Land-grabbing of private properties by LGUs under scrutiny

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ONE OF the taxing powers enjoyed by local government units (LGUs) is the power to impose taxes on real properties within their respective jurisdiction. There have been reports and complaints that the collection of real property taxes, particularly the procedure surrounding the issuance of notice of tax delinquency, foreclosures, and tax delinquency sales have been abused by local officials.

Several private property owners have reported incidents of brazen land grabbing in urban centers, perpetuated by unscrupulous individuals, and aided and abetted by erring local government employees and officials. These incidents of land grabbing occur through the abuse of the processes provided for by the Local Government Code (LGC), as part of the exercise of the powers delegated by Congress to the LGUs, including the power of local government taxation, and the concept of local fiscal autonomy. The continued inaction of some LGUs and their primary agencies involved in this matter particularly the offices of the local treasurers and assessors have forced affected property owners to take to social media to address this problem, but still to no avail.

The victims of this illegal scheme have been hauled to court and have likewise been forced to initiate their own suits to defend their rights to their property from patently unjustified claims and charges, which have resulted in severe trauma and stress, who stand to lose their family homes and other rightfully owned properties at the hands of scammers and unscrupulous individuals and have likewise resulted in the unnecessary expenditure of precious and limited government resources, especially the courts, which are saddled with the duty to untangle the legal mess created by these scammers, through the brazen and outright manipulation of legal processes.

Representative Ma. Lourdes Arroyo-Lesaca, 5th District, Negros Occidental filed House Resolution No. 1653 urging the House Committe on Local Government to conduct an investigation on the measures being taken by LGUs in response to the reports on incidents of land grabbing that occur through the abuse of the processes provided for by the LGC and to address incidents of fraud in the surreptitious foreclosure of private properties, especially properties constituted as family homes due to alleged non-payment of local real property taxes, including the propriety of amending existing laws or crafting new ones to enhance the protection of all persons who lawfully own property and who are subject to the delegated power of local taxation. Rep. Arroyo-Lesaca’s brother, the late Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, was the district’s congressman from 2004 until his death in 2012, and sister-in-law of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

She said in her resolution that owners of expensive real properties have been the target of these unscrupulous local officials by making it appear that the Notice of Tax Delinquency have been properly served to them although there is no valid service of notice and upon delinquency, said real properties are offered to dishonest bidders, in collusion with corrupt officials of the municipal/city treasurer’s office for an unconscionably low price, greatly disparate to its fair market value. Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) asked the Bureau of Local Government Finance to investigate allegations that a syndicate was engaged in land-grabbing in Muntinlupa City in connivance with the city treasurer’s office as published in Manila Times last February 09, 2021.

Thus there is a need to review both the accountability of local government units, as well as relevance of existing laws, in ensuring that the proper protection is given to our citizens in the enjoyment of their duly acquired properties freely and without fear, since the actions of these scammers aided by the actions and inaction of unscrupulous government officials and agents, lead to an abuse of the powers delegated by Congress to LGUs through the provisions of the LGC.