HUNDREDS of illegal settlers inside the New Clark City became millionaires in the last four years after the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) paid them a whopping P578.237 million as “financial assistance.”
Government auditors said not only did the squatters convert government lands into farms measuring up to five hectares, they were even paid P30 per square meter plus the estimated value of all forest and fruit-bearing trees located on their illegally-occupied lots.
Based on documents obtained by the Commission on Audit, 195 individuals were paid P282.322 million in 2018 and another 201 persons in the sum of P194.603 million in 2019.
The payments were a sharp increase from P101.311 million for 2016 and 2017 combined although the number of recipients for those years was not stated in the audit report.
Compensation for the illegal farms was determined by separate valuations conducted by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – whichever is higher.
Government auditors said the BCDA’s action had no legal bases hence the disbursement constituted misuse of public funds.
“We maintain our view that payments of financial assistance to PAPs by BCDA amounting to P578.237 million as of December 31, 2019 were without legal basis thus considered irregular use of government funds,” they said.
Explaining its decision, the BCDA invoked Republic Act No. 10752 or the Right-of-Way Act which authorized government agencies to pay compensation or financial assistance to property owners who are affected by a government project.
Since the illegal farms are inside the 9,450-hectare New Clark City, the BCDA saw it fit to pay the undocumented settlers millions.
The audit team, however, punched holes in the BCDA’s argument noting that RA 10752 referred to legal landowners – not illegal settlers.
The COA required the BCDA to immediately stop all payments of compensation to illegal settlers and to submit a justification why the release of P578.237 million should not be disallowed as irregular and unnecessary use of public funds.
The BCDA insisted that its decision to release payment was “based on sound business judgment.”