July 16, 2024

Engr. Leandro de Jesus of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) said it may take 277 years to complete the validation of the over 2,000 derivatives of the 211 titles as budget constraints and personnel shortage had limited the processing of eight applications per year.

To solve this problem, de Jesus proposed to the Baguio City Council the creation of a local task force composed of the city government, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera, and Registry of Deeds to expedite the processing of pending applications for validation.

Councilor Jose Molintas requested recommendations from de Jesus to be forwarded to the City Mayor’s Office for consideration. The aim is to assist in addressing the personnel shortage and enhancing the processing capacity for land title validations.

Molintas also expressed confidence the committee on urban planning, lands, and housing will be able to assist in facilitating the validation process.

Based on data from DENR-Cordillera, there are approximately 6,000 derivative titles with applications for validation, of which 2,219 remain unvalidated.

In comparison, the Land Registration Authority reported 6,664 derivative titles with applications for validation, with 3,789 titles already validated and 2,875 applications pending validation.

The 211 titles refer to those that were subject of the Civil Reservation Case No. 1, GLRO Record No. 211, a case initiated in 1912 to settle private land claims.

The land title controversy began when most lands within the Baguio Townsite Reservation were declared public property under the case.

Republic Act 931 allowed reopening of cadastral cases, leading the Court of First Instance to award parcels of land to individuals. However, the SC nullified this ruling on July 31, 1973.

Then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree 1271, voiding all titles issued under GLRO Record No. 211, except those issued before the SC decision, and provided a 90-day period for eligible title holders to file validation petitions, expiring on March 22, 1978.

Subsequent extensions were granted under PD 1311 and PD 1651.

Benjamin Ventura, OIC Asst. Regional Director for Technical Services of DENR-Cordillera, explained that despite the SC decision, PD 1271 introduced a presumption that some of these titles might have been regularly processed.

He said PD 1271 requires these titles to undergo a validation process instead of being automatically canceled.

To validate titles under PD 1271, several conditions must be met.

The land must not be within any government, public, or quasi-public reservation, such as forest or military areas, as certified by the appropriate government agencies.

The current title holder is required to pay 15 percent of the assessed value of the land.

The titles obtained through fraud or misrepresentation during the reopening of Civil Reservation Case No. 1 are not eligible for validation under the decree.

Ventura mentioned the creation of a technical working group whose role is to endorse validated titles, recommend the cancellation of titles, and recommend when to stop the validation process.

Atty. John Felix, Regional Director of the Land Registry of Deeds for Baguio City, said once the technical working group recommends a title for validation, the resolution is transmitted to ROD Baguio. 

Felix said the ROD does not register unvalidated titles unless there is a court order mandating it.

He added in instances where there is a court order, the ROD has no choice but to implement the order, even if it involves registering an unvalidated title.

Atty. Brain Masweng, OIC of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Legal Affairs Office, said the NCIP has significant concerns regarding the derivatives of the 211 titles because there are ancestral land claimants opposing these title holders as their claims overlap with the latter’s titles. 

He cited Department of Environment and Natural Resources Administrative Order 2 which states that ancestral land claims should be prioritized over Free Patent or Townsite Sales Applications.

The NCIP lawyer argued the NCIP should be made a member of the technical working group to ensure that interests of IPs are protected.

Molintas urged the NCIP to coordinate with the ROD and DENR and supply these offices with necessary data on the derivative titles that are being opposed by ancestral land claimants.

He said this will help the city government find appropriate solutions in addressing problematic titles. – Jordan G. Habbiling