PRA’s Bay project approval hit

The reclaimed areas in Manila Bay, considered the hottest area for offices and businesses in Manila, have become a legal battleground for the country’s biggest developers.

A property firm has challenged the power of regulator Philippine Reclamation Authority to allow the deferment of the payment of government fees that paved the way for Waterfront Manila Premier Development Inc., a company controlled by the Gatchalian family, to start a P34-billion project.

The PRA gave the green light to start the major development despite a pending case before the Makati Regional Trial Court.

In a 25 April ruling, the Makati court declared null and void WMPDI’s contract to reclaim 318 hectares in Manila Bay for allegedly failing to undergo competitive bidding and evaluation from the National Economic and Development Authority.

The court also indicated that the Gatchalian project will encroach on areas covered by another reclamation project of Asian Seas Resources and Construction Development Corp., a company controlled by the F.F. Cruz group.

In an interview on Tuesday, Bernas said WMPDI’s proposal to establish a P34-billion horizontal development within a 318-hectare land along Manila Bay is not legally grounded.

Complicated legal tussle

The Makati court, however, “vacated” and set aside its own ruling last 4 August for the alleged failure of the complainant, ASSERCO, to implead the Office of the President as an indispensable party in the case.

RTC Judge Rommel Baybay said: “For petitioners’ failure to implead the Office of the President as public respondent, the decision is premature. The decision dated 25 April 2022 is hereby ordered vacated and set aside for being premature.”

Thus, it was the turn of ASSERCO to file a motion for reconsideration.

The decision came five years after a joint venture agreement was signed between the City of Manila and WMPDI for the P34.3 billion, a 318-hectare reclamation project.

ASSERCO counsel Jose Bernas said the FF Cruz company is still hoping for a favorable decision on its motion for reconsideration for the court to reverse its ruling.

“How can WMPDI push through with its project when it did not undergo a bidding process and evaluation by the National Economic Development Authority? Aside from that, we believe that the current PRA assistant manager does not have the authority to issue such approvals,” Bernas told the Daily Tribune.

Bernas also underlined the question of the propriety of PRA officials on holdover capacity, pending the appointment of the new administration’s nominees, to issue a contentious ruling.

“Setting aside for the moment a verification on whether the Board issued such approvals or not if it were to be assumed that the Board did issue the approvals, we respectfully submit that the Board members, who currently are seated in an acting capacity, do not have the authority to issue the approvals,” Bernas said.

PRA quandary

Bernas added that the PRA board is still composed of holdover officials pending the appointment of a new set of officers and that they should defer crucial decisions to the new board.

Last 18 August, PRA’s Reclamation and Regulation Office general manager, lawyer Joseph John Literal, told WMPDI president Kenneth Gatchalian that the board approved the 60 days extension for the company to settle the second tranche payment of its initial regulatory fee and social environment fund. The extension will last until 18 October.

In response, Bernas sent a letter dated 22 August to Literal’s office to question the authority and finality of his decision.

Bernas said as an Assistant General Manager, Literal does not have the authority to issue the WMPDI approval.

The PRA approved WMPDI’s request after the Makati Regional Trial Court issued a decision revoking the 25 April order, given the absence of injunctive relief granted in ASSERCO’s favor.

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