by Aileen P. Refuerzo
The city government gave owners of the illegal shanties built at the area designated for tree nursery at the Busol Watershed a 10-day reprieve after the occupants appealed for more time to consider voluntarily demolishing the structures.
Ancestral land claimant Lucia Ampaguey last May 21 signed an undertaking asking the mayor to defer implementation of the demolition order for 10 days to allow them to discuss their next action.
“We understand that if we fail to undertake the demolition by ourselves, the demolition team will do their job (of removing our structures),” Ampaguey noted in the letter she signed in the presence of City Building Official Nazita Bañez, forester Walter Aguirre, City Police Director Rolando Miranda, and the other occupants.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan expressed relief and hope that the claimants will fulfill their commitment so that there will be no more hitches in the removal of the structures.
The area will be used as a tree nursery and field office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Baguio Regreening Movement and the City Environment and Parks Management Office.
The city last May 7 was set to undertake the dismantling operation of the five shanties but held back after the occupants barricaded the area.
The mayor however notified the owners that the city will pursue the demolition anytime in collaboration with the concerned law enforcement agencies even as he appealed to them to cooperate to avoid criminal charges.
Earlier, the mayor turned down the request of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to defer implementation of the demolition of the shanties saying the structures are built within the city’s main watershed and their owners’ lot claims have been denied with finality by the courts.
“Much to our regret we cannot grant your request for it has no legal basis and we have to proceed with the intended demolition. Please understand that it is the need for adequate water supply and ecological balance that compels the city government of Baguio, the Baguio Water District, the DENR and the BRM to do all necessary acts allowed under the law to preserve the Busol Forest Reserve including but not limited to the clearing or demolition of illegal structures therein,” Mayor Mauricio Domogan said in a letter to NCIP Chair Leonor Quintayo.
Quintayo last May 7 asked the mayor to postpone the demolition scheduled that day “to give the Commission the time to investigate and validate” the petition for recognition of ancestral land claim of Ampaguey.
The mayor said the claim of Ampaguey “had been repeatedly denied with finality” by the courts. He cited the Supreme Court decision in 1989 denying land registration over the forest reservation maintaining that “forest lands are inalienable and possession thereof, no matter how long, cannot convert the same into private property and the courts are without jurisdiction to adjudicate lands within the forest zone.”
The mayor also underscored the need to protect the watershed which supplies 35 percent of the water needs of the city from the squatters.
“At present drinking water is our number one problem. You can just imagine what will happen to us if our watershed will be fully squatted upon or denuded. Hence, apart from enforcing the law within our jurisdiction, the city has to protect the area to ensure adequate water supply and to preserve the ecological balance in the City,” the mayor said.