Mayor: Titling of parks undermine city's preservation-A A +A
Sunday, September 15, 2013
THE preservation of Baguio as "a national treasure" is being undermined by the arbitrary award to private claimants of the city's remaining parks, forest reservations and watersheds by National Government agencies, said Mayor Mauricio Domogan.
The mayor practically told members of a technical working group (TWG) created by President Benigno Aquino III that the private titling of the city's open public spaces and pine stands has become a major threat to the TWGs in preparing "comprehensive plans and programs to preserve and develop" Baguio and Boracay Island.
Unless nullified and stopped, these controversial and apparently continuing title issuances would lead to Baguio's undoing, Domogan said during a presentation before members of the Baguio-Boracay TWG on Monday at the Baguio Country Club.
"This is a very serious problem of the City of Baguio," the mayor told members of the TWG headed by Tourism Undersecretary Ma. Victoria Jasmin.
The Baguio-Boracay TWG was created under Memorandum Circular 47 issued by President Aquino last May 17. The President, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, said that "rapid growth, commercialization, and the lack of a comprehensive development and zoning plan have caused the degradation and deterioration of the two localities."
Domogan thanked the President for creating the task force, but added the titling of parks and reservations would have a costly impact on the preservation and development of Baguio that the presidential memorandum described as a "national treasure."
Domogan said the city, through the office of City Legal Officer Carlos Melchor Rabanes, and the Solicitor General now have their hands full, seeking the nullification of private titles issued over the Forbes Park, Wright Park, the Baguio Dairy Farm and portions of Session Road under ancestral land claims, aside from a expanded title within the Green Valley area, and, recently, within the Busol Watershed.
"Kulang iyong ating coordination (We lack coordination)," the mayor stressed before officials and representatives of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Land Registration Authority, and departments of justice, tourism, environment and natural resources during the half-day session of the TWG.
He said the recent awards to private individuals of parks, watersheds and reservations, mostly as ancestral land claims, are of no legal basis during the briefing on the TWG members on the legal history of processing and titling of lots in Baguio.
"We are not discriminating against ancestral land claims provided these are valid," Domogan reiterated.
He recalled that as a practicing lawyer then, he even served as counsel for some Ibaloy families with rightful ancestral land claims.
For one, Domogan said, the rule is that if the ancestral claim is in a reservation, it should first be de-listed as a reservation before the claim is acted upon. This process, he said, was apparently not followed in the titling of some government and forest reservations.
In the case of the Wright Park, Domogan said a portion of the Presidential Mansion Compound, together with a 4,000 square-meter titled lot of the city, had been overlapped by the ancestral land titles (CALT) issued by the NCIP.
More or less 10 hectares of the Wright Park are now covered by CALTs 129 and 130 under 22 titles issued by the NCIP. Twenty-five hectares of the Forbes Forest Reservation along South Drive established through Proclamation 10 of 1924 were titled under CALTs 26, 27, 28 and 29.
Likewise, more than 62 hectares of the Baguio Dairy Farm, another national government reservation established in 1940 under Proclamation 603, were also titled under CALT-37.
Other ancestral land claimants are seeking nullification of the titles issued over the dairy farm and the Wright Park.
On the controversial Green Valley area title, Domogan said this was expanded from a 4.50-hectare area to 53 hectares and now overlaps other titles, including the lot on which the elementary school stands.
The latest, he added, was the issuance of 22 titles over a total area of 7.8 hectares within the Busol Watershed, a major water source of the city and La Trinidad, Benguet and proclaimed as a government reservation in April 1922.
The survey over the awarded area, the mayor said, was done last June, after which the transfer certificates of title were issued last June 24.
He said the original title covering the area in the names of the heirs of Kalomis was invalidated, adding that the derivative titles over the same and in the names of applicants different from the Kalomis heirs were registered with the Registry of Deeds.
In a meeting with the mayor on Wednesday afternoon, members of the Kalomis clan said they will file affidavits of adverse claim opposing the issuance of the 22 titles. The mayor also directed the city legal office to file the city's affidavit of adverse claim.
The Wright Park titles are being opposed by relatives of the beneficiaries while the award at the Dairy Farm is also opposed by a clan different from the awardees.
"You can just imagine what Baguio would become if those parks and reservations are privately owned," Domogan told the media.
To avoid conflicts over contentious areas, he reiterated activation of the Baguio Ancestral Land Clearing Committee, a body created by en banc resolution of the NCIP in 2009 and through which applications for ancestral land applications should pass before awards are approved and issued.
At the TWG meeting Monday, Domogan also submitted to the members documents on the contentious titles issued over the city's parks and reservations, aside from the city's opposition to the subdivision of lots bigger than the allowed 200 square meters and below for titling under the Free Patent Law (FPL).
Domogan and the City Council said the practice of subdividing lots above 200 square meters and then titling these under the FPL process would have negative effects on the city's population growth density, which, at the present 4,300+ per square kilometer, is already 17 times more than the national average.
At the TWG meeting, NCIP lawyer John Ray Libiran said the commission is willing to revisit the titles it had issued but cases on these are pending in court.
The TWG agreed to help petition the courts for the suspension of the hearing of cases to allow NCIP to revisit said titles.
Domogan suggested the filing of joint motion to defer the hearings, to which Jasmin replied the TWG will explore all legal remedies and recommend to the President ways to facilitate its work "to review the environmental, commercial, tourism and law and order situation in Baguio and Boracay for the purpose of developing Comprehensive Plans to preserve these vital national assets."
Given the land issues here, Jasmin admitted the work toward the development of a comprehensive plan for Baguio will be more difficult than preparing one for Boracay. (Ramon Dacawi)
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on September 15, 2013.