March 4, 2024

■  Jane B. Cadalig 

Baguio Rep. Mark Go has allayed the fears of the city councilors who expressed their opposition to the bill that sought to authorize the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) to sell portions of the economic zones of former military bases in the country.

Go clarified he is not the main author of House Bill 8505, which allows the BCDA to sell a maximum of five percent of the economic zones of former military bases to private buyers or donate portions to government institutions for public use.

He said the bill, which is now with a committee in the Senate, primarily intends to extend the corporate life of the BCDA for another 50 years, increase its capitalization to P400 billion, and allow a maximum of five percent of economic zones to be classified as alienable and disposable.

He told the council that when the bill was being deliberated in Congress, he made sure the Camp John Hay Economic Zone, which has an area of 288.1 hectares, will not be included in the law, especially the provision that allows the sale of portions of the economic zones.

“During the deliberation, we protected the interest of Baguio and moved that John Hay should not be included in the provision of HB 8505,” he said.

Councilor Jose Molintas, who has been vocal about his stand against BCDA’s expansion of its jurisdiction over the John Hay reservation from 570 to 625 hectares, said the city should remain vigilant even if Go said he objected to the inclusion of the CJH economic zone from the provision of HB 8505.

“The bill does not explicitly state that John Hay will be exempted from the provision of HB 8505 that allows BCDA to sell portions of the economic zones as alienable and disposable and we know that in law, what is not specifically excluded will be included,” Molintas said.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan shared this view, reminding Go that the people of Baguio will be up in arms if John Hay is not exempted from the provision of HB 8505.

Go said he will raise this sentiment again with the Senate.

“I already expressed this objection during the deliberation of the bill, and this remains the concern, we will see to it that the exemption is expressed in the bill instead of just being incorporated in the implementing rules and regulations,” he said.

Molintas said this problem would have been addressed early on, if only Go consults with the people of Baguio about the bills he is proposing in Congress.

Go reiterated he would have conducted consultations if he was the main proponent of HB 8505.

“I would have consulted the people of Baguio, but the main proponents of the bill are Reps. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Aurelio Gonzales. I was not even the chair of the Committee on Bases Conversion. I was only made a co-author of the bill during the deliberation,” he said.

Go has earlier been criticized for not conducting enough consultations when he proposed the amendment of the Baguio City charter. The council has been objecting to the provisions of the revised city charter, which is undergoing amendments.

During the council’s Oct. 16 session, the issue on the expanded land area of CJH to 625 hectares was again clarified.

Representatives from the BCDA said while Republic Act 7227 provides that BCDA’s jurisdiction covers 570 hectares, this area was expanded to 625 hectares when a presidential proclamation turned over the Voice of America and the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence areas to the BCDA.

They said at the time the Bases Conversion Development Act was passed, the VOA and the U.S. Ambassador’s estate were still under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Embassy and were not yet turned over to the Philippine government.

Molintas said historically, the Americans only bought about 148 hectares of CJH from the then Ibaloy chieftain Mateo Cariño and if history was to be used as basis, this should have only been the area claimed by the BCDA.

He made the remark in relation to the plight of the 13 barangays that are still to be segregated from the Camp John Hay reservation.

“This is what you should be telling Congress – that only 148 hectares were bought by the Americans. We already allowed BCDA to develop another 288 hectares as economic zone and that should have been enough,” he told Go.

“We are also begging the BCDA to segregate the 13 barangays not because these areas are yours. It is not yours. We are only asking you to exclude these barangays to give justice to the occupants who have been living in these areas even when the Americans were occupying Camp John Hay. The Americans did not even drive them away, it is only when the Americans left the BCDA is expanding its jurisdiction,” he said.

He said the slow process of segregation is not only an injustice to the indigenous peoples occupying the barangays, but also an injustice to the city government.

The BCDA and JHMC representatives said they are helping facilitate the segregation of the 13 barangays through a Congressional action or through a presidential proclamation, whichever comes first.