• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines


Tongtongan ti Umili - Cordillera Peoples Alliance

September 2, 2023

Baguio City became a chartered city in 1909 as a direct result of the American colonial government’s goal of making a hill station in Northern Luzon. However, more than marking its territorial boundaries, the old charter became a formal precedent to what turned out to be a long-standing land problem in the city. With the townsite sales applications aimed at becoming the primary source of funding for the chartered city, ancestral lands were effectively snatched from original Ibaloi settlers. Further complicated by the rapid increase of commercial activity, privatization, and deteriorating ecology and carrying capacity, the worsening implications on the different sectors of the city demand a review of the old city charter.

This year’s Baguio City Charter Day is a reminder of the city’s unresolved issues that has festered throughout the years. In concurrence with the people of Baguio, Tongtongan ti Umili – Cordillera Peoples Alliance (TTU-CPA), calls for the need to repeal the Republic Act 11689, and asserts the crafting of a city charter that genuinely reflects the identity, aspirations, and demands of the people of Baguio.

I. Undemocratic

After Baguio Representative Marquez Go lobbied for his version of the Revised City Charter in 2021, the people of Baguio with its local city council raised an alarm as the Revised City Charter (Republic Act 11689) lapsed into law without any public consultations or exhaustive review of the proposed revisions. Besides the lack of stakeholder participation in its crafting, Go’s revised charter was found to be injudiciously detached from the issues that the city faces at present, adding no substantial rectification nor improvements from the previous version.

The task of revising a century old charter requires the utmost participation of the stakeholders that would be most affected by its consequences. Bypassing a fundamental and crucial step can be maliciously construed as actively excluding the public’s involvement, especially considering that the revised charter was practically railroaded. The lack of proper and thorough consultation disallows the people of Baguio from registering their insights regarding the actual implications of the ambiguous provisions and other sectoral concerns that could have been relieved in the new charter.

The insistence that a plebiscite is unnecessary not only undermines the people’s democratic participation, but also ignores the historical context and colonial inception of the original charter. It is a brazen irony to railroad the revision of the City Charter and pass it off as a move for the progress and welfare of the city and its people, when the 1909 Charter was enforced in a similar manner during the American occupation. Going through the process of consultation and involving the public would have been the opportunity to do right by the people of Baguio.

I. Poorly crafted

The bulk of RA 11689 is directly lifted from the Local Government Code (LGC), making it a repetition of already mandated regulations padded with vague provisions and generic statements that in no way addresses the complex and multi-faceted character of the City.

The statement on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) is perfunctory, to the extent that it appears to trivialize the City’s problems on cultural, ecological, and economic sustainability. With the expected results of the most recent UNSDG set by 2030, it is apparent that the Revised Charter lacks comprehensive and long-term development framework and objectives.

Perhaps most fundamental to a city charter is the specification of the metes and bounds of the territory, which RA 11689 failed to incorporate a provision on. The lack of an updated and definite territorial boundary causes existing boundary disputes to persist and may cause friction between the local government unit and other adjacent municipalities. This is a vital part of a city charter that must be defined instead of relying on the obsolete boundaries set by the old charter.

Furthermore, the Camp John Hay Reservation (CJHR)’s land area, titled under the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), increased from the original 570 hectares to 625 hectares in the Revised Charter without any justification provided for such expansion. Communities that predated the arrival of the CJHR and BCDA are declared trespassers in their own spaces and facilities as the CJHR and BCDA encroach and overstep their jurisdiction.

The undue declaration of the land area of the CJHR undermines Resolution 362 Series of 1994 which sets the 19 conditionalities in which the Master Development Plan of CJHR can operate. The refusal to honor these conditionalities disparages the efforts of the people who lobbied for this resolution and aggravates the dispute of the surrounding 13 barangays with BCDA. With the Revised Charter legalizing the expansion and giving BCDA full authority over the CJHR, regulation from the local government is reduced – placing the affected barangays in an enduring dilemma and even in the threat of displacement.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City in a case filed by the BCDA petitioning for businesses within the John Hay Special Economic Zone not duly registered with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority to be exempted from tax and permit fees. The petition was dismissed for lack of merit. Consequently, the BCDA filed a motion for reconsideration, now including in their supporting documents the provision in the Revised City Charter, implying that the expanded 625-hectare land area of CJHR and BCDA affirms the separation and distinction of the territory from the Baguio Townsite Reservation. This illustrates how the poorly crafted charter can be exploited, and counter the position of the City to exercise its power of taxation among others.

In addition, the Revised Charter yields the proceeds of townsite reservation sales to national government funds instead of the City Treasury Office. This introduces a handicap to the city’s operations and capacity to pursue development initiatives and removes the city’s jurisdiction over its territories.

With the many insufficiencies and discrepancies of RA 11689, it is apparent that the effort to introduce an updated charter is lacking the genuine resolve to be of service to the constituents of Baguio and the City itself. Not only is the Revised Charter contradictory to local laws, it also contains provisions that could potentially harm the City if not urgently addressed.

III. Towards a charter for the people

While the old charter detached Baguio from its origins as an Ibaloi settlement, RA 11689 perpetuates the injustice as it fails to acknowledge this distinct aspect of the City. Any attempts of “preserving and restoring the historical heritage and value of the City” will be remiss and insincere as long as there is no recognition of the history, particularity, and evolving identity of the umili. Baguio City is now home to indigenous communities from other parts of Cordillera as a result of decades of migration, in addition to non-Igorot migrants from all over the country –a fact that should be recognized and addressed in the new charter.

The Revised Charter’s provision on Ancestral Lands also relinquishes the City’s responsibilities to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples in resolving decades-long pending ancestral land claims. Both formal and informal settlers are threatened by demolition while construction of high-rise condominiums and commercial infrastructures encroach on the already limited space of the city. Moreover, the City draws back on its services as the education center of the North as seen in the forsaking of the BIBAK lot as an affordable student dormitory for indigenous youth. Along with conflicting territorial boundaries and the unjustified expansion of Camp John Hay Reservation, the Revised Charter only complicates the already convoluted land issue of the city.

Revising the 1909 Charter is less about improving and updating the document, but more of a chance to craft an entirely new charter that will genuinely benefit the City and its people, with all its demands and particularities considered. Ambiguous goals patterned from short-sighted programs does not compensate for the counterproductive provisions laid out in the Revised Charter. It should have been a given that a charter places the most priority on peoples’ rights and welfare.

The new city charter must be aligned with the umili’s genuine interest, providing concrete and lasting solutions to Baguio’s challenges regarding carrying capacity and limited resources while actively pursuing pro-people development.