June 21, 2024

The city government has asked the Senate to remove the provision in the Revised Charter of the City Baguio regarding Camp John Hay reservation, among other comments and suggestions on House Bill 7406, which seeks to amend some sections of Republic Act 11689 that revised the city’s charter.

HB 7406, entitled “An Act amending Sections 23, 50, 52 and 55 of RA 11689 or the Revised Charter of the City of Baguio”, is being deliberated on at the Senate for possible creation of a counterpart bill.

City officials expressed reservations on RA 11689, which lapsed into law in April 2022, saying some of its provisions are detrimental and do not represent the will of the city.

In a letter on May 13 to the lawmaker who chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government, Mayor Benjamin Magalong asked to delete Section 55 from the charter.

Section 55 provides that Camp John Hay reservation, covering a total land area of 6,254,105 square meters subject to final survey which was transferred to Bases Conversion Development Authority, is not part of the Baguio Townsite Reservation.

Magalong said he agrees with the observation of the city council that RA 7227 states the John Hay Air Station is comprised of 570 hectares, which was reiterated in Proclamation 19.

Proclamation 420, s. 1994 later then created the John Hay Special Economic Zone consisting of 288.1 has. of the total 677 has. comprising CJH, while 21,115 square meters was excluded for the use of National Food Authority by virtue of Proclamation 603, s. 2004.

Magalong said these matters should be of paramount consideration because it is already clear that the administration of CJH reservation, although still due for validation by appropriate agencies, is already provided for in RA 7227 and these proclamations.

“To include the same in the Revised Charter of Baguio City is superfluous if not an oddity, especially so there are other land areas which no longer form part of the townsite for having been declared as such, or withdrawn from sale, by virtue of other laws and decrees. There is no need to include this in the charter. There may be an implied undue advantage to the CJH reservation as it is the only land area which has particular mention in the Revised Charter as not being part of the Baguio townsite reservation,” the mayor said.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan and some members of the city council made this position when they participated in the hearing of the Senate Committee on Local Government on May 14 regarding the city’s revised charter.

Representing Magalong, Olowan conveyed the position of the city government regarding HB 7406 authored by Rep. Marquez Go.

According to the city government, Section 55 is contradictory to the overall goals of creating a dynamic yet sustainable city charter for Baguio City that can adapt to the changing needs of the city’s residents as it restricts the city to the specific land boundaries of Camp John Hay, which may be altered by future laws and proclamations.

The city government also provided comments on the proposed amendments to the revised city charter contained in HB 7406.

The city government expressed no objection on the proposed removal of a portion of Section 23 which requires the transmittal of approved ordinances of the sangguniang panlungsod to the sangguniang panlalawigan ng Benguet as this provision was included carelessly and “inadvertently” which was also admitted by Go himself during the Senate hearing.

On the proposed amendment to Section 50 regarding land disposition, the city government considers it unnecessary as existing laws already govern transactions related to the disposal of land, such as Commonwealth Act 141 and RA 10023.

However, it supports a specific proposed amendment which emphasizes that TSAs must be cleared and approved jointly by the DENR and the city government and that townsite and miscellaneous sales will accrue to the city government, with a portion allocated to DENR for operating expenses. 

On the proposed amendment to Section 52 concerning the composition of a Special Committee on Lands, the city government calls for a review of the wording and style of this proposed provision as the current wording suggests the Special Committee on Lands would have four chairpersons (city mayor;city vice mayor or Committee on Urban Planning, Lands, and Housing; DENR as co-chair, and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples as vice chair) which could lead to confusion.

The city government further urged for a more structured and practical composition of the Special Committee on Lands to ensure transparent and effective deliberation.

Likewise, it suggested revising the provision to clarify that CJH should be included as a member only for lands within its reservation and not as vice chair.

The city government also expressed concern on the provision of the Revised City Charter mandating the creation of additional departments, leading to possible non-compliance with the 45 percent ceiling for Personal Services limitation on local government budgets.

The city government said this situation may create difficulties in implementing the mandated positions without violating the Local Government Code and local budget circulars issued by the Department of Budget and Management.

During the Senate hearing, Councilor Arthur Allad-iw said there was insufficient public consultation before the passage of RA 11689 which led to numerous land problems remaining unaddressed, especially concerning ancestral land disputes and untitled lands.

Allad-iw told Midland Courier in an interview on May 17 these issues have not been addressed since the 1909 city charter up to the present charter.

He urged Ejercito to visit Baguio and engage directly with the people to gain firsthand insight into these problems through public consultations.

Councilor Leandro Yangot raised several pressing land issues during the discussion.

These included the lack of recognition by the BCDA for ancestral land titles and certificates of ancestral domain titles issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples within the Camp John Hay Reservation and the 211 unvalidated titles.

He said these issues demand attention in the review of RA 11689.

Advocating for the passage of his amendatory bill, Go suggested the concerns raised by the city officials could be addressed in alternative forums, potentially leading to the filing of separate bills.

Ejercito said a technical working group will be formed to thoroughly examine the varied positions. – Hanna C. Lacsamana and Jordan G. Habbiling