March 5, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana   

CHARGES VS MAYOR FILED — Councilor Mylen Yaranon presented to reporters a copy of the criminal and administrative complaints she filed against City Mayor Benjamin Magalong over a lot in Topinao, Tuba, Benguet, which was purchased by the city for P95 million. — Mauricio Victa

Baguio Councilor Mylen Yaranon has filed before the Office of the Ombudsman criminal and administrative ca-ses against Mayor Benjamin Magalong over the purchase of a property at Topinao, Tuba, Benguet.

In a 19-page affidavit-complaint subscribed and sworn to before City Prosecutor Conrado Catral, Jr. and filed by courier with the Ombudsman in Quezon City on Dec. 20, Yaranon accused the mayor of violation of Section 3 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and grave misconduct, grave abuse of authority, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service and Section 4 of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Magalong said he is ready to face the charges and answer the claims “in the interest of truth and justice.”

The complaint stemmed from the purchase by the city government of two lots in Topinao as part of its land-banking program and later intended the same for the city’s housing project.

The properties was sold to the city for P95 million, which was part of the P120M approved by the city council to be used for the land purchase and which then came from the P704M fund that reverted to the city’s general funds.

Discussions over the lot purchase started on Jan. 4, 2020 when lot owner William Tan wrote the city mayor telling he is selling his and his daughter’s lots for P1,500 per square meter, net, which means the city as the buyer shall be responsible for the payment of  appropriate taxes.

Yaranon claimed the letter however showed the mayor and Tan already had previous discussions on the possible sale of the lots. 

On March 23, 2022, the mayor wrote the city council requesting for an authority to sign for the City of Baguio the deed of absolute sale for the purchase of lots covered by TCT 016-202200726 with an area of 35,366 square meters and TCT 016-202200727 with an area of 28,230 square meters for P95,377,500.

The mayor followed up his request for authority in another letter to the city council on April 13, 2022, which prompted the city council to hold sessions on April 25, 2022; May 23, 2022; and Aug. 1, 2022 with concerned city officials in aid of legislation.

From the discussions, it was found among other findings that the existing access roads to the property were either unpaved being farm-to-market roads or privately-owned.

A geo-hazard study by the Department Environment and Natural Resour-ces also showed most part of the properties were steeply sloping and located on a seismically active region which requires the conduct of a seismic hazard study.

It was also revealed as of that time, the city cannot define the specific purposes of the land purchase but only had a list of possible uses for the lots.

It was later identified to be used for the city’s housing project.

It was also found the lot to be purchased is classified as agricultural, which would then require reclassification into residential if it was to be used for housing.

Yaranon also pointed out no feasibility study was made on the use of the property.

On May 31, 2022, Yaranon said the city council received a letter from the Baldas, Luis, Capuyan and Cayadan Law Offices saying the lots offered by Tan to the city is involved in a case pending before the Regional Trial Court Branch 63 in La Trinidad, Benguet where Tan and his daughter prayed for correction of the technical description of their lots, and that such petition is being opposed by the law office’s clients.

On Jan. 10, the mayor executed a deed of absolute sale with Tan for the lots amounting to P95,377,500 without a resolution from the city council authori-zing him to enter into said contract.

The whole amount was also paid despite the seller’s offer to the city to pay 50 percent at the time of the deed of sale’s signing and the remaining 50 percent to be paid in 24 equal instalments in two years.

On Jan. 25, the clients of Baldas et. al law offices filed a quieting of title against the Tans before the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Sablan, Benguet.

The titles of the purchased lot were issued on Sept. 12, 2023 by the Register of Deeds of Benguet but it carried an annotation for lis pendens.

Yaranon said the mayor did not only cause undue injury to any party, including the city government but also he gave a private party, the Tans, unwarranted benefit, advantage, or preference as shown by his previous discussions with the seller.

The councilor claimed the mayor also did not inform the public of the city’s desire to buy a lot for the city’s housing program so that other landowners could have presented other options to determine the most advantageous offer to the city.

Yaranon said Magalong also did not conduct a public bidding to determine the most advantageous offer since as testified by the city planning officer and city assessor before the city council, there are at least six landowners offering to sell their lands to the city.

“He caused undue injury to the City of Baguio by purchasing a property at a scandalous price despite the absence of access road and requiring hundreds of millions of pesos to construct a road which was not included in the budget,” Yaranon claimed.

She added the mayor also acted with evident bad faith or inexcusable negligence when he signed the deed of absolute sale without authority from the city council and paying the whole price of the lots early.

The councilor decried the lack of due diligence to determine the status of the property being purchased, whether it is a subject of a suit, if there are controversies on its metes and bounds, and that the titles and areas of the lots in the offer to sell of Tan are completely different from the titles and lots areas in the deed of absolute sale.

“Not only did the respondent committed grave misconduct and grave abuse of authority. His acts were highly prejudicial to the best interest of government service. There is convincing evidence of clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of established rules when he entered into a contract representing the city without authority given by the Sangguniang Panlungsod as expressly mandated by law.” Yaranon said, among other accusations.

In an interview on Dec. 21, Yaranon told reporters in a press conference that the filing of the case is nothing personal but filed it as a public servant pointing out the graft and corruption that happened during the purchase of the Topinao property where she claimed there was partiality in favor of the lot owners.

In a statement issued through the City Public Information Office on Dec. 22, Magalong said he is open to investigation over the cases filed by Yaranon.

“I am prepared to answer all the char-ges in the proper forum,” the mayor said.

“I welcome the development to determine who is telling the truth.  I have nothing to hide.  All the documents are open for their scrutiny since it has always been our thrust to have an open government.”

He added he is “confident that justice will prevail because the acquisition of this lot which is intended for our socialized housing project underwent a complete, correct, and transparent process. Due diligence was observed all throughout.”