December 5, 2022

The city council probed anew the claims of an urban poor organization over an 18.49-hectare land located within the city government’s property at Sto.Tomas-Apugan, Sto. Tomas Proper, and Camp 7.

Members of the Everlasting Pinegold Community Association, Inc. (EPCAI) have resettled in the area following the approval of 11 agencies for the pre-proclamation of the 18.49-hectare land in favor of the association.

EPCAI President Maria Leonora Jordan said the association went through a stringent process to ensure that its members were qualified as beneficiaries of the social housing.

Dolores Balagat, representative of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera, said the 18.49-hectare land within the 158-hectare city government property was identified for low-cost housing.

The land was surveyed as Special Work Order (SWO)-CAR-000967 in the name of the city government and was identified as a social housing site for the EPCAI upon the request of then Mayor Mauricio Domogan. The survey plan was approved by the DENR-Cordillera. 

Balagat said the DENR does not favor entities when declaring lands as alienable and disposable pursuant to the Public Land Act and that it was the city government under the administration of Domogan that identified the 18.49 hectare as a relocation site for the EPCAI. 

Vice Mayor                             Faustino Olowan, however, questioned the approval of the DENR of the survey plan without verifying whether the former chief executive was given authority by the city council to grant the land to the EPCAI. 

“The 158 hectares is reserved for city land use needs. You cannot simply award that land to one association. In the city, land disposition is only either through Townsite Sales Application or Miscellaneous Sales Application,” Olowan said. 

“There are people who do not have a lot in the city, and yet you allowed that 18.49-hectare land to be given to an association. That is contradictory to the law,” he added.

Councilor Benny Bomogao said the decisions of the city government invol-ving land disposition needs the confirmation or approval of the city council through a resolution or an ordinance.

Jordan said the EPCAI should not be placed at a disadvantage as they had gone through the necessary procedures to legitimize their claims over the land and that they had already introduced developments in the area. 

The association has been involved in several land disputes with other land claimants in the area for many years.

In May 2020, the Sto. Tomas Community Neighborhood Association sought the help of the city council for the cancellation of SWO-CAR-000976 on the grounds that the EPCAI had allegedly encroached into their property.

The appeal of the neighborhood association was referred to the city council committee on urban planning, lands, and housing chaired by Councilor Fred Bagbagen and is yet to be acted on.

The request for the cancellation of SWO-CAR-000976 was also brought up in a council session on Sept. 14, 2020. 

Engr.  Benjamin A. Ventura, DENR representative, said SWO-CAR-000976 can be cancelled upon the request of the city government, which should cite the reasons for cancellation.

Balagat said the 18.49-hectare land will remain in the name of the city government even if SWO-CAR-000976 is cancelled since it is part of the 158-hectare land identified for the city’s multi-land use.

The city council referred the matter anew to the committee on urban planning, lands, and housing to be studied further in aid of legislation.  – Jordan G. Habbiling