February 26, 2024

■  Jane B. Cadalig 

There must be complete segregation of barangays and recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples over their ancestral land.

These were the common sentiments of Baguio residents who attended the public forum called for by the office of Councilor Jose Molintas on Jan. 16 where the city’s revised charter and other bills pending in Congress were discussed.

Molintas and other members of the city council present during the consultation clarified the forum was not called to attack Rep. Mark Go who filed the bills that were the topics.

They said they called for the consultation because they felt the need to get the pulse of the public about the pending legislations that will directly impact the people of Baguio.

Aside from the Revised Charter of Baguio, the other topics discussed were House Bill 8505, or an Act Strengthening the Bases Conversation Development Authority, and HB 9428 or the bill that sought to segregate parcels of land from the Camp John Hay reservation to be declared as an alienable and disposable.

Happy Hollow Punong Barangay Soriano Palunan said what they want to be incorporated in the bills is the full segregation of the 13 barangays from the jurisdiction of the BCDA to allow the recognition of the rights of the IPs over their ancestral domain.

Palunan said they mentioned this position twice when they attended the public consultation called for by Go in relation to the revised city charter and submitted this, but it was not incorporated in the revised charter.

“We want our ancestral domain, which is already registered with the Registry of Deeds to be recognized,” he said, adding the affected barangays should not give up on their ancestral land claims because the recognition of these is contained in the 19 conditions that the city council imposed when it endorsed the master development of the Camp John Hay economic zone in 1995.

Errol Tagle from Barangay Loakan also expressed misgivings about HB 9428, saying the bill does not provide the technical description of their barangay.

“The title is misleading. If you read the content, it is not good. We cannot even find a provision that provides the technical description of our barangay. It only indicates Lot 1 and Lot 2 and we do not know where that is. If this is the case, why don’t we use the political boundary as basis of segregation?” he said.

The other participants also reiterated the clamor that the segregation of the remaining 12 barangays should be non-conditional, meaning it should not only include the area where the houses are built, but also the open spaces, which the city government has also been asking from the BCDA.

Councilor Peter Fianza said the intention of HB 9428 is to segregate the remaining 12 barangays from the CJH reservation, but will follow the model applied in the segregation of Scout Barrio, where only the area occupied by the houses is titled under the occupants.

“What happens to the open spaces? These should be given to the city government of Baguio,” he said, noting that under the proposed measure, the forested areas will remain under the jurisdiction of the BCDA, instead of transferring this to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Molintas said since HB 9428 intends to segregate the remaining barangays following the Scout Barrio model, the intention is simply to sell the areas for the benefit of the BCDA which will get the proceeds.

He added nothing will also stop the BCDA from converting the forested areas in the future as alienable and disposable and sell these lands.

HB 9428 is supposed to address the concern raised by the city council that the revised city charter should have explicitly provided for the segregation of the 12 barangays from the CJH reservation.

Molintas, however, said the bill does not segregate the barangays as understood in the context of the 19 conditions, but only empowers BCDA to reclassify these areas into alienable and disposable lands for BCDA’s benefit.

 The Jan. 16 consultation is one of the series of consultations intended by the city council to gather as much inputs as possible from Baguio residents about the revised city charter and the bills that affect the city.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan reiterated the consultation was not called to make Go appear bad, but to gather the sentiments of Baguio residents about the pending legislations that will affect them.

The council members said they intentionally did not invite Go, saying “he will just defend his actions.”

Fianza said the inputs from the consultation will be summarized and submitted to Go in the form of a position paper.

Councilor Maximo Edwin, the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative to the council, said the council would not have initiated the forum in the first place if genuine public consultations were done for the assailed House bills.