The city council is continuing its discussions, in aid of legislation, on the legal concerns surrounding the lot in Tuba, Benguet which the city government purchased for landbanking purposes.
In its session on May 29, the council invited concerned department heads to clarify the issues upon motion of Councilor Mylen Yaranon, who said the city had purchased the property in Barangay Topinao, Tuba without the city council’s approval.
Among the issues Yaranon raised to City Assessor Almaya Addawe and City Legal Officer Althea Alberto was the existence of a notice of lis pendens (pending suit) involving the lot that the city intends to use for a housing project. The project, called Topinao 4PH, has already undergone groundbreaking on May 17, led by the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development-Cordillera.
Yaranon also mentioned about a free patent case brought before the Office of the President, which its claimants apparently won.
The councilor said this should be looked into because the city would be having problems on the titling of the property under its name and the pending cases will affect projects planned on the lot.
“We asked for due diligence in researching for this property and we very well know the council would not approve (if there are issues), but the purchase still proceeded. And now we know there is a lis pendens, of course there is a big concern,” Yaranon said.
Councilors Betty Lourdes Tabanda and Jose Molintas have also expressed concern about the status of the lot, which is currently classified as an agricultural land.
Tabanda asked if the city purchased the property without looking into it, so that after the deed of sale, the title in fact cannot be transferred to the city because it still has to go through several procedures, which includes the conversion of the lot’s tax declaration from agricultural to residential.
Tabanda advised those in charge of the property purchase to look into this, opining the city will be accepting housing applicants but the housing project might not push through if the property is an agricultural lot.
“We are concerned about this because I think, we all like the housing project to push through, but it seems we purchased the property but there are still a lot of things to be done to be able to transfer the title in the name of the city. Please attend to all of this so that we will have real honest to goodness housing project,” Tabanda said.
Addawe explained they originally did not know originally of the lis pendens, but were informed about it by Topinao residents when they made an ocular of the lot.
Upon research, Addawe said there was a pending case (LRC Administrative Case 16-AD-1630) and reported the same to the city council.
She said on September 2022, the case was dismissed as per certification by Regional Trial Court Branch 63 of La Trinidad and attained finality on Nov. 29, 2022.
The city paid for the property in January 2023 for P96 million.
Alberto said titling or the transfer of the property to the city is on process.
She also informed the council there was previously no opposition from the oppositors but after the signing of deed of absolute sale, they again filed a notice of lis pendens and the same is pending.
The council members agreed to continue the discussions on its next session and hear from other concerned city officials to further clarify the issues.
City Planning and Development Coordinator Donna Tabangin said the City Government of Baguio is currently applying for the property’s land use conversion, and her office is currently preparing the documentary requirements to be submitted to the Municipality of Tuba.
The requirements are a barangay resolution stating its non-objection to the proposed project, transfer certificate of title, deed of sale, requested certificate from the National Irrigation Administration stating that the lot is not irrigable, and requested certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau stating the lot is not environmentally critical and is safe for human habitation.
After all the requirements have been submitted, the Municipality of Tuba will request the Department of Agriculture for the land conversion.
Once converted, the change will reflect in the zoning and land use plan of Tuba, according to Tabangin.
She said qualified Baguio residents will be the primary beneficiaries of the housing project, but there is an ongoing discussion between the two concerned local government units on the possibility of accommodating Tuba residents.
The said housing project is expected to produce a permaculture community with around 6,400 housing units.
The 4PH is a flagship program of the Marcos Administration, which aims to provide 6.5 million housing units in the country.
In the city’s Annual Investment Plan for fiscal year 2020 (Ordinance 42 s. 2020) approved by the city council in 2020, the executive department identified the purchase of the said land as one of the city’s priority projects for “land banking” purposes. – Hanna C. Lacsamana and Jordan G. Habbiling