March 5, 2024

Just when the city council is perceived to be a rubberstamp of the administration, the shadow of Councilor Mylen Yaranon, our diminutive alderperson, loomed large upon our city’s landscape as she filed before the Office of the Ombudsman her affidavit-complaint against the popular Mayor Benjie Magalong regarding the purchase of a piece of land in Topinao, Tuba, Benguet.
In her affidavit-complaint, Yaranon alleged that Magalong has violated Section 3(a) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which is a criminal complaint, and Grave Misconduct, Grave Abuse of Authority and Conduct prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and Section 4 of RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), which is an administrative complaint, both emanating from the Topinao land sale.
Yaranon stated on April 22, 2020, the city council reverted to the general fund of the city the amount of P704,190,392 and re-appropriated the said amount for the funding of various projects under the city’s Annual Investment Plan for fiscal year 2020, one of which is the purchase of land in Topinao for P120 million.
Before the said action of the city council, William Tan, Jr. wrote a letter on Jan. 4, 2020 to Magalong, offering to sell his property and that of his daughter, Hazel Dominique, in Topinao for a net amount of P1,500 per square meter, payable in installment – 50 percent of the amount upon execution of the deed of sale and 50 percent payable in 24 equal monthly installments for one year.
Magalong wrote two letters on March 23, 2022 and April 13, 2022, to the city council, seeking permission to sign a deed of absolute sale with the Tans. The city council conducted special sessions regarding the letters of the mayor.
However, no authority was given to Magalong, who did not, however, pursue the request.
In the said special sessions attended by Magalong, the City Legal Officer, City Assessor, City Planning and Development Coordinator, and the City Budget Officer, it was shown, among others, that there are three access roads to the property – two of which are still being opened as farm-to-market roads, which are not cemented and rocky; the third requires the consent of adjoining owner Sta. Lucia Development Corporation for its use; the geo-hazard study made by Department of Environment and Natural Resources shows that the most parts of the land are steeply sloping; seismic hazard study needs to be conducted; the project is not part of the five-year development plan of the city; at that time, there was no specific purpose for the purchase and definite use of the land; and there are at least six offers from Baguio lot owners for the city to buy for housing and other purposes.
Yaranon also alleged the subject land of the Tans is the subject of a case in court for which a notice of lis pendens is annotated on the titles of the property.
She thus alleged that Magalong did not only cause “undue injury to the city but also gave the Tan’s unwarranted benefit and advantage” because even before the passage of the ordinance appropriating P120M for the purchase of a land for housing and for other purposes on April 22, 2020, he was already negotiating with the Tans, to the exclusion of others;
Magalong did not inform the public of the city’s desire to buy a land for housing; Magalong did not conduct a public bidding despite the offer of at least six other landowners in Baguio; The purchase price is “scandalous” because the land has no access road thus the city must spend millions of pesos to construct them, the sloping topography, which shows that almost one-third of the land is not suitable for residential use, the purchase price being net of all taxes and other expenses relative to the transfer of ownership, the city will be paying them which will cost about P10M; and Magalong paid the full amount of the purchase price despite the offer of the Tans that the city will pay in installment.
As to her allegation that Magalong acted in bad faith and inexcusable negligence when he signed the deed of absolute sale without the authority of the city council, Yaranon stated he did not conduct due diligence to determine if the land was involved in a court case, including its metes and bounds, the titles, and land areas; and did not allow other landowners offering to sell their lots to submit their proposals.
It will be interesting to read the counter-affidavit of Magalong to these serious allegations of Yaranon.
A friend told me that had I listened to the privilege speech of Councilor Jose Molintas, we would have inkling as to the defense of Magalong. After all, they now appear to be party-mates.