July 17, 2024

■  Rimaliza A. Opiña 

The owner of the theme park previously sued by the city government then commended by the city council has been issued another notice of violation by the City Buildings and Architecture Office for defiance of the cease and desist order previously issued to the owner, pending compliance with the need to secure a building permit.

In the Feb. 5 session of the city council, Engr. Stephen Capuyan and Ar. Homer Soriano reported that Stone Kingdom owner Pio Velasco has ordered construction at the site without a building permit, which is a violation of the provisional business permit issued by the Permits and Licensing Division.

Velasco, who was also at session of the city council, admitted that he ordered the construction of two toilets at the Stone Kingdom to accommodate the recommendation of the Department of Tourism led by Sec. Christina Frasco for the theme park to have more toilets.

He said he is aware of the conditions set by the city government when he was permitted to resume operations, but he took the risk because of the urgent need to address the demands of clients visiting the Igorot Stone Kingdom.

“I am appealing to the CBAO on humanitarian grounds na payagan sana,” Velasco said, assuring he is complying with the requirements to perfect his ownership of the property where Stone Kingdom stands.

Velasco said he is beyond compliant and was even issued an environment compliance certificate from the Environment Management Bureau and geologic clearance from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.

He also submitted with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources an application in a bid for the property, which was only issued tax declaration, to be titled by the Land Registration Authority.

Velasco said the ECC and clearance from the MGB are not requirements for the issuance of a business permit but is complying with the requirements of the LGU to prove that he is a well-meaning businessman.

The city council joined Velasco in appealing to the CBAO to reconsider and take into account Stone Kingdom’s popularizing of the indigenous architecture and engineering practices of Cordillerans.

The Igorot Stone Kingdom features stonewalls or riprap that Igorots have been making through the meticulous laying of stones to create walls that do not use cement as reinforcement.

Stone walls are prominent features in concrete walls around Baguio and in the rice terraces in the Cordillera. These days, experts in making stone walls have become rare. 

Capuyan and Soriano maintained that Velasco should first acquire a building permit. They said the Building Code recognizes indigenous building practices but limits this to residential structures and the building should be about one floor only.

Both reminded that CBAO has relaxed its guidelines and issues building permits even to those who have yet to complete their application for titling.

Stone Kingdom was shut down by the city government in November 2022 but operation resumed in April 2023 after the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) dismissed the complaint filed by the city government against Velasco.

The OCP said the National Building Code is not punitive but corrective in nature, hence the complaint’s dismissal as Velasco started complying with the requirements of the LGU.

As condition for the theme park’s reopening, a special business permit, renewable every three months, is issued to Velasco.

Other conditions for the reopening include zonal exemption, provision of additional parking spaces, coordination with the barangay for efficient traffic management, proper waste disposal, and crowd control, among others.