Right-of-way still a bottleneck despite new law, think tank says

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construction infrastructure Ormoc

RIGHT-OF-WAY acquisition remains the bottleneck in implementing government infrastructure projects, the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) said.

“Despite the passage of the Right-of-Way (RoW) Law or Republic Act (RA) No. 10752 in 2016, issues surrounding the government’s RoW acquisition activities continue to hamper the timely implementation of the government’s infrastructure projects,” CPBRD said in a report.

RA 10752 facilitates the acquisition of RoW from landowners for national government infrastructure projects.

The CPBRD said that one of the main issues in RoW acquisition concerns property valuation.

“By offering the current market value (CMV), instead of the zonal value, during the negotiation stage, RA No. 10752 was expected to facilitate faster RoW acquisition and consequently accelerate the implementation of infrastructure projects. However, several negotiations failed due to valuation problems leading to the more complex and lengthy expropriation proceedings in the courts,” the CPBRD said.

To address this, the CPBRD recommended creating a “Valuation Board” which will set and decide on the “suitable compensation of properties to be acquired for RoW.”

The CPBRD also recommended a clarification of the prescribed procurement process for independent property appraisers to be accredited by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the terms of the just compensation for informal settlers.

“It is also unclear why RA No.10752 requires the procurement of independent appraisers accredited by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) when it is not within the functions of the BSP to accredit independent property appraisers. RA No. 10752 is also unclear on the just compensation of the informal settlers — Are they entitled to the relocation cost only or the replacement cost only, or both?” it said.

The Congressional think tank also sought clarification on the treatment of facilities of public and private utility providers in the event that the government intends to use these properties.

The CPBRD also sought to address the lack of disclosure regarding information critical to RoW acquisition.

“In other jurisdictions, lack of transparency creates uncertainties for IAs and property owners alike, which can delay the entire RoW acquisition process. Meanwhile, information-sharing helped develop trust between the IAs and property owners, and reduced the number of expropriation cases,” it said.

The CPBRD also recommended the creation of a “special court” for RoW cases and a centralized RoW unit for the national government.

The think tank said that a special court that is specifically dedicated for RoW cases will result in “faster handling and resolution of RoW expropriation cases.”

“RA No. 10752 provides that courts shall issue the Writ of Possession at most seven days after the IA has initiated the expropriation proceedings and after the payment of 100% zonal value of the property so that project implementation could begin. However, this is not strictly followed as most of the courts in the country are clogged with cases beyond their capacity to handle,” it said.

A centralized RoW acquisition unit will “give (full) attention to and work on all RoW acquisition efforts of the government.”

“This unit shall be mandated to accelerate the government’s RoW acquisition activities so that project construction could proceed on schedule and at a lower cost,” it said.

According to the CPBRD, the low disbursement rates of the RoW funds of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) at 5.7% in 2017 and 0.07% in 2018 are “particularly worrisome” because they are “indicative not only of the extent of unpaid RoW cases… but also on the overall delay in government’s RoW acquisition, and consequently infrastructure development.”

“Amid the administration’s “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) Program, it is important to address key issues on RoW acquisition to fast track the implementation and completion of vital infrastructure projects, minimize the wastage of government resources, and increase the economy’s productive capacity and overall competitiveness,” the CPBRD said. — Genshen L. Espedido