CHANGES good and bad were certainly inputted in the new Baguio Charter. What strikes many is that the new measure has expanded the Baguio area from 49 square kilometers to 52 something, but without putting the metes and bounds or technical description.
It is necessary for a law that changes the geographical appearance of a city to lay down on the plan the technical descriptions of the land, especially the affected areas within Baguio and the Benguet lands around it to avoid future conflicts.
Another important concern that the new Baguio Charter purposely avoided was the issue of Baguio’s ancestral lands. While the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 has been approved to answer or resolve land problems, only a few certificates that recognized ancestral lands were issued since its passage 25 years ago.
Hearts were pierced, pigs squealed and were butchered, gin and rice wine flowed, gongs resounded, tears fell in past IP celebrations, many waited for their certificates to be processed and many died waiting, yet very few ancestral land titles were processed.
That could be one reason why in the light of the celebration of the international IP month in October, Councilor Jose M. Molintas in his privilege speech two weeks ago said that the government must apologize to the Baguio IPs, particularly the Ibaloys for taking away and selling their lands.
I also thought that the reason for changing the 111-year-old Charter is to update and correct conditions in the past that were not answered by that law crafted in 1909 by the American colonizers. Setting aside in the meantime the other provisions, the new Baguio Charter is supposed to correct the injustices and the land grabbing of IP lands in Baguio and anywhere.
It should not be a repetition of the old Charter that overlooked or intentionally disregarded the Ibaloys’ concerns on lands. What happened was that when the American government in the Philippines approved the Baguio Charter in 1909, it launched a system that took away lands from the Ibaloys with a semblance of legitimacy.
What started the mess why the lands that were previously within the nearby Benguet towns of Tuba, Itogon, and La Trinidad were sold was the filing and corresponding approval of Townsite Applications by thousands of wealthy land speculators from the lowlands and Manila, and people from as far as the Visayas. Proceeds from the TSAs were supposedly collected to pay the salaries of a growing local bureaucracy in the city.
The land which became Baguio City that everybody claims to love now was with no basis carved from the old towns of Tuba, Itogon and La Trinidad of Benguet. Without the American charter order, Baguio could not have been a city. The land could have developed on its own.
In 2013, then President Benigno Aquino vetoed the law revising the old 1909 Baguio Charter. That was enough reason to be happy, after all HB 121 was not widely opened for consultation with the Baguio-born and raised inhabitants. Their sentiments and proposals were not heard.
The proposed new Charter in 2013 favored more the illegal and informal settlers who could easily own titles to the lands they actually occupied, to the disadvantage of honest land applicants who followed legal processes sans squatting.
Furthermore, the legislation did not have a provision for a plebiscite. In the proposed bill, it made Baguio the owner of the city’s townsite reservation. It therefore gave the city government the right to dispose away lands, which is the primary responsibility of the national government through the DENR.
If the proposed new Charter was not vetoed by President Aquino, all the remaining lands in the city could have been sold in accordance with how one voted in contrast to the 1909 Baguio Charter where townsite lands were sold through government bidding under the supervision of the DENR Secretary and the city mayor.
This also meant that the proposed Charter in 2013 has given the city government the power to issue regular land titles or ancestral lands titles, seizing such duties away from the DENR and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Even prior land rights, the Native Title that was affirmed by the Cariño Doctrine or US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. who said that Baguio lands never became public lands in the first place because there were already private occupants before the colonizers came would no longer be respected.
But the truth is that the Ibaloys were uprooted from their lands and became disunited after the Baguio Charter of 1909 was enacted. The Baguio IPs were not at peace with their souls, and could not develop what remained of their lands because of government proclamations that sided with the interests of the American colonizers.
The same proclamations and government orders slowly marginalized the Baguio IPs to the fringes of the city. The roads and public schools in Baguio could have been named otherwise. The Ibaloys to this day could still be the owners of the lands of Teachers Camp, Country Club, John Hay and BPI Guisad areas.
The land where SM sits on, Session Road, Harrison Road, and even city hall could still be owned by Ibaloys today. The lands from Pacdal to Brent School could not have been taken by rich families from Manila and the Visayas such as the Tuazon, Cojuangco, and Laperal families to name a few.
As suggested by Councilor Molintas, an apology to the Ibaloys whose lands were unceremoniously taken away by the government must be made. Ancestral land issues must be included in the new Baguio Charter and copies of it should be distributed in Baguio and Benguet and go through a plebiscite.