December 2, 2023

A federation of residents is lobbying for the segregation of an inhabited portion of the Busol watershed forest reserve as residential area.

During the city council’s regular session on April 12, Atty. Bernard Padang, overall coordinator of the federation, said they have wrote Rep. Marquez Go pleading him to file a bill in Congress for the segregation of the heavily populated Workingmen’s Village from the reservation.

Led by various representatives of the four ancestral land claimants in the area, barangay organizations, and punong barangays of affected barangays, the Ambiong-Baguio East Bayan-Brookspoint-Pacdal and Peripheries Federation was established in March 2019 as an informal organization to attend to the specific and collective needs of the communities within and near the forest reserve.

The Workingmen’s Village stretches to some parts of barangays Ambiong-Baguio, East Bayan, Brookspoint, and Pacdal. The federation said for decades, this portion has been resided by the descendants of claimants Gumangan, Molintas, Kalomis, and Rafael whose land claims are believed to have preceded the enactment of Proclamation 15.

The federation claims Proclamation 15, which proclaimed the Busol as forest reservation, mentions and recognizes land claims over the reservation.

However in 2014, the Supreme Court in its decision on the case filed by the City Government of Baguio against then National Commission on Indigenous Peoples-CAR Hearing Officer Brain Masweng ruled Proclamation 15 does not appear to be a definitive recognition of ancestral land claims.

The SC said the proclamation “merely identifies the Molintas and Gumangan families as claimants of a portion of the Busol Forest Reservation but does not acknowledge vested rights over the same.”

Moreover, City Building Official Arch. Johnny Degay said the SC in the same decision concluded the declaration of the Busol Forest Reservation prevents its conversion into a private property.

The federation begged the city officials to consider their plight, stressing the only way to protect the residents with legitimate land claims is for the inhabited portion to be segregated from the forest reservation.

“We are appealing for the segregation of the inhabited portion of the reservation so as to dispel any further external discrimination, hardships, and pain in the localities,” Padang said.

The Busol watershed’s 224 hectares is situated within the jurisdiction of La Trinidad, Benguet while the 112 hectares is located within city.

Padang said the parcel of land sought to be segregated covers only about 18 to 20 percent of the part of the watershed within the city.

He informed the city council of Proclamation 202, s. 1987, which sought to exclude from the operation of Proclamation 15 certain parcels of land (Lots G, H, I, and J) in the forest reservation, open to disposition under the provisions of the Public Land Act.

Proclamation 202, however, was suspended by virtue of Proclamation 239, s. 1988 due to opposition of different entities, Padang said.

The city council in a resolution advised the federation to initiate the formulation of a land use plan which would substantiate or support the federation’s proposal to Go for the filing of a bill segregating the inhabited portion of the forest reservation.

It further advised the federation to seek the assistance of the City Planning and Development Office for the formulation of the land use plan.

The council likewise passed a separate resolution requesting the NCIP-CAR to act on the pending certificates of ancestral land title applications of the original settlers in the area.

Councilor Fred Bagbagen recommended the matter be referred to the City Legal Office for study whether any legislative measure to segregate a portion of the forest reservation for human settlement is legally feasible. – Jordan G. Habbiling