July 22, 2024

For Benguet officials, the new charter of Baguio City is a matter to be resolved by the city itself. But it cannot be denied that its implementation would make an impact in the neighboring municipalities of Benguet. Benguet Gov. Melchor Diclas said in the crafting of the Metropolitan Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay Development Authority (MBLISTTDA), he suggested that Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong should be the initial chair.

This is because most of the concerns are concentrated in Baguio City, which affect its neighboring towns.

“Baguio and Benguet are intertwined. So, the development of both local government units goes hand in hand, and that’s what we want to achieve with the MBLISTTDA,” said Diclas, who also sits as the co-chair. 

The MBLISTTDA, which was created under Republic Act 11932 and lapsed into law in July 2022, seeks to centralize and oversee development efforts and initiatives addressing the challenges and problems confronting Baguio and the outlying towns of Benguet.

On April 11, 2022, another bill, RA 11689, or the Revised Charter of Baguio lapsed into law but is currently being ironed out by city officials due to its flaws.

These include the lack of a technical des-cription on the city’s territorial bounda-ries and the provision which mandates the city council secretary to submit copies of ordinances and resolutions to the provincial board of Benguet for review.

RACE FOR SPACE — This mountainside of La Trinidad, Benguet is slowly being filled with houses as Benguet’s central municipality becomes crowded, as well as being adjacent to Baguio City. This dilemma is seen to be addressed with the passage of the Metropolitan Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Tuba and Tublay Development Authority, which seeks to oversee the problems linking these towns and the chartered city of Baguio. — Ofelia Empian

Defining Baguio’s territorial boundaries

Throughout history, the territory of a king should be specified, as boundaries were a subject of wars in the past, according to Baguio Councilor Isabelo Cosalan, Jr.

Cosalan, during the city council’s special session on Aug. 18 with Rep. Mark Go, questioned the revised charter’s lack of technical description on Baguio’s territorial boundaries.

He said the territorial boundaries were specified in the amended charter of Baguio.

“The technical description of a city or of a local government is basic, especially when you proceed to do development plans – city planning, environment, and everything,” Cosalan said.

During the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, Cosalan was sent by the city council to the Senate deliberation of the proposed revised city charter.

Cosalan was particular with the territorial boundary because much time was spent in the discussion of the territorial boundaries at the Senate. The chair of the Committee on Local Government was then senator and now President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

However, the earlier version of the revised city charter was vetoed by President Aquino in 2013.

“In layman’s terms, it’s just like having a fence. We now have a fence, as provided for by the city charter of 1909. Now why remove the fence? They’d rather have it in general terms, which is as what you read now in the existing city charter: “The area presently being admi-nistered.” So even that, what is the area being administered by Baguio?” he said.

Cosalan said with the technical description, the city would define its land area. Currently, the city has a political boundary dispute with Tuba, Benguet. 

In his defense, Go has informed the city council the draft of the revised charter he authored includes the technical description of Baguio City, but was removed by the House committee that reviewed the charter.

Last year, a joint technical working group was created between the city and Tuba to negotiate the settlement of the age-old boundary dispute. 

In Joint Memorandum 01-2022 dated Aug. 24, 2022, it states that the city has territorial and political jurisdictions over the parcels of land where Tuba Central School and the Tuba municipal hall were erected, both in Barangay Poblacion.

Tuba, meanwhile, lays claim over parcels of land where the Sto. Tomas-Balacbac barangay hall and the Baguio City National High School-Sto. Tomas annex is situated.

“As a result of this quandary, affected persons have been paying their taxes and securing their business clearances from LGU-Baguio, although actually residing in portions that are physically located in LGU-Tuba and the Baguio City National High School-Sto. Tomas annex is claimed to be within the territorial boundary of LGU-Tuba,” the memo stated.

Tuba Vice Mayor Maria Carantes said the technical working group of the municipality had earlier identified areas which it presented to the TWG of Baguio City in January this year. She said the city’s TWG said it will present it to the city council, but until now they have not been updated about the issue.

Carantes said: “In case both LGUs will agree, we (Baguio and Tuba) will conduct the delineation and then other paper works will follow.”

Municipal Planning Development Officer Elmer Montino said there are no defined areas yet to determine the total land area being claimed by Tuba.

“There are several proposals from the TWG; it is the choice of both LGUs on what will be the win-win solution, then that’s the time the two mayors would enter into agreement over the boundary issue,” Montino said.

Earlier, Tuba and Baguio authorized their respective mayors to sign a memorandum of agreement on the areas for possible swapping to settle the decades old boundary issue.

In case the boundary issue is resolved, Cosalan said Section 10 of the Local Government Code (LGC) needs to be taken into consideration, which calls for a plebiscite of affected LGUs if there is a “substantial alteration of boundaries”.

“We would need a budget for that, but that is the democratic way in order to assure that we are doing it acceptable to the people, then we present it as a plebiscite,” he said.

When asked if the boundary issue was not resolved prior to the amendment of the revised charter, he said the technical description could always be added later on via amendment of the charter.

As for the other municipalities bounded with Baguio City in the province – La Trinidad and Itogon – there are no existing territorial boundary disputes, however, he said the updated cadastral surveys from these LGUs need to be incorporated in the revised city charter.

City council under Benguet provincial board?

Another hotly-contested provision in the new charter is Article 8, Section 23 which mandates the secretary of the city council to “forward to the Benguet provincial board copies of duly approved ordinances” as based on sections 56 and 57 of the LGC.

The LGC states that the provincial board must review the ordinances or resolutions by its component city. Baguio is a chartered city.

Councilor Jose Molintas said the provision converted the Baguio as a component city of Benguet, a downgrade from an autonomous, highly urbanized city. He cited legal complications due to this.

“Even if it is not intended, still, it creates doubt whether or not the City of Baguio is operating legally because not only appropriations ordinance will be questioned, including all our penal ordinances. If somebody is accusing the court of the violations of an ordinance, he will just say ‘the city charter says we should bring it to the provincial board for review’,” Molintas said.

Councilor Art Allad-iw echoed this, stating that the provision creates another level of bureaucracy and is a step backward even from the 1909 charter.

Baguio is the second oldest chartered city, next to the City of Manila, as declared by the Philippine Commission under the American rule on Sept. 1, 1909 while the country’s capital was declared on July 31, 1901.

Lawyer John Ray Libiran, Go’s legal counsel, said the entire process of lawmaking in the charter is found in Article 6, where it does not state that ordinances need to be approved by the provincial board.

Libiran said the questioned provision is only directed to the role of the city council secretary and does not affect the lawmaking power of the city.

“It is a surplus; the secretary does not need to do it because we are not bound by that. This is a highly urbanized city, we are not supposed to have our laws submitted to the Sanggunian of Benguet,” Libiran said.

This means that the ordinances passed by the city council since April 22, 2022 to present are all legal, he said.

He said the “infringing provision” was not in the draft bill, and may have been “copy-pasted from the Local Government Code” when it was reviewed by a House committee.

Go said due to the provision being “inadvertently inserted” he talked to the committee secretariat, which recommended for him to file an amendatory bill, which is the pending House Bill 7406.  

“We did that to ensure that there would be no misinterpretation when we go to the actual situation,” he said.

Councilor Peter Fianza said many more provisions in the new charter, which were lifted from other laws, resulted in errors that would affect Baguio’s government operations if enforced literally.

Fianza, who had compiled anomalous and erroneous provisions in RA 11689 for the council and later on submitted to Go, said Libiran’s interpretation of the questioned provision may be interpreted differently by another.  

TOURISM MANAGEMENT — Baguio City has long been regarded as a premiere tourism destination, and with the current ease of travel and the rise of social media, tourist sites are slowly spreading out to the nearby municipalities, specifically at the adjacent towns of the city. Now, the tourism woes of Baguio City are being experienced by these towns particularly at the La Trinidad, Itogon, Tuba, and Tublay (LISTT) which are one of the problems eyed to be resolved by the Metropolitan Baguio LISTT Development Authority law. — Ofelia Empian

Agree to move forward

“The way I see it, the old charter has been effectively repealed since the onset of the 1991 Local Government Code. So, if that is the case, there is nothing to be revised. What is to be done is to compose one. So, I thought that should be done and in consultation with the people,” Molintas said. 

Molintas and Councilor Fred Bagbagen earlier moved for a legal action in stopping the enforcement of the new city charter.

At the end of the council’s special meeting, the council forwarded its issues and concerns to the solon.

“I am asking support for the amendment of the revised city charter instead, because declaring it as unconstitutional may not be the best solution,” Go said. 

House Bill 7406, which strikes off some of the errors in the new charter, was passed by the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate.

The solon assured the city council that he will incorporate the council’s concerns in the amendment of the revised charter.

As for the MBLISTTDA, Go said Congress is now in the deliberation for the 2024 budget, however, he said the budget for the operation of MBLISTTDA was not included by the Office of the President. 

“We need to make a representation with the Department of Budget and Management to include it in the House after all these deliberations, and probably we could have it during the bicameral meeting,” he said.

He said the proposed budget is at P50 million for operational expenses facilities and infrastructure needed and programs for the development authority.

Benguet Vice Gov. Ericson Felipe, who was part of the team that reviewed the implementing rules and regulations of the MBLISTTDA, said having the fund for the development authority would help manage development in the BLISTT as the law intended it to be.

Felipe said Baguio may be a chartered city but it is still very much a part of the province since the city is at the heart of Benguet. “You cannot really separate Baguio from Benguet because they are always one. Whatever happens to Baguio will affect Benguet and whatever happens to Benguet will affect Baguio,” Felipe said. ¢