Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A spurious exemption

published 22 Feb 2012, MST

Let’s leave the impeachment trial for a while and go up to Baguio to get a whiff of fresh air.

When you’re a hardworking professional saving up for a vacation place someplace up north, hoping to retire there quietly, you would not like it if your residential area — which you sought precisely for the peace and tranquility it offered — suddenly became open to business activity not otherwise allowed by local zoning laws.

You will raise a howl when local government officials wantonly violate an ordinance that they themselves crafted and passed, and flaunt their conflicting interests in carrying out their jobs.

This is how some 42 residents of the Burnham View Condominium felt about what had been going on in their area.

The residents opposed the construction of a building of the Baguio Patriotic High School — a school for Chinese and Chinese Filipino children — adjacent to their building on Kisad Road, classified as C-1 or a low-density commercial zone, principally for trade services and business activities. Under local zoning laws, the construction and operation of a high school do not fall under the activities allowed for property classified as C-1.

Exemptions may be granted, of course. A 2001 ordinance prescribes the process by which this could be done. Among others, the party seeking the exemption must present a joint affidavit of non-objection by the owners of the adjacent property. In the event there is an objection, a hearing must be conducted. The government agency in charge of issuing exemptions is the Local Zoning Board of Adjustment and Appeals.

An endorsement from the barangay council is also needed when seeking an exemption.

But the high school, represented by its owner Kane Chanbongpin, did not comply with the requirements for exemption.

There was no endorsement from the village council. In lieu of the joint affidavit of non-objection, the school submitted an affidavit signed by one Jerry Tiong, who was a mere neighbor, not a resident of the adjacent property. It is clear in the ordinance that it must be the owner of the adjacent property that must show no opposition. There is only one adjacent property — the condominium. With the objections of the residents unrecognized, no hearing was done.

The exemption was granted by the local zoning board in May 2010. Construction then went into full swing, bringing heavy equipment, noise, inconvenience and danger to the residents. A petition for a cease and desist order before a Baguio court was denied.

The residents however had a respite early this year when the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board ruled that the exemption certificate issued by the local zoning body be set aside and that the high school cease and desist from operating the building.

The housing board established that there was no endorsement from the village council, that there was insufficient compliance with the ordinance that prescribed a joint affidavit of non-objection from the residents of adjacent property.

It also found that the school’s application for locational clearance and certificate of zoning compliance was made through its representative, one Architect Elvis Palicdon — who also happened to be a member of the local zoning board who acted on the application. How obvious can a conflict of interest get?

For now at least, the residents of the Burnham View Condominium can rest assured their places of solace will stay just that. Cynthia Africa, one of the residents, says they are thankful for the board’s decision based purely on the merits of their case and not any other consideration. “Some people are still straight after all,” she remarks.

***

Kudos to ASUS Philippines for promptly addressing a customer complaint via e-mail. My 17-year-old daughter wondered why her laptop adaptor went bust within three months of its purchase and promptly brought it to the attention of the company. A previous adaptor also became defective less than a year after it was bought.

After a few days, a marketing officer replied to her e-mail AND called her, telling her they would replace the adaptor free of charge and asking her whether there was anything else she needed.

“I was surprised by how [quickly] they took action. Usually big companies dismiss complaints. This one, however, went as far as calling me and ordering the replacement ASAP,” she said.

How pleasantly surprising, indeed.

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