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September 3, 2008

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The Proposed Baguio Charter: Transforming Baguio's Land Problem from Bad to Worse

Position Paper on the land provisions of House Bill No. 2813
(An Act Revising the Charter of the City of Baguio)

Signed by the Delegates of the BAGUIO LAND CON FERENCE (The Baguio Land Situation: Problems, Positions and Alternatives) on August 28-29, 2008 at the UP Baguio College of Social Sciences AVR. The Conference was jointly sponsored by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, UP College of Social Sciences, Tongtongan Ti Umili, Tebtebba, Interfaith Gathering for Truth and Accountability and the Committee on Laws and Committee on Land of the Baguio City Council

Throughout Baguio's history, numerous laws and policies have been passed, decisions have been made and developments have happened, resulting in a complex and problematic land situation in the City. Starting with the proclamation of the Baguio Townsite Reservation in 1907 by the American colonial government, the creation of Baguio as a Chartered City in 1909, and the decision on the Carino doctrine in 1909, there have been a series of laws, proclamations and decisions on land claims and land disposition in the city that make the urban land problem truly a challenge to fathom.

Various interests and perspectives come into play in the Baguio land situation.

On one hand, you have the original Ibaloi indigenous inhabitants whose native title to their ancestral lands was "recognized" in a decision of the US Supreme court in 1909 on the case of Carino vs. the Insular government (a landmark decision now known as the Carino doctrine). However, these same Ibaloi families fell victim through the years to a systematic and legalized dispossession of their ancestral lands with the passage of numerous laws, proclamations and decisions by the colonial and commonwealth government in the Philippines. Now we see a large part of Baguio, including Ibaloi ancestral lands, declared as government reservations and public land under the control of the national government.

On the other hand, conflicting land laws and overlapping land claims also exist in the city. Aside from land titles of various kinds, the Townsite Sales Application (TSA) is the primary instrument of land disposition in the city within the Baguio Townsite Reservation. However, the issuance of TSAs by the DENR has been so expensive, controversial and anomalous such that there is hardly a land claim that does not conflict with another. There is also the issue of expanded titles, conflicting land use, subdivisions, road right of way, watershed and forest reserves, miscellaneous sales application, overlapping surveys with different reference points, Community Mortgage Program, actual occupants vs. claimants, etc. etc. The limited area of alienable and disposable land in the city is now being fiercely contested by these numerous and various conflicting interests.

Another aspect of the urban land problem is the influx of migrants from other regions and provinces into the city. As early as the 1900s with the opening up of the mines in Benguet and the declaration of the city as a summer capital, there has been a steady stream of migrants coming into the city. In-migration and rapid urbanization has stretched the carrying capacity of Baguio to the limits and has resulted in land scarcity, squatting and homelessness.

After 100 years of Baguio's existence, the land problem is nowhere near being resolved and is in fact worsening, with land conflicts among the people increasing. Now here comes the proposed Baguio Charter revision filed by Congressman Mauricio Domogan in Congress. The Bill was re-filed in the 14th Congress and has undergone first and second reading at the House committee level, without consultation and the knowledge of the general populace of the city. The Bill contains dubious provisions on land, which if approved could worsen the already bad land situation in Baguio. The Bill is scheduled for discussion in the House Plenary Session soon.

From Bad to Worse
The proposed Baguio Charter through House Bill 2813 introduced by Hon. Mauricio Domogan in Congress contains questionable provisions, which are bound to turn the Baguio land situation from bad to worse.

The most salient features of the proposed Charter revisions can be found in Article II: Alienable and Disposable Public Lands of the Baguio Townsite Reservation. The gist of this article is the titling of all alienable and disposable public lands in the name of the City with the objective of boosting the city's revenue generation capacity.

The proposed Charter provides for the "Conduct of Massive Subdivision Survey, the issuance of Original Certificate of Title for all alienable and disposable public land in the name of the city, Awarding of lands based on the formula of DENR, Composition of Awards Committee, Moneys acquired through the sale of land, and the NCIP provisions on Ancestral lands in Baguio".

A subdivision survey is not enough to solve the gargantuan land problems besetting the city. The solution to the land problem should be based on a comprehensive study that would include land classification and usage, an updated land map and the resolution of conflicting land claims. Without this, there is a danger of manipulation that could lead to the encroachment of lands that are not included in the alienable and disposable public lands. This study should be treated as a pre-requisite to the charter revision, in order to make the Charter responsive to the actualities happening in the city.

Also, while the Charter revision states that those ancestral lands recognized under RA 8731 or the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) are not covered by the titling, ancestral land claimants are currently under-going the tedious processes of land registration due to conflicting land laws as stated above, including the IPRA law. Even the landmark Carino Doctrine recognizing the indigenous peoples' claim to their ancestral lands has not been implemented.

Once passed, the Domogan bill would include these unsettled claims to ancestral lands among the public lands to be titled to whoever City Hall pleases. The Ibaloi ancestral land claimants would be subjected to further dispossession in clear violation of the indigenous peoples' inherent right to their ancestral land.

House Bill 2813 would also perpetuate the tedious and expensive Townsite Sales Application (TSA) as the primary mode of land acquisition in Baguio. Applicants would still be burdened with the public bidding requirement under the TSA which directly limits the opportunities for land acquisition to those who have the capacity to bid.

In addition, complications in the processes of land acquisition has inherently entrenched graft and corruption in such processes. According to its author, the Charter revision is aimed at curbing this problem. But giving the same powers to the city mayor without overhauling the process would only mean a transfer of corruption from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to the city government.

While it is not proper to pre-judge the integrity of whoever will sit in the said office, common sense would tell us that giving this power to a person with political interest would also politicize the process. There is a big possibility that the awarding of lands, through the revised Charter would be tainted with corruption and political favors.

Lack of Public Consultation
Any bill affecting the residents of Baguio should be subjected to a thorough consultation process among all affected sectors. However, the author of this bill failed to conduct massive public consultation before filing HB 2813. The Bill has already undergone first and second readings in the House of Representatives, yet an ordinary Baguio resident does not even know the contents of the proposed Baguio Charter. Hon. Domogan must be sensitive to the right of the Baguio public to be informed so as to make the right decisions regarding this bill. In fact, the series of consultations should have been conducted even before the Congress hearings if the author of this bill values transparency and social acceptability.

Given all the reservations and apprehensions cited above, we unequivocally register our opposition to the salient features/provisions in Article II (Alienable and Disposable Public Lands of the Baguio Townsite Reservation) of House Bill No. 2813 (An Act Revising the Charter of the City of Baguio).

We Call For:
1. Comprehensive land survey and in-depth study to arrive at a viable and long-term solution to Baguio's land problem

2. Thorough education and information dissemination campaign and public consultation among all affected sectors on the proposed Baguio charter in the interest of truth and transparency before any decision is made in Congress.

What We Need is a Charter That:
1. will rationalize the land use in Baguio to address existing issues, needs and democratic interests of the people of Baguio;

2. recognizes the indigenous people's legitimate rights to their ancestral lands;

3. respect the rights of those who acquired their lands through legitimate means;

4. is responsive to the realities of land scarcity and limited carrying capacity of Baguio as an urban center;

5. addresses the need for decent housing for the less privileged, the landless and homeless bona fide residents of Baguio.

6. introduces workable alternatives to the complicated land situation in Baguio based on a comprehensive study and thorough public consultation #

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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