Patent Law implementation puts Baguio’s zoning at risk

The city’s zoning ordinance and the land use plan are imperiled with the environment department’s rejection of the proposed special guidelines for the implementation of the Free Patent Law.

Appearing before the city council’s session Monday last week, Mayor Mauricio Domogan told members of the council and other panelists from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and the Department of Public Works and Highways, Baguio will continue to lose remaining open spaces if these agencies and the local government do not come to terms with how to protect remaining open spaces that through the years continue to shrink for many were issued titles either through ancestral ownership, patent application, townsite and miscellaneous sales applications.

The NCIP, DPWH, and Cenro were invited to the council to clarify the processes on how private owners were able to acquire their titles even if some of these areas are claimed to form part of the right of way, and reservations, either by the local or the national governments.

“Imagine what will happen to Baguio. Our most serious problem is the unscrupulous titling of government reservations,” Domogan said.

He said lack of coordination between national government agencies with the LGU and differing interpretations of some laws resulted in uncontrolled land speculation.

In the case of the DPWH, Domogan said the agency wrongly interpreted Memorandum Circular 52 that designates which agency should demolish structures built on ROWs.

The DPWH said it should be the local government as it is the latter that has police power to enforce demolition. Domogan countered MC 52 states it should be the DPWH that should demolish and the local government will augment, but the main job should be with the agency.

Domogan said the finger pointing is one reason why the former eatery beside the Casa Vallejo building at Upper Session Road has transformed into a big building now. The structure, which is now a big restaurant, is on a ROW. A building has since been built there when the owners reportedly secured an ancestral land title.

In general, one-fifth of Baguio is now covered by CALTs, said Edgardo Flor, head of the Cenro-Baguio.

In the case of the titling of Forbes (which included the Botanical-Centennial garden) and Wright parks, Loakan Airport, Busol Watershed, and the frontage of The Mansion, the mayor said the NCIP issued CALTs over these reservations without regard to a previous agreement with former commissioner Eugenio Insigne that before titles are issued, this should have been cleared with the Baguio Ancestral Lands Clearing Committee (BALCC).

The NCIP is a member of the BALCC.

NCIP-Baguio lawyer Bernadette Badecao said the last meeting of the BALCC was in 2010. She said there are no guidelines on how the committee should function and a chairman was not designated.

The mayor told Badecao to review their records. He said when the BALCC was created all requirements were completed. He added, the recent titles issued by the NCIP also violated the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. Domogan said Baguio is generally governed by its charter not the entire law as spelled out in Section 78 of the IPRA.

Badecao declined to comment further because of pending issues before the court. She assured though, the NCIP has not issued any CALT for Baguio pending these cases.

With regard the application of the Free Patent Law, Domogan said the law has good intentions for it aims to give land to the landless at a lesser cost. But when the law is applied over a townsite reservation like Baguio, the mayor said there appears to be a conflict.

He said there are applications where a head of the family divided among his children his free patent application. If this is granted, members of his family will own several parcels of land in Baguio, but this practice deprives other people from owning a piece of land.

The mayor suggested for the city council to pass a resolution containing suggested guidelines governing TSA, MSA, and Free Patent applications and submit this anew to the central office of the DENR for reconsideration.

To thresh out these issues, Domogan, some of department heads, the DPWH, and NCIP met also last Monday. The city council will await results of the meeting before it comes up with its own action related to the titling of public lands in the city.


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