December 3, 2023

Why did the city government of Baguio pay in full a lot property intended for landbanking and later a housing project that is currently classified as an agricultural land, one that is a subject of a pending case, has no access road, and without a clear agreement on the obligations between the parties on who shall undertake its conversion into a residential lot?

These are among the issues that again cropped in the ongoing city council inquiry regarding the lot in Topinao, Tuba, Benguet, which the city purchased as site for another housing facility for its residents, which according to the councilors is casting doubts whether the project could push through.

In the council’s May 29 session, City Legal Officer, Atty. Althea Alberto confirmed the Topinao lot has a notice for lis pendens or pending suit. But in the latest council inquiry on June 5, she clarified the pending case does not cover the entire lot.

Alberto said the lot is covered by two titles, one of which has an area of more than 35,000 square meters and has no annotation, while the other title covering an area of 28,230 sq.m. is the one that is subject of a pending suit.

City Planning, Development, and Sustainability (CPDSO) Officer Arch. Donna Tabangin said upon learning of the complaints of adjacent owners regarding the lot’s metes and bounds, they designed the housing project initially in such a way it can avoid the portions with problems.

However, she said they had to adjust the design again since they had planned to put up housing structures co-vering at least five hec-tares.

With regards to land classification, Engr. Elias Aoanan of the CPDSO said the office has requested concerned agencies for certification and approval of its application for conversion of the lot from agricultural to residential land and is awaiting its approval.

Once it is approved, Aoanan said the requirements for conversion will be forwarded to the municipal government of Tuba, which he said has given its consent to reclassify the lot in its zoning plan and shall request the Department of Agriculture to convert the lot for residential purposes.

Councilor Lourdes Tabanda pointed out when there is a sale involving a large amount of money, the normal procedure is that all documents are to be prepared by the vendor before payment is made.

“Why was payment made by the city when the documents for the conversion such as zoning were not submitted yet by the vendor? In fact, you are still waiting for the (transferor’s) affidavit from the vendor. This is not the usual practice in transactions involving more than P90 million. May we know what happened?” Tabanda said.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan and Councilor Benny Bomogao also wanted to know if there was an agreement that the conversion shall be done by the city government.

Alberto said the deed of absolute sale and the offer to sell by the vendor carried no such agreement.

“It was not included in the deed of absolute sale. If I remember correctly, although the General Services Office is in a better position to answer, we had to pay for the taxes and transfer tax and the registration fees as soon as possible to avoid penalty because penalties are counted from the deed of absolute sale,” Alberto said.

Tabanda stressed why the city was the one also taking care of the land conversion when this should have been handled by the vendor of the lot and that the city paid for it in full in the absence of required documents.

Tabangin and Alberto said initial discussions on the land purchase and conversion were made during the time of former City Legal Officer Richard Dayag and they are not privy to some of its details.

“Before we pay (for the property), the vendor must submit all the documents. Now you are at a standstill because the owner has not yet submitted the documents required of him. Anyway, we will have to wait but still you should find a way to compel him or through his agent to submit all the documents so that the project will take off as soon as possible without having to wait for the owner to decide whether he would like to submit one or not,” Tabanda said.

The housing project site also does not have its own access road/road right-of-way. When asked by Councilor Elmer Datuin, the CPDSO officials said they were able to enter the area during its groundbreaking ceremony upon permission by the management of the adjacent subdivision. Development of an access road may be also explored through a privately owned lot and another public lot in Asin Road.

Councilor Mylen Yaranon pointed out the city is strict when it comes to subdivisions and asked why was the lot considered for a government housing project when it was found out there is no access road.

“That is the reason this council did not approve of this because when we went there, there were a lot of claimants and we saw the problem on the right-of-way, and that is an agricultural lot,” she said.

Councilor Michael Lawana has advised the department heads to immediately conduct exploratory survey for the best access road.

“That is a housing project so we need an all-weather road. Time is of the essence because we will have to spend for it if new developments are done in the area,” he said.

Referred to its committee on laws, the city council has asked the executive department to consider the suggestions in finding solutions to the issues raised and further advised what happened should serve as a lesson for the city when acquiring properties. – Hanna C. Lacsamana