December 2, 2022

Members of the Land Reform Beneficiaries Community Development, Inc. (LRBCDI) sought the assistance of the Baguio City Council in securing their ownership over a 22-hectare lot they are occupying located at Kias Barangay.

The lot in question is part of the land covered by Proclamation 1875, s. 1979. The LRBCDI has been pushing for the segregation of the lot for its members.

During the regular session, LRBCDI President Rebecca Dulawan appealed to the council to pass a resolution acknowledging the occupation of the members within said lot prior to the issuance of the proclamation.

Dulawan told the council the current punong barangay of Kias refused to issue a certificate of occupancy to the association, hence the request to the council for a resolution.

She said the council resolution will aid them in their application with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for a new survey plan after the first one was cancelled.

Ma. Dolores Balagat, DENR-Cordillera representative, said one reason the survey plan was cancelled was because it covered portions that are outside the lot occupied by members of the association.

Balagat cited the dispositive portion of the DENR order, which states that the association shall submit a new survey plan indicating therein the extent of the actual occupation of its respective members verified to have been established prior to the issuance of the proclamation duly validated by the LGU concerned, the Home Guaranty Corporation (HGC), and other government agencies concerned.

The HGC is the administrator of the land covered by the proclamation tasked to dispose, construct, develop, or alter any part of the areas concerned provided that it shall not be used for any purpose other than residential.

The lot claimed by the association has been the subject of a number of lawsuits filed by the association against the DENR and the HGC.

During the council session, Dulawan accused the HGC of “obstructing the process” undertaken by the association.

HGC lawyer Kristopher Navales said members of the association failed to prove their ownership over the lot either as land reform beneficiaries or ancestral land claimants.

Navales said the association has not produced any legitimate document such as a land reform certificate and a certificate of ancestral domain title or a certificate of ancestral land title.

“Why put ‘land reform’ in your name when you are not a land reform organization? Why claim that you are members of the indigenous peoples (with rights to the land) when you cannot provide a single document issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples?” Navales said.

“We cannot entrust this big chunk of land to an organization that has a dubious claim,” he added.

He added unlike the LRBCDI members, other occupants within the area covered by the proclamation were able to legitimize their claims and negotiate with the HGC for a reasonable price.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan and Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda said there are pending cases before the court and that any action initiated by the city government regarding the matter may complicate the resolution of these cases. They advised the association to await the court’s decision.

The city council said it needs more time to study the matter due to its complexity before giving any legislative recommendation. The matter was referred to the committee on laws, human rights, and justice chaired by Tabanda to be studied further in aid of legislation.

Earlier, the city council forwarded the request of the association to the City Legal Office (CLO) for its opinion.

In its letter to the council dated Sept. 24 the CLO suggested the creation of an inter-agency task force composed of the DENR, HGC, and the city government to determine the actual occupants in the area prior to the issuance of Proclamation 178, s. 1979 – Jordan G. Habbiling