April 23, 2024

Aside from the recent barrage of negative reviews by the State audit on some of the city government’s undertakings that required the use and management of public funds, it is unfortunate the City of Baguio, which under its current administration is championing transparency and good governance, has also bungled in its actions regarding ownership and administration of government properties.
After being called out by the Commission on Audit for irregularities in the management of funds for certain projects and the mayor being criticized by a member of Congress, the city government is now also trying to make amends over what we deem a case of a custodian attempting to own a property that it is only supposed to take care of.
Whether done in good faith or otherwise, the move of concerned city officials to have portions of the lot covering Burnham Park titled under the name of the city government has undoubtedly put in a bad light, instead of helped in the city’s noble effort to preserve and protect the historic park and other public properties in the city from being acquired by private claimants.
It is common knowledge that Burnham Park and all other parks in the country belong to the national government, previously through the Philippine Tourism Authority, and now under the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).
In the case of Burnham Park, the city is supposed to be its custodian, one that has full administrative control over the park, as granted by executive orders issued by former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo.
Even without being spelled out in the Presidents’ orders, common sense would dictate that a keeper or custodian meant it is not the owner of a property, and therefore it cannot encumber, mortgage, or sell any portion of such property.
It is baffling why the city government did not think of discussing its plans for Burnham Park to the TIEZA before it initiated the application process for its titling under the city’s name
Aside from the fact that some top city officials have regular communication with the DOT and TIEZA in line with the latter’s support to the city in promoting tourism and directly to Burnham Park’s improvement, communicating the city’s ideas on how to better protect it from private land speculators and keep it for park purposes should not have been difficult to do.
We even believe if the law allows, TIEZA would not have minded entertaining the idea of Baguio technically owning Burnham Park for practical reasons.
The city’s reason – that its main purpose in having Burnham Park titled in the name of the city is to protect it from private ownership as proven by numerous attempts to privately own government-owned lands in the city – is acceptable, but it does not justify the method it had undertaken when it worked on titling Burnham Park to its name without TIEZA’s knowledge and approval.
We acknowledge that the city owning Burnham Park makes sense, given its huge stake over the property and the time and effort it has already invested to achieve its status as Baguio’s most loved and visited tourist spot. It should only be right that the park be in its name.
However, it should have not disregarded the law, which we believe will not be lenient whether the act of having Burnham titled in Baguio’s name has been done in good faith or not.
The least the city could do is to return the property, not merely offer to return it, and without conditions. It should shoulder the cost of transferring it to its rightful owner, and at this point, the city’s leadership must review its decision-making process in all matters of public service to avoid repeating similar or even worse blunders in the future, because no matter how good our intentions are, this is after all a government of laws, not of men.