The Baguio City Council has once again asserted the city government’s right over the entire 28-hectare land located at Sto. Tomas Barangay.
In its regular session last February 6, the city council ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera Administrative Region (DENR-CAR) to remove the name of the Everlasting Pinegold Community Association, Inc. (EPCAI) from the survey plan.
According to DENR-CAR representative Maria Dolores Balagat, the 28-hectare land was surveyed as Special Work Order (SWO)-CAR-000967 in the name of the city government and is within the 138-hectare land that was identified for city land needs through a council resolution. Of the nine lots within the 28 hectares, six lots with a total area of 18 hectares were identified as a social housing site for EPCAI upon the request of then Mayor Mauricio Domogan.
This issue has been a subject of several discussions in the city council. The Baguio councilors previously questioned the legitimacy of the EPCAI’s claim over the area, asserting that decisions of the city government involving land disposition need the confirmation or approval of the city council through a resolution or an ordinance. As per record, to date, there has not been any resolution/ordinance from the city council confirming the allocation of the lot in question in favor of EPCAI.
Balagat reiterated that the DENR does not favor entities when declaring lands as alienable and disposable pursuant to the Public Land Act and that it was the city government under the administration of Domogan that identified the 18-hectare land to be used by the EPCAI as a housing site.
Councilor Leandro Yangot who chairs the city council’s Committee on Urban Planning, Lands, and Housing claimed that most of the members of EPCAI are “not from Baguio.”
“They are so lucky to have a very wide track of land… I checked [on] this matter, and it is really disturbing… They are not registered in the City of Baguio… We should re-think how we can put this area into maximum use,” Yangot stated.
The city council also requested DENR-CAR to “exclude” the ancestral land claim of Manuel Behis from the survey plan of the 28-hectare land. Consequently, the city council arranged a different forum with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and DENR-CAR to apprise the body of the status of the ancestral land claims in the area. The forum was initially scheduled on March 6, 2023.
The city council’s recent move was an offshoot of the discussion last February 6 regarding the city government’s plan on solid waste management. One area identified for the construction of the city’s Engineered Sanitary Landfill and waste-to-energy facility is the 138-hectare city government land in Sto. Tomas, Barangay.
City Administrator Bonifacio Dela Pena said the portions of the said land are already occupied by “informal settlers” with around 200 pending applications filed by occupants with the AO 504 Clearing Committee. Balagat said some lands being applied for are within the 28-hectare land surveyed in the name of the city government.
Dela Pena said of the total area of the land, only 70 hectares is left unoccupied and is currently used for agricultural purposes. He said the General Services Office and the city’s survey team were tasked to inspect the area and determine how much of the land can be recovered immediately for the construction of the city’s solid waste management facilities. -Jordan G. Habbiling