City council wants ban on improvements at UST-GenSan lifted

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 September) — The city council is pushing for the lifting of an order issued by city government last year banning any development activity at the planned 80-hectare campus of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in two villages here.

In a resolution, the council asked City Mayor Ronnel Rivera to reexamine and decide on the cease and desist order “prohibiting the introduction of further improvement” within the development area of the UST campus in barangays Ligaya and Katangawan that was issued by the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) in March 2012.

The CPDO issued the order due to the reported failure of UST to seek proper permits and clearances for its initial improvements and structures.

The resolution, which was passed by the council on joint sponsorship during its regular session on Tuesday, cited that the Manila-based university has been planning to embark on several multi-million peso projects in the city, among them the establishment of an agricultural research institution and a medical school.

It said the establishment of the UST campus will “spur economic growth and further development of the city.”

The move would offer equal distribution of development efforts and investment opportunities in the area, the measure said.

The council pointed out in the resolution that the economic gains that would be realized should the UST be allowed to put up their project in two barangays are exceedingly far beyond what the area presently benefits from the coconut trees planted there.

“The establishment of the said project would afford not only the constituents of the barangays and the city but also throughout the Mindanao region of prime and high standard agricultural and medical education due to its immediate accessibility and proximity,” it said.

In a committee report, City Councilor Arturo Cloma, chair of the council’s committee on land use, urban planning and development, noted that CPDO chief Nael Cruspero issued the cease and desist order for the project on March 27, 2012 after its proponents reportedly failed to secure the necessary clearances for the construction of a building and the road developments at the site.

He said the order specifically advised the UST management that further introduction of physical improvements into their area should stop pending its application and approval of required local permits like the local zoning permit, building permits and locational clearances.

UST signified to comply with all the requirements and then filed a motion for reconsideration for the lifting of the order but it was denied by the CPDO, he said.

Cloma said the CPDO reasoned that UST needs to first secure the necessary reclassification documents for the site before it would be given any local permit.

He said UST presented to CPDO an order issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) that reclassified the site from agricultural to institutional use.

But he said the CPDO explained that it cannot act on the matter as the DAR reclassification or conversion order is not consistent with the classification of the area based on the city’s zoning ordinance.

He said UST countered that that under the existing Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, the power to reclassify land from agricultural to institutional, commercial or residential was granted by law to DAR and cannot be superseded or amended by any local zoning ordinance.

In the wake of these developments, Cloma said they are supporting the lifting of the CPDO order to allow UST to continue with its planned developments at the campus site.

But he added that they are leaving the matter to Mayor Rivera, who assumed his first term as mayor last July, stressing “it is up to the mayor whether to act on it or not.” (MindaNews)