THE GOVERNMENT proposed a 53% increase in the budget for right of way (RoW) acquisition in 2019, the Department of Management (DBM) said, reflecting expectations for the launch of more infrastructure projects.

In a statement, the DBM said that the proposed RoW budget for 2019 is P56.3 billion, against P36.7 billion this year.

The proposal comes amid heightened scrutiny of RoW acquisition by legislators amid allegations of land title fraud in earlier projects.

Of the total, P29.4 billion will go to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) while the Department of Transportation (DoTr) will get P26.9 billion.

Some P577 million was also proposed for the National Housing Authority (NHA).

The budget covers expenses for the compensation and relocation of families on private property affected by public construction, once the government asserts its right of eminent domain.

RoW disputes are a common source of delay in government projects, typically tied up in court over the appropriate levels of compensation.

Republic Act No. 10752, or the Right-of-Way Act, signed in 2015 by President Benigno Aquino III, attempted to address the problem by permitting agencies to negotiate compensation based on market value of the land, the replacement price of structures on the site, and the market value of crops.

The DoTr said last month that the completion date of the Metro Rail Transit line 7 was moved to August 2020 from August 2019 initially after a Malolos, Bulacan court ruled in favor of the owner of a 33-hectare site in San Jose del Monte — the intended site of the rail line’s depot — awarding the landowner a higher compensation level.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson during hearings for the DPWH budget earlier this month flagged the delay of P16 billion worth of road projects due to RoW issues.

The government seeks to boost infrastructure spending, targeting it to represent 7.3% of gross domestic product by 2022 from 5.6% last year.

This is expected to lead the targeted 7-8% economic growth rate until 2022, and the lowering of poverty incidence to 14%.

Meanwhile Senator Richard J. Gordon on Thursday said he will question the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) during their budget hearings, in connection with the alleged misuse of RoW payments in General Santos City in 2013.

“I will question the budget and tell them to be very careful, not only the DPWH budget but the budget of the DoJ, their registry of deeds. They should be told of and be strict on the titles,” he told reporters.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee and the Senate committee on public works, chaired by Mr. Gordon and Senator Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, respectively, continued their investigation into the General Santos project, in which fake land titles were allegedly presented in order to claim RoW payments.

Appearing before the Senate was former Public Works Secretary Rogelio L. Singson who said he repeatedly brought up the issue of fake General Santos land titles with the Land Registration Authority (LRA) .

“It was quite alarming that the nationwide outstanding (RoW) claims were about P8.7 billion and yet half of them come from region 12. So we stopped the payments and asked to repeat the process,” he said.

Mr. Singson said he has asked the LRA officials to re-check whether the land titles are genuine after determining that the land valuations were too high compared to Central Luzon. He then received a letter in April 2014 from the LRA confirming the authenticity of the land titles.

However, LRA former Administrator Eulalio C. Diaz III and Micrographics and Computer of Division chief Ser John C. Pastrana denied sending the April 2014 letter and claimed that the latter official’s signature was forged.

In an interview with reporters, Mr. Gordon reiterated his call to the DoJ to overhaul the LRA and the Registry of Deeds office.

“Two, three months ago I asked Secretary (Vitaliano N.) Aguirre to examine it thoroughly because this has been a longstanding headache to the public. The titles of the poor are being taken,” he said.

“There are many titles being falsified so I will have a conference maybe with the Secretary of Justice on this matter,” he added. — Elijah Joseph C. Tubayan, Camille A. Aguinaldo