IN many conflict cases involving lands, there are circumstances where one is obviously more powerful than the other in terms of the application of laws, financial resources, and outside support. The weaker party wins only a small part of the bargain or stands to lose considerably. However, in some instances, it can hold on until a new negotiation opens.
The 2016 arbitral ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration over the South China Sea was overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines as it said that major elements of China’s claim, including its nine-dash line, land reclamations, and other activities in Philippine waters were illegal.
Since then, the UN ruling was always raised by the Philippines and its neighbors in response to China’s maritime aggression. However, recently China produced a new map that changed its nine-dash line to a “ten-dash line.” This latest development virtually made the whole South China Sea their claim.
Just like the nine-dash line that the UN tribunal declared unlawful, the new 10-dash line has no legal basis except that China is still living up to its age-old vision of expansionism, or for selfish and greedy reasons.
Last week, the BCDA (Bases Conversion and Development Authority) at Camp John Hay opposed a proposed Baguio City ordinance to declare the Ibaloy Ancestral Domain of Happy Hallow as a heritage site for preservation purposes.
It also petitioned the Supreme Court through the Solicitor General to cancel the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) issued in 2006 to Ibaloys who had occupied the area since time immemorial.
Assuming that BCDA’s actions were supported legally, the conditions of the communities before the crafting of the law were diverse, and therefore its implementation would have to be applied on a case-to-case basis.
The argument is based on government facts and figures that the Happy Hallow community of indigenous peoples existed even before the Americans came to occupy the land that they converted into a rest and recreation center for military employees and called Camp John Hay.
Under the BCDA law, former military reservations, including Camp John Hay, Clark, Subic, etc. would be converted into alternative productive uses and to raise funds by selling these properties. The money would be spent on the development and conversion of these lands to productive civilian use.
The law further allows the BCDA to reclaim or undertake reclamation projects in areas adjacent or contiguous to the converted land. For John Hay and Happy Hallow, the scenario would be a “latecomer visitor grabbing the land of its host IP community” that has been there for the longest time.
Certainly, this is awkward but it is the law. But again, it does not follow that just because it is lawful, it can be applicable anywhere. That was why I thought that the application of the BCDA law should be on a case-to-case basis.
Another case to consider is the issue involving properties inside the three sitios of Dalicno, Simpa, and Lolita of Barangay Ampucao in the ancestral domain and municipality of Itogon.
The residents claimed that their water sources, small-scale mining activities, livelihood, and safety of the people and properties would greatly be at risk with the approval of a pending Application for Production Sharing Agreement (APSA 103) by the Itogon-Suyoc Resources Inc. (ISRI).
What surprised many was that a signing of an agreement (MOA) was scheduled sometime on August 18, 2023, while the affected residents have yet to know what was written in the documents to be signed.
In other words, the MOA has been drafted already without the collective agreement of the Ampucao residents who claimed to be insufficiently informed as the negotiations through general assemblies were inadequate. To their knowledge, they were still in the process of consultation with ISRI and those concerned.
The MOA signing which could have led to an approval of the APSA and displacement of a community did not push through due to heated discussions by the opposing parties. The Ampucao petitioners did not give their consensus approval of the project, otherwise, they could have given away their properties for free.
The derailing and delaying of rightful consultations by the agencies concerned through enterprising minions are plenty. Lately, in an assembly last Thursday, there were attempts to silence news publicity by passing around unwritten “house rules” that would limit the movement of media personalities who would attend to cover the event.
I was informed that an ocular inspection on the ground would soon be scheduled to determine the areas to be affected by the APSA. At least that would avert an attempt to “lawfully” operate mines, just like the way mining companies did in other countries a century ago.
By the way, I am reminded of 2008 about the landowners affected by the operations of the Asin Hydro-electric plants and the government officials of Tuba, Benguet who expressed opposition to the claim of Baguio officials that the city owned the hydro-electric plants.
Although the Asin Hydro in Nangalisan, Tuba was built by Mayor Halsema for the benefit of the city and the mining companies, it does not follow that it should now be owned by the city. No single document certified such actions.
In their opposition, then-Tuba official Blas Dalus opposed the request made by Baguio City to transfer water permits from the Baguio Water District to the City Government of Baguio and to change the permit from domestic to power generation, arguing that the move needs a Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC).
The former IP representative in the Benguet provincial board also questioned the claim of ownership by the city of the hydroelectric plants in Tuba saying no document shows that the Americans turned over the facility to the city.
The Asin Hydropower Plants 1,2 and 3 were built, operated, and administered in the 1920s when the Philippines was colonized by the Americans. The plants ceased operations in 2012 but remained within the territorial jurisdiction of the Tuba town.
A check with the offices of the Tuba and Benguet assessors also revealed that Baguio does not own any property in the municipality, meaning, no taxes are paid by the city to Tuba or the province.
Even while there is no basis and the claim by the city is not clear, city officials still insist on operating a property they do not own. It is a picture of an LGU squatting on the property inside another LGU.