The House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Welfare on Tuesday approved the substitute bill which prohibited the sale of the four Philippine properties in Japan to aid war veterans.
During its meeting, the panel approved the substitute measure for House Bills 702, 1921, and 5841, which also mandated the use of proceeds from the development, lease, use or sale of certain government properties for veterans' affairs and welfare.
The substitute bill provides for the development, lease, use, or sale of various properties of the government, including the Veterans Center in Taguig City and the former site of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office on Arroceros Street in Manila --- the proceeds of which will be used to fund the pension and benefits of veterans and military retirees.
However, the "heritage properties proclaimed for veterans' use and those given by the Japanese government under the reparation agreement shall not be subject to sale."
These included the properties in Roponggi and Nampeidai in Tokyo, and in Noniwa-cho and Obanoyama-cho in Kobe, which the Philippines acquired as part of the reparations agreement it signed with Japan in 1956.
"I would like to point out that the substitute bill does not propose the sale of the reparation properties in Japan. Uulitin ko, walang probisyon sa ating substitute bill ang nagpapanukala na ibenta ang mga reparation properties sa Japan," said panel chair Representative Geraldine Roman.
"I hope that will allay the fears of those who are opposed to this hypothetical sale," she added.
Despite this provision, Muntinlupa City Representative Ruffy Biazon, who is one of the authors of the measure, still expressed apprehension about opening up the properties for sale.
"We would like to see these properties as much as possible to be retained by government and for possible maximization of the value of the property instead of us disposing of it," he said.
"If there is no control to the sale or there is no last option measure for sale, the moment we passed this law, anyone could call for the sale of these properties. And you know in five years’ time the value of that property could have meteorically risen, and we have not been able to benefit from that appreciation of the property," he added.
To address his concern, Roman agreed that the sale of the properties should be the last resort or option.
"The hypothetical sale of the properties should only be a last resort or a last option after following stringent processes that will guarantee the best interest of our veterans," she said.
Earlier in the day, the Makabayan Bloc led by Gabriela Women's Party Representative Arlene Brosas filed a resolution calling on the House to oppose the planned sale of the four Philippine properties in Japan, supposedly to generate funds for the payment of pensions and other benefits for Filipino war veterans.
"The national government can source adequate funds for the pension and other benefits of Filipino war veterans without resorting to the sale of the historically significant war reparation assets in Japan," the resolution read.
"Such properties carry significant historical and symbolic value to Filipinos and especially to war veterans who fought against the Japanese occupation and their atrocities," it added.
Back in September, President Rodrigo Duterte said the government was selling properties, including those in Japan, to augment the funds of PhilHealth.
However, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the country would sell these properties only if necessary. — DVM, GMA News