WHILE the Baguio City government has successfully titled portions of Burnham Park in a bid to separate them from the city’s alienable public domain, members of the Baguio City Council have warned of potential legal repercussions from the act.
According to councilors Elmer Datuin and Mylen Yaranon, there may be legal concerns over the titling of the affected lots as the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) have authority over the park.
When then President Fidel V. Ramos turned over the management of the park to Baguio through Executive Order No. 224 in 1995, his directive stipulated that the city government could not “encumber, mortgage, or alienate any portion of the park,” DOT Cordillera director Jovita Ganongan said.
The council raised concerns as under the current arrangement, the DOT considers Baguio as custodian of the park, not direct owner of it.
According to Eugene Buyucan, chief of the General Services Office (GSO), the city acquired 18.2 hectares of the park not covered by the original Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 1, following the issuance of the OCT No. 2023000017 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on March 3. This lot covers the Picnic Grove, Skating Rink, the parking area fronting Tiong San Harrison, City Environment and Parks Management Extension Office, City Library, Burnham Lake, Children’s Park, Orchidarium, Bicycle area, Rose Garden, Melvin Jones Grandstand, Food Stalls, Igorot Garden, and Ibaloi Park.
Baguio started working on titling all its city-owned and administered public properties in 2017, including parts of Burnham Park, in a bid to prevent private entities from acquiring them through townsite sales or land patents.
Burnham Park is a historic urban park in the city, the area of which is covered by Proclamation no. 64, s. 1925 which established the Burnham Park Reservation intended for park purposes. Buyucan said that though the city has acquired the titles to the land, the park will exclusively remain as a park.
After successfully acquiring a title for Burnham Lot 1, the city government is now pursuing the titling of Burnham Park Lot 6 which covers portions of the Public Swimming Pool and Lions Club and Pine Trees of the World with an area of 10,021 sqm.
These land titling initiatives were started by the former administration under then Mayor Mauricio Domogan and are being completed by the current administration.
The city government has been the administrator of Burnham Park since February 10, 1995 pursuant to Executive Order No. 244 issued by then President Fidel Ramos. Prior to this, the park was under the care of the Philippine Tourism Authority. The full control and further development of the same was finally transferred to the city government on January 10, 2008 when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 695.
While the act of titling was lauded by members of the city council, some concerns were raised during their regular session on March 8.
Councilor Mylen Yaranon asked whether a presidential proclamation can be canceled by the issuance of a land title, claiming that OCT No. 1 which was issued in 1910 and also covers certain portions of Burnham Park was being questioned during the term of his late father, then Mayor Braulio Yaranon.
Buyuccan said OCT No. 1 which was issued in 1910 does not supersede Proclamation no. 64 which was issued in 1925 since the former precedes the latter.
He added that the acquisition of a title over areas within Burnham Park “does not intend to cancel” Proclamation no. 64, s. 1925 as the proclamation identifies the use of an area while a title indicates who owns it.
On the same day, the city council approved the first annual supplemental investment program for 2023 in the amount of P250 million which includes a proposed additional fund (P2 million) for the titling of other areas in Burnham Park and other areas outside Burnham Park that are being utilized by the city government.
Although joining the other council members in lauding the efforts of the executive department, Yaranon excluded herself from the council’s move to approve the proposed additional fund for the titling of areas in Burnham Park as she does “not want to be included in whatever future case may be filed against the city government.” – with a report from Jordan G. Habbiling