THE city government has now eyed its sights on the illegal structures and buildings constructed without building permits. In fact, policemen do foot patrols on our watershed areas, especially in Busol where so many squatters live in concrete and semi-concrete buildings that have been existing for years. The CBAO (City Buildings and Architecture Office) has also announced that starting this September, it is set to issue notices of violations (NOV) to owners of structures – residential and commercial, ongoing or finished, on titled lots or not.
The news story goes that since April this year, the CBAO has issued letters to “qualified building owners” informing them of the “status” of their buildings and advising them “to apply and process their permits within a period.” Failure to comply “would force the city to issue a notice of violation and commence the proceedings prescribed under the building code.”
The news story went on to state that the CBAO has been collecting an average of four million pesos from building permit violations since 2021 and is expected to increase when the CBAO imposes the penalty to all unpermitted structures identified by CBAO in its census numbering around 96,000. Under the Building Code, violators are liable to pay an administrative fine of PhP10,000.00. But payment of the fines does not exempt the violators from securing their building permits. Their structures may also be ordered demolished, either voluntarily or by the city.
The people of Baguio should welcome this effort of the city administration in aggressively acting on a major problem of the city that has aggravated, if not a major cause of, our water shortage, garbage issue, landslides, and such other destruction of our ecology, among others. In fact, a big blot to the city’s reputation as the Summer Capital of the Philippines is its problem of squatters on public or private lands.
Baguio was designed for a population of 27,000 people by Arch. Daniel Burnham. He had a beautiful concept of a rest and recreation city, where residential and commercial zones, parks and amusements areas were identified on the map, including the road network and public utilities. Those who were born and lived in Baguio after World War 2, like my siblings and I, were lucky to have experienced and enjoyed the city then when “life was slow and oh, so mellow…”as the song goes.
Now, there are about almost half a million residents living in the same land area measuring 57.5 square kilometers that was meant for only 27,000 inhabitants. Nena and I spent our Christmas holidays in Baguio last year and we could hardly move around the city and could not find a parking space for our car. I understood then the feeling of my balikbayan friends who commented that Baguio was no longer the same city that it was and they blamed it on politics and the politicians.
A political pundit in the city, who has since passed on, had told us that the allocation of public lands in the city was used for political favors by those who wanted to perpetrate their power in public office, in cahoots with their political partymates and those in the administration who also benefited from the allocation of lands. It was a system that was practiced when elections were held in the sixties and continued in the following decades by those who took over the helm of government.
These politicians developed their so-called “political farms” whereby they would allow their loyal voters and families to squat on public land under the guise of “tolerance permits.” In anticipation of the elections, the politicians would invite their townmates residing outside of the city to register and vote in Baguio. With the presentation of their registration cards and “cedulas,” an officer or administrator of the politician’s office would issue them the so-called “tolerance permits.” During the election period or even before that, “tolerance permits” were issued at the behest of the politicians and soon after a small barangay grew to be the biggest barangay, or the scarcely populated hills became densely populated.
This scenario of “political farms” was a scheme to get around the law against “flying voters” that was rampantly devised by cheating politicians in the early elections or maybe until the present, who knows.
So, that is the role of politics in our problem on squatting. Hopefully, the aggressive drive of the city will be a solution and not just an activity to raise more funds from the fines of violators.