BAGUIO Mayor Benjamin Magalong has officially joined the review process for the revised Baguio City charter, joining the ranks of those calling the new charter “problematic” during a public forum on Tuesday, February 28.
“I finally realized. Totoo nga. I would readily admit na kulang. Kumbaga minadali. So we need to revisit our city charter. I can see that there are still infirmities,” Magalong said, crediting Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan and Councilor Jose Molintas for enlightening him on the issues with the revised charter.
(“I finally realized. It’s true. I would readily admit that it is lacking, as if it was rushed. So we need to revisit our city charter. I can see that there are still infirmities.”)
The mayor said that he has also been lacking for not engaging more people in the crafting of the revised city charter.
Republic Act 11689, which revises and “fine-tunes” the charter of Baguio, passed in the 18th Congress of the Philippines under former president Rodrigo Duterte’s term.
However, members of the Baguio City Council have raised opposition to the revised charter as early as during the previous president’s term, even passing a resolution requesting Duterte to veto the law when it was still House Bill 8882 authored by Baguio Representative Mark Go, to no success as the bill lapsed into law 30 days after receipt.
While the law gave some gains to the city, such as the mandating of an indigenous peoples mandatory representative (IPMR) to the city, and the exclusion of unoccupied alienable lands “between roads and lands adjoining legal easements from creeks and rivers” from sale, members of the council cited losses in the new charter.
Among the concerns raised by the council are: the ambiguity of the city’s borders under the new charter which also does not account for land disputes with neighbouring municipalities; redirecting sales to the national government instead of the City Treasurer’s Office (CTO); the lack of support for the 19 conditionalities imposed by the city government in the master development plan of Camp John Hay (CJH) required of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA); and the discrepancy between the borders of CJH in the Bases Conversion Development Act of 1992 and the new city charter.
The city charter also explicitly states that the CJH reservation is not part of the Baguio townsite reservation, which the council states undermines the 19 conditionalities imposed on BCDA, among which is the ongoing effort to segregate the remaining 13 Baguio barangays from CJH. The segregation has been in the works for nearly three decades, but is slowed down by bureaucracy.
“The slow progress, slow development, and slow response to our needs is becoming frustrating,” Magalong said.
“We have one voice and are united when it comes to our claims. But the big question is, are we also ready to really take over all these properties and create livable communities through efficient urban planning?” he added.
The revised charter only provides for the city’s current borders as held prior to the revision, but does not solidly define it nor provide any resolution to the territorial disputes with neighbouring towns.
Last year in December, the city council’s Committee on Laws, Human Rights, and Justice began efforts to gear up for the extensive review process of the new charter, beginning a large-scale information campaign at the behest of Councilor Peter Fianza to inform various stakeholders in the city, including members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, barangay officials, indigenous peoples groups in the city, and scholars in the academe.
As part of the effort to amend the newly passed city charter, plans are set for more future public consultations, which will be held for every proposed amendment to the new charter.
Further down the line, the city council and Magalong are also planning the conduct of a plebiscite for the “substantial” revisions.
Molintas said during the forum that from the start, the crafting of the laws should have involved the grassroots, something that he claims the revision failed to achieve.
“Dura lex sed lex. The law is harsh but it is the law. But I only believe in this principle if it’s the people who made the law… My advocacy is, let us question the law because it was not we who made it,” Molintas said.
This story was first published on Rappler.com as part of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.