COA to Clark Airport officials: ‘Why were squatters paid millions?’

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    THREE families of informal settlers who illegally occupied big tracts of land inside the Clark Civil Aviation Complex by converting them into farms ended up as millionaires after receiving “compensation” before agreeing to move out.

    Records of the Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) showed the three families were paid P2.065 million, P1.763 million, and P1.065 million through Land Bank of the Philippines checks all released on April 30, 2018.

    CIAC records listed the sums as “financial assistance” although other illegal settler families were paid as low as P30,720.

    In all, the agency paid P7.363 million to illegal settlers but the three biggest recipients accounted for 66 percent or P4.893 million.

    Now, government auditors are demanding explanations from CIAC officials why the payments should not be disallowed on audit.

    In reaction to the audit observations, the CIAC management said it immediately stopped payment of the cash assistance upon the issuance of an opinion from the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel.

    However, it clarified that the amounts paid out were patterned after the policies of previous CIAC administrations dating back to 2009.

    It assured the COA that as of December 2018, the Clark Airport Expansion Project has confirmed that the area previously occupied had been cleared and on-going projects are on target for completion by June 2020.

    Despite the release of millions, the audit team noted that there has been no certification from the CIAC Inspectorate Team that the areas previously occupied by the illegal settlers have been completely cleared and that the CIAC has enforced effective control.

    Removal of the illegal tillers became imperative following reports of 146 incidents of bird strikes on aircraft using CIAC from 2010 to 2016.

    Tracking of the number of bird strikes showed the increase was related to the illegal farming operations inside the aviation complex that attracted flocks of birds.

    Aside from posing costly damage to airplanes and creating problems in ground operations, government auditors also warned the birds were posing potential deadly hazards to aircraft crews and passengers.

    Based on figures provided by the Clark International Airport Authority (CIAC)-Safety and Environment Management Office (SEMO) there were three bird strikes in 2010; four in 2011; 32 in 2012; 29 in 2013; 14 in 2014; 13 in 2015; and 50 in 2016.

    In the 2017 audit, illegal settlers have already occupied 674 hectares or 28.75 percent of the 2,367 hectares total area allotted to the CIAC.

    They were found to have built homes and barns, operated farm machinery, raised livestock, planted fruit-bearing trees in CIAC land – all creating potentials for hazards to aircraft on take-off or landing.

    The illegal farmers raise various crops including grains, vegetables and high-value produce like spices. They are also well-provisioned with water pumps, big electric generators, and tractors.

    In 2009, the CIAC paid out P24.345 million after the illegal settlers agreed to leave but few complied with the agreement as many of families stayed on and even used the money to expand their operations.

    Auditors noted that the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel issued a legal opinion dated September 7, 2018 declaring that that the payment of financial assistance should not be based on the measurement of the land occupied because the claimants-informal settlers are “possessors in bad faith” and are therefore “not entitled to any indemnity or compensation.”

    The OGCC clarified that if financial assistance should be given at all, the money should only be enough to help the families relocate.

    “Assessment of the abovementioned payments revealed that these are excessive …given that these informal settlers were illegal occupants having knowledge that the land which they encroached was government-owned,” the COA said.

    The audit team also noted that in individual quitclaims executed in favor of the CIAC, the informal settlers acknowledged that the tracts of land they occupied form part of the property of the CIAC.