as compensation price, the sum of: the current market value of the land; the replacement cost of structures and improvements therein; and the current market value of crops and trees therein.
The property owner shall decide whether to accept the implementing agency’s offer within 30 days from notice thereof. Upon the property owner’s refusal or failure to accept the offer; or failure to submit the documents necessary for his compensation, the implementing agency shall immediately initiate expropriation proceedings pursuant to Section 6 of the Right of Way Act.
Under the Right-of-Way Act, owners of structures and improvements who do not have legally recognized rights to the land may be compensated accordingly, provided that they are Filipino citizens; do not own any real property or any other housing facility, whether in an urban or rural area; and are not professional squatters or members of a squatting syndicate, as defined under RA No. 7279, otherwise known as “Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.”
As advocated by Lacson, the DPWH should also have settled with the owner, among others, the assessed value of the property to be sold. The Right of Way Act provides for the following standards in assessing value:
the classification and use for which the property is suited;
the development for improving the land;
value declared by owners;
the current selling price of similar lands in the vicinity;
reasonable disturbance compensation for removal and demolition of certain improvements on the land and for value of improvements thereon;
the size, shape, or location, tax declaration, and zonal valuation of the land;
price of the land as manifested in the ocular findings and upon presentation of other oral and documentary evidence; and
such other facts and events as to enable the owners to have sufficient funds to acquire similarly situated lands.
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