Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Proposed Conversion of Elementary School into a Mall

Today the Laoag City Government, headed by Mayor Michael V. Farinas, together with the Archdiocese of Laoag, heade by Bishop Sergio Utleg, held a public hearing/consultation at the Laoag City Hall Auditorium regarding the conversion of Laoag Central Elementary School into a Commercial Establishment (i.e. mall or department store).

If it involved just a plain, unoccupied parcel of land to be leased or sold to an investor (i.e. SM, Robinsons, Gaisano, etc.) then there's no problem.  Go ahead and build one!  I've been waiting for a National Bookstore and a decent movie theater for a long time. 

But the project is made complicated because it involves a Public Elementary School on land originally owned by the Roman Catholic Church.

First, on the matter of the public school.  The lot, which covers a 13,000 sq.m. area, is where the Laoag Central Elementary School (LCES) is located.  Logically, if you're going to build a new structure, the present occupants must be relocated, if they even want to.

The good news is they want to.

The gooder [made-up word, i know] news is that the developer/investor is willing to build a new school complex for LCES in another location, complete with other facilities LCES doesn't have as of the moment (like camping area, bigger room size and high-tech AV rooms).

Yun naman pala, eh.  First problem solved.  LCES? check!

Second, and I believe more important, matter is regarding the ownership of the lot.  The lot was owned by the Roman Catholic Church.  It was sold to the local gov't of Laoag back in the 1920's on the condition that it be used exclusively for educational purposes.  Otherwise, the sale will be annulled.

I think anyone would agree with me that the operation of a mall is no way related to "educational purposes."

What the City Government wants to do is enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Church to create a Joint Ownership between the two and lease the lot to the developer as one entity.  Ang profit sharing ng dalawang co-owners ay 75% to the Church and 25% to the City Government.

On this point, I was forced to stand up during the open forum and give my unsolicited advice.

I told them that I didn't think they could do that.  I mean they could do that, it's a free country, but it's not such a good idea kasi magkakaroon ng confusion.  Pwede pa nga na may nangyaring novation, I dunno.  Ang dami kasing pwedeng mangyari.  Ang alam ko, with this MOA in question, nag-short cut sila.

For me, with my little experience as a corporate lawyer, the issue of ownership should be resolved first.

And we can only do that if the City Government would return the said parcel of land due to the fact that the condition will be violated.

That way, the annotation in the TCT is made clean.  Malinaw.  Babalik siya sa simbahan.

Then and only then, after it is reverted back to the church, the latter can enter into a new contract with the City Government.

Otherwise, kung di-diretso tayo sa MOA (Joint-Ownership) there's always a cloud over the title.  Ano na nangyari sa unang sale?  Na-annulled ba?  Na-novate ba?  And more important, who is the owner?

After my comment, Mayor Farinas explained that the issue of ownership should be resolved by the courts and the reason why they came up with the MOA is so that there wouldn't be delay in the implementation of the project.

Precisely my point!  If the issue gets dragged to the court system, then the project might not push through.

So, better pa rin na maayos na yung issue of ownership.

I dunno kung tama ang interpretation ko (na dapat step by step gawin).  I hope my brods na lawyers (paging, Ryan, Marc, Jat and FJ) who read my blog could comment on this.

Meanwhile, I hope the City Government slows down a bit and studies this whole transaction in detail before they do anything we'll regret in the future.

Yes, putting up a mall or department store will mean more jobs for Laoagenos, but if the project will be stalled in the middle of things due of legal issues, then lahat tayo talo.

PS:  Anong say ng simbahan?  Okay lang sila sa "Joint-Ownership."  Okay sila sa MOA.     

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