MONDAY'S 6th regular session of the City Council presided over by Vice Mayor Daniel T. Fariñas was replete with invited personalities and guests, upon the invitation of the august body, who clarified and offered their opinions in connection with several relevant matters taken up during the deliberation and discussion.
On the issue of the land purchase by the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) at a residential area along South Drive in the City of Baguio, City Councilor Fred Bagbagen seemed quite disappointed to learn that Beneco has once more failed to accede to the invitation by the city council to appear before the latter and clarify matters relative to their acquisition of about 1.2 hectares of prime property in the City. In a letter sent to the city council Beneco apologized for not being able to send its representatives to the said regular session citing conflict of schedules.
Nonetheless the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), another invited guest, was able to send its representative in the person of Atty. Elena Rillera, the Chief of the legal division of the BIR-CAR. She seemed very much willing to answer queries raised by the councilors Atty. Rillera but was succinct in explaining to the body that as far as documents are concerned they are prevented by law, specifically the Tax code, to release any official documents from their office pertaining to the lot purchase by Beneco except upon lawful order of any authorized body or court.
Although by way of suggestion she opined that if the City council can obtain an authorization from Beneco for the release of the said documents then their office would be more than willing to give the said documents.
During the discussion and while the rules were suspended, it also came to light as propounded by councilor bagbagen and his other colleagues that there seems to be a discrepancy between the amounts agreed upon in the contract of sale and the amount reported to the BIR, as well as to total purchase price of the lot. Atty. Rillera explained that the BIR on its own cannot simply conduct an investigation based on what was discussed in the regular session of the city council but may undertake an inquiry on the matter upon the filing of a formal complaint with their agency.
Still on the same matter, Atty. Rillera was also joined by representatives from the Cordillera Chamber of Real Estate Builders Association (Creba) led by Ms. Fely Ronquillo who revealed that the assessed value of the properties at South Drive were at seven thousand to ten thousand pesos per square meter. They further expressed surprise to learn that the property raw land bought by Beneco was allegedly purchased at fifteen thousand pesos per square meter.
Seeking further to inquire into the matter the august body decided to defer any decision on the matter and instead scheduled another round of invitations of various personalities and offices for the regular session on September 6, 2010 in order to delve deeper on the said controversy.
Among those invited are representatives of Beneco, BIR, Bangko De Oro, Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), the National Real Estate Association (NREA), the Real Estate Brokers Association of the Philippines (Rebap), and Mr. Ramon Jacinto.
On another matter, the office of Baguio City Fire Chief Senior Superintendent Richard C. Villanueva came under fire after the august body began an inquiry in aid of legislation on the response, operation and containment of the conflagration that occurred in Aurora Hill on July 12, 2010.
Feeling the heat, fire chief Villanueva gamely tried to explain the actions of some of his personnel in connection with their receipt of fire alarms via telephones, their logging of reports and their manner of putting out the fire at Aurora Hill.
City councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda took the cudgels of enlightening the august body about the incident which, based on documents, seemed not to have been coordinated properly or the fact that during the attempt to extinguish the fire there seemed to be a lack in the supply of water from fire hydrants in the area.
A Baguio Water District representative Engr. Salvador explained to the council that due to water rationing they are also regulating the supply of water to fire hydrants. The Fire auxiliary Brigade from Camp John Hay also revealed that they only respond to fires only upon the request or notice to them by the fire chief, the mayor or the Baguio City police Chief. The representative from the fire station in john hay clarified that they usually respond immediately to fires occurring in the barangays within their jurisdiction but they have to be notified to respond to similar incidents if it is beyond the barangays within their jurisdiction.
Having listened to all this, the august body decided to bring the matter back to the proponent of the legislative inquiry, Councilor Tabanda in order that the fitting legislative measures can be made to address all of the issues raised during the discussion.
Similarly, the city council also gave its nod for the appropriate request to be made to the department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) as well as the Civil Service Commission (CSC), for the conduct of an investigation based on an undated letter from the officers and members of the Baguio City Fire Station seeking assistance regarding the designation of F/SSupt. Richard Villanueva as Assistant Regional Director for Operations of the BFP-CAR while at the same time serving in a concurrent capacity as the City Fire Marshall of Baguio.