May 18, 2024

As it turned 114 years old on Sept. 1, Baguio City and its people are faced with the challenge of going back to the drawing table to work together in coming up with a city charter that is representative of what Baguio really is and one its people can really be proud of, as they reflect on their past and create visions for a resilient future.

On April 11, 2022, the bill revising the 1909 charter of Baguio City penned by U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Malcolm became a law. While it lapsed into law and therefore does not bear the President’s signature, Republic Act 11689 or the Revised Charter of Baguio should be considered a landmark achievement for a highly urbanized city that pays homage to its rich history and continues to exert efforts to preserve and respect indigenous rights and traditions, as it recognizes the need to keep up with the modern times and solve its major concerns by updating inoperative provisions of the over a decade-old charter.

Rough sailing for a milestone achievement

RA 11689 ought to be a feat that previous authors of bills revising the charter failed to achieve, the closest one having been vetoed by the late Pres. Benigno Aquino III. 

But instead of welcoming the recent milestone and unlike the events that ushered past attempts to have such bill hurdle the Congress and reach the President’s table, RA 11689, authored by Rep. Marquez Go, has been receiving flak since several months before it became a law for its alleged failure to consider and include as inputs the comments and suggestions of stakeholders and the city council; and for want of intensive public consultations. Others also claimed the measure should have undergone a plebiscite.

The city council, through a resolution requested former Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to veto then House Bill 8882, saying it is full of flaws and does not provide answers to what Baguio and its people really needed.

Go reiterates RA 11689 had undergone the proper procedure, which he said is a long and tedious process. He denies its passage has been railroaded, and strongly disagrees the law is unconstitutional.  

However, from not providing the technical description of the city’s territorial boundaries, to the highly contentious issue on Camp John Hay (CJH) and its management by the Bases Conversion Development Authority’s (BCDA), and Resolution 362, s. 1994 that contained the 19 conditions of the city government of Baguio without which the deve-lopment of the former military reservation would not have materialized, the revised city charter is navigating through  rough path as clamors for its review have been persistent since it was still a bill and until it became a law.   

Special committee on RA 11689 concerns

After the 2022 national and local elections, the newly elected members of the city council constituted its committee on laws, human rights, and justice chaired by Councilor Peter Fianza as a special committee to look into issues and concerns raised over the Revised Charter of Baguio. This stemmed from the previous city council’s call for then Pres. Duterte to veto HB 8882 after it passed the bicameral committee of Congress but which was not acted upon, allowing the bill lapse into law.

DREAM FOR SEGREGATION — The 13 barangays surrounding the Camp John Hay reservation have long been clamoring for the fulfillment of their segregration from the reservation, which is one of the 19 conditions of the city government of Baguio embodied in Resolution 362-1994 when it consented to the development of the former military reservation. Only Scout Barrio barangay has so far been separated from the area, while Barangay Hillside is being planned next to be segregated. — Ompong Tan

The previous council learned the bill was already on the President’s desk for his action only when an official from the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office attended one of its sessions to give an update on the status of the proposed city charter revisions.

It was then some council members raised major concerns on some of the bill’s provisions that they claimed are detrimental to the city and which were not subjected to public consultation.

They also claimed their inputs after the Senate committee led by Sen. Francis Tolentino held a dialogue in Baguio City in 2021 were not incorporated in the bill’s final draft. 

In 2022, the special committee led a series of public consultations with various sectors, whose representatives voiced concerns on the revised charter’s provisions which they claimed could have been taken up had the bill been presented and consulted with the Baguio citizens before its draft was finalized.

The committee was also tasked to collate issues starting from what were on record when the law was still in its final stages of deliberations around mid-2021, including the comments of the city mayor, and the results of other formal and informal consultations referred to the committee.

An initial draft of the suggested errors has been presented to the congressman during a special session of the city council on Aug. 18, this year.

Calls to revise RA 11689

Fianza presented the council’s issues point by point and other councilors made clarifications with Go, who also had the chance to respond and explain his side.

From the law’s 63 sections, the city council enumerated a number of mistakes in the revised city charter they said should be corrected:

Lack of a provision defining Baguio’s boundaries;

Having the secretary to the Sangguniang Panlungsod forward to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Benguet copies of duly approved ordinances in the manner provided by the Local Government Code of 1991;

Alleged failure to have a provision that promotes indigenous peoples’ rights over their ancestral domains;

Removal of the Camp John Hay reservation from the coverage of the Baguio townsite reservation;

Leaving out the 19 conditions embodied in Resolution 362 s. 1994 that is considered the city’s terms in the development by the BCDA of the CJH reservation; and

Failure to assert the segregation of 13 adjoining barangays from the CJH reservation, among other issues. 

Molintas also claimed the old Baguio charter that was revised was deemed repealed by the Local Government Code of 1991 and therefore there was nothing to revise.

On the submission of the HB’s final draft, some quarters believed the Baguio electorate should have been asked whether they approve or reject the proposed revisions on the city charter through a plebiscite.

Author’s assertions

Go believes one way or the other some have supported the passage of a revised Baguio City Charter, since previous attempts have been in vain. Now that the city is able to pass one, he lamented some are flip-flopping over perceived disadvantages which he said are not true.

He said laws passed by Congress such as RA 11689 are presumed to be constitutional. For it to be invalidated, there must be a definite and clear violation of the Constitution, not one that is ambiguous and uncertain, Go said in response to suggestions to ask the Supreme Court to declare the law null and void.

He said the claim that the old Baguio charter was deemed repealed by the LGC is false, citing Section 5 of the LGC that says all general and special laws, acts, city charters, decrees, proclamations, and administrative regulations or parts thereof which are inconsistent with the provisions of the code are repealed or modified accordingly.

“It is very clear that a city charter can only be repealed by the LGC if it is inconsistent with the general law. The entire original city charter is not inconsistent with the LGC,” Go said.

On the claim there is a need for a plebiscite, he said Section 10 of the LGC provides no creation, division, merger, abolition, or substantial alteration of boundaries of LGUs shall take effect unless approved by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite called for the purpose in the political unit or units directly affected.

“But this only applies if the LGU would be created, divided, merged, or abolished or its territory is substantially altered. The new city charter did not alter the boundary of the city.”

Go explained the inclusion of a provision stating CJH is not part of the Baguio townsite reservation is only a restatement of the fact that CJH reservation was made in 1903 while the Baguio townsite was established in 1922. “The court decision establishing the Baguio townsite reservation explicitly stated existing reservations will not fall part of the townsite.”

The congressman also belied the claim the charter is working against the city of Baguio but for BCDA, which is reportedly using the Baguio charter as basis in asking the SC to reconsider its decision upholding the city’s right to impose taxes on businesses in CJH that are outside the special economic zone. 

He said the invocation of a provision in the charter by BCDA is its own conclusion and that the city still has power to tax areas not within special economic zones.

“The city charter did not make the CJH reservation a separate territory that is not bound by any LGU. There is nothing in the new charter that says the entire CJH area is a special economic zone. What was excluded as early as 1903 is the military reservation which has evolved to become CJH and it was turned over to the BCDA by the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992 also known as RA 7227,” he said.

He said it is incorrect to say there was no consultation held for then HB 8882 and he railroaded the passage of the proposed revised charter.

“So that people will know, the city charter went through all the processes required for the bill to become a law. It is unreasonable to think that one congressman could push it through to the House of Representatives and the Senate, each conducting three readings, without conducting public consultations. Such accusations are unfounded.”

He said several consultations were held and in fact Mayor Benjamin Magalong recommended the approval of the bill to the President. The mayor, however, later admitted there is a need to review the law after learning of the issues raised during one of the public hearings led by the council special committee that the mayor attended.

During the last stages of HB 8882’s deliberations, Go said he received the recommendations of the mayor which were duly included in the bill’s final version, but did not receive inputs from the city council which the latter claimed it submitted to the Office of the Congressman.

Amending a newly revised charter

Nonetheless, Go filed an amendatory bill, HB 7406, to rectify among others the provision on the city council secretary having to forward to the Benguet SP the city’s legislations, as this was not provided under the original bill he filed but was “copy pasted” during deliberations at the House.

Atty. John Ray Libiran, Go’s counsel, explained such provision anyhow does not mandate the city to submit its legislations to the Benguet provincial board for approval and it should not affect the legislation process of Baguio. 

The city council and Rep. Marquez Go, author of Republic Act 11689, which revised Baguo City’charter, met in a special session on Aug. 18 to discuss the issues and concerns on some provisions of the city charter. The city council earlier constituted its committee on laws, human rights, and justice led by Councilor Peter Fianza into a special committee that collated the issues on the matter and presented the same to the solon during the session.  — Ofelia Empian

Fianza said this inadvertence is not an isolated matter, noting other errors based on the initial draft the special committee collated. One is on coming up with more powers for the city, where the revised Baguio charter could have had the opportunity to provide or limit the number of barangays, which unfortunately may not be possible at this time.

In a public hearing, the councilor reported that one attendee observed Section 2 on the declaration of objectives and core values of the city failed to exploit the uniqueness of the city. “The city is unique, why did we not provide for this? We could have considered these queries and observations from the public consultations.”

CJH and the ‘13 Barangays Surrounding CJH Movement’

The uncertainties residents of the 13 barangays surrounding the Camp John Hay reservation have been living with for more than 20 years now and their waning hope on the fulfilment of the promise to be segregated from the reservation and become independent barangays are among the major issues that many were expecting to be addressed by the city charter.

However, Article 12, Section 55 of RA 11689 provides that “The Camp John Hay Reservation covering a total land area of 6,254,105 square meters subject to final survey, which was transferred to the BCDA by virtue of Republic Act 7227 or the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992, is not part of the Baguio Townsite Reservation.”

Even before RA 11689 lapsed into law, Councilor Arthur Allad-iw called attention to such provision.

The concern is founded on the long-time demand of the city for the BCDA to fulfil its obligations, known as the 19 conditions of the city for the development of CJH embodied in Resolution 362-1994, over which Baguio never gave up rights as granted by law.

Among the 19 conditions is the segregation of the 14 barangays surrounding CJH.

Councilor Fred Bagbagen reminded without the 19 conditions, BCDA could not have entered the City of Baguio in reaction to a statement that it could not be used as basis for the segregation of the 13 barangays.

“These 19 conditions are what the City of Baguio issued as visa for BCDA to enter the city or else it is considered as an alien. For all you know, BCDA has acknowledged and used the 19 conditions as basis in various instances such as when it released an amount paid for the (purchase by the city) of the Baguio Convention Center. So I do not see any reason why you are saying it not could be the basis for the segregation. The 19 conditions are already a law between Baguio and BCDA,” Bagbagen said. 

Councilor Michael Lawana, who represents the Association of Barangay Councils and punong barangay of Lower Dagsian, one of the 13 barangays seeking to be segregated from the CJH reservation, also leads the “13 Barangays Surrounding CJH Movement”. Since 2010 it has been in constant talks with the BCDA, other concerned agencies and city officials to work on the segregation. However, these efforts are thwarted every time by changes in leadership.

Upon learning of the approval of the revised city charter, Lawana said the communities of the 13 barangays are in quandary over the provision’s effect on their efforts towards segregation.

Kami pong nakatira sa Lower Dagsian, every time we wake up in the morning and we see security guards and forest rangers patrolling in our barangay, nasisira agad ang araw namin. For us 13 barangays, ito (BCDA provision) ay isang napakalaking issue at gusto sana naming malaman kung ano na ang direction natin considering the approval of the revised city charter, which in our interpretation, binigyan natin ng extra power ang BCDA to have control over the land and our area, including taxation matters,” Lawana said.

“For decades, nag-uusap kami at maganda na ang direction natin pero sa tingin namin ngayon, parang binigyan ulit natin ang BCDA ng mas malakas pa na weapon. That’s how we look at it right now,” Lawana lamented.

He appealed for the congressman to heed the 13 barangays’ and his colleagues’ call to consider this as one of the most important concerns in the revised city charter. “Because there really was no consultation with the 13 barangays. I hope something will be done about this because nauma kamin. For the last 20 years, we have been fighting for this pero walang nangyayari. So kindly help us.”

Go reassured the city’s rights and the 19 conditions are not being set aside, but it was agreed during the bill’s hearing at the Senate that CJH will be tackled in a separate bill and he already prepared a bill for the segregation of the 13 barangays.

He will also consider incorporating some of the 19 conditions or the 13 barangay segregation in the amendatory bill that has already been passed by the House of Representatives and now at the Senate.

“Even I am also frustrated about this, it has been more than 25 years and nothing has happened. This time we are working hard to ensure this will push through. I’m serious (that) we have to address this so why don’t you give us the chance to address it in the next two years,” Go said.

Strong clamor for consultations

Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda, one of the city’s long-time officials, recalled that in the previous bills introduced in Congress regarding the city charter, there were no intensive consultations and neither there were a lot of inputs required, but now there is a “very strong clamor” for consultations.

Atty. Mauricio Domogan, former three-term congressman and mayor, recalled while the law does not require a plebiscite when revising the city charter, consultations and dialogues were held for bills filed during his term and that of former Reps. Bernardo Vergara and Nicasio Aliping, Jr. Those were not in the scale of a plebiscite, but when Domogan sponsored a bill in 2001, he said intensive talks were held, particularly with concerned barangays and national government officials, especially for the CJH-BCDA issues, the city’s boundary conflict with the municipality of Tuba, Benguet; and the proposed distribution of alienable and disposable lands in the city.

The city was close to having its charter revised under the term of Vergara, which passed Congress “with no objections”, but it was vetoed by Pres. Aquino who questioned some provisions on land management and handling of civil disorder, describing the proposed amendments as a city building a “kingdom of Baguio.”

Aliping re-filed another during his term in close coordination with its past sponsors, but the same was not acted upon in Congress.

Ways forward

As of this writing, another city council session was set on Aug. 29 to further discuss what actions they will take on the city charter. Two options are being mulled: petitioning at the SC either for a declaratory relief or to declare RA 11689 as null and void; or submitting a formal document of the council’s inputs and suggested revisions for the author’s consideration in the amendatory bill.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan assured the council is not quarrelling with the congressman, but said the most important thing to consider is there are issues in the revised city charter that need to be resolved and to think about what the city must do from April 2022 up to the present while the issues are being resolved.

The Supreme Court earlier ruled that the city government of Baguio City may impose taxes over businesses operating inside the John Special Economic Zone, saying this is regulatory in nature. City officials and residents are now worried the revised city charter has given the Bases Conversion Development Authority more power when it declared in a provision that Camp John Hay is not part of Baguio City’s townsite reservation. — Ompong Tan

Allad-iw said had there been a better and participatory consultation done when the bill was filed and was being deliberated on, these concerns could have been addressed at the onset. He said the city charter is a law of local application where consultations with the people are important so that they could have adopted an acceptable local legislation and will not be forced to accepting an incomplete law.

Councilor Benny Bomogao stressed a charter is a special law. For it to be special, it must contain something that would separate Baguio City from other local government units governed mainly by the LGC. “This (discussion) is an opportunity to come up with a more improved charter of the city of Baguio. Other lawmakers have tried to pass a revised city charter, but they were not able to successfully do it. (And so) we also give a big credit to our present congressman for passing this law, although it is not a perfect law as said by our colleagues. So we incorporate all those that can be incorporated legally without violating our Constitution. We move on to make it the best law that we can have and acceptable to all the constituents of the city of Baguio,” Bomogao said. ¢