Quezon City to lose another green lung to development
MANILA, Philippines – The Manila Seedling Bank, once a 7-hectare green paradise in Quezon City, is now a dusty ruin because of a demolition by the QC government.
Gardener Tess Celosa, who for 12 years sold ornamental flowers inside the once-verdant compound, walks around what looks like a disaster zone, quietly mourning for the rare flora that weeks ago had been thriving there.
Orchids, Lady of the Night blooms, mighty narra trees and the ravishing Palawan cherry tree were just some of the plants one could find in the property, which was open to the public and served as a park for many QC residents.
Now most of the plants are damaged or dead to give way to a commercial development by the QC government and National Housing Authority (NHA).
Concave greenhouses once crawling with exotic vines and dripping with colorful blooms now resemble empty shells, gutted and barren, open to the sky without its roof of green. Smashed clay pots with wilting plants lie scattered on the dusty ground. What were once the houses of the gardeners are now roofless concrete boxes.
Last January 20, the Philippine National Police and Marban guards hired by the QC government stormed into Manila Seedling Bank bearing long arms and short arms, said Celosa and her fellow gardeners.
They showed no court order or writ of possession to prove they had the right to demolish, said lawyer Malou Cortez, who represents the gardeners.
Celosa said the city government also enlisted teenagers, who entered the property by climbing atop the roofs of houses and buildings inside. With brute force, the men destroyed all the structures, plants and trees in the compound.
"Water and electricity were cut. By cutting the water lines, the plants and trees suffered natural death… In one stroke, the QC government condemned us to poverty, drove us from our homes and sources of livelihood," said Celosa.
Tarpaulins saying, "This property is forfeited in favor of the Quezon City government" now hang all over the compound.
The gardeners who have refused to leave their gardens and houses inside the property have been given until February 15 to move out.
Last green lung
The demolition of the Manila Seedling Bank property has been decried by environmentalists as another destruction of Metro Manila's already too few green lungs in favor of development.
A green lung is an area in a city reserved for plants, trees and other vegetation meant to replenish city air with oxygen. The cooling effect of green lungs is also meant to stabilize the high temperatures of a city. According to environment lawyer Tony Oposa, such parks can help reduce flooding. The Manila Seedling Bank property is one of the last green lungs in QC.
The gardeners believe the QC government plans to turn the property – which sits right beside EDSA – into another concrete commercial establishment.
The lot belongs to the North Triangle Central Business District (CBD) which is being developed by Ayala Land Inc (ALI) through a joint-venture agreement with the city government and NHA, which owns most of the land involved.
Ayala mall Trinoma and the Centris shopping center also sits within the North Triangle CBD.
But ALI and the city government deny this.
The Manila Seedlings Bank property "is not part of the ALI-NHA project in the area but beside it. It is not covered by the joint venture agreement," said ALI Corp Communication Suzette Naval in a text message to Rappler.
Victor Endriga, Senior Adviser to QC Mayor Herbert Bautista also confirms that the development in the MSB compound is an NHA and QC government project. While he did not go on the record about the exact details of the project, he told Rappler it was a private-public partnership that would make one "very proud to be a Filipino once this project is undertaken."
Not paying taxes
Endriga, who was tasked by Bautista to head the development of the MSBF property, said QC Hall was well within its rights when it demolished the MSBF gardens.
MSBF and the gardeners maintain that the QC demolition was illegal because of a Presidential Proclamation that grants MSBF usufructuary rights over the land.
The land is owned by NHA but the usufructuary rights allows MSBF to use the land to grow seedlings for the government's reforestation program.
The usufructuary rights are supposed to last for 50 years from the signing of the proclamation by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1977. Technically, they can use the land until 2027.
But a QC Regional Trial Court does not recognize the usufruct because according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), MSBF no longer exists as a legal entity.
A SEC document dated Jan 21, 2013 certifies that MSBF's Certificate of Registration was revoked in February 2002 because MSBF was unable to provide financial statements from 1996 to 2003.
"If the corporate existence of the petitioner (MSBF) is in dispute, then its right shall also be considered doubtful," said the court order signed last January 13.
In the Civil Code, if "the corporation or association is dissolved, the usufruct shall be extinguished by reason thereof."
But Cortez said MSBF shouldn't have had to pay the taxes in the first place. Being government-owned land, the property is exempt from taxes. Even if improvements on the land can be taxed, she said, "The rule in civil law is if the improvement cannot be removed without destroying the improvement then it becomes part of the land."
The structures and plants added to the land are examples of this kind of non-taxable forms of land improvement, she said.
Not backing down
Despite the court decision, Cortez and the gardeners are not backing down. They have enlisted the help of congressmen, have filed a case with the Ombudsman and are calling on concerned citizens to join their protest in the MSBF property on Saturday, February 8.
Celosa and her fellow gardeners only want one thing: to return to their livelihoods. They want QC to relocate them to an area where they can quietly raise their plants and continue selling to their patrons.
"Napakalaking kaligayahan na babalik sila 'tas sasabihin sa iyo, ang ganda ng halaman mo, ang ganda na ng bahay ko," she says, barely able to conceal the tears in her eyes. (It is such a great joy to have them come back and tell you, your plant is so beautiful, my house is now so beautiful.)
They also want QC to reimburse them for the garden structures and property destroyed during the demolition.
"Hindi ko grine-grieve masyado yung bahay, yung halaman. Napaka importante sa amin ang halaman eh. Ang bahay madaling i-repair, ang halaman, it will take time bago mo mapadahon." (I don't grieve the loss of the house so much, it's the plants. The plants are so important to us. A house is easy to repair. It will take time for a plant to sprout leaves.)
Celosa has so far been able to protect most of her garden from the demolition team. As she walks among her remaining plants, she touches their leaves lovingly explaining the properties of each.
She does not know how much time her garden has to live. – Rappler.com