Friday, January 17, 2014

Battle for lands, battle for Baguio's future

The NCIP-issued titles in Baguio are currently the focus of attention of the local government, a Congressional inquiry and concerned citizens of Baguio both the pro and otherwise. 

It's hard to pick a side for everyone has his own right. While it maybe is true that many of the Ibalois were displaced during the American time, there were also records saying some of those lots were sold by the original settlers. It maybe is biased to the Halsemas coz some of the accounts was written by James Halsema, son of Eusebius Halsema who was the Mayor of Baguio for 15 years. 

In his book, he said that to create roads, Mayor Halsema had to purchase farm lots but the Ibalois don't value money so much then so instead accepted as payments carabaos, a very useful beast of burden for their main livelihood which is farming. It is also a symbol of affluence.

Probably some of them were forced to sell their farms and was probably the reason why Halsema was called "Busol" by some of the original Ibalois. (Busol was used then to describe a mean man although in some accounts, Halsema was described a humble man.)

We are not sure if there were papers signed during those sale of lots. If there were, where can we find these records or were they destroyed during the war. It was during the time of Mayor Halsema (1921 - 1935) that the presidential proclamation declaring some part of Baguio, including the current site of the Casa Vallejo, a Government  Center. (Proclamation No. 63, series of 1925 signed by Governor General Leonard Wood)

There are other locations reserved as parks, government centers and others are considered alienable and disposable. We can only assume that some of these disposable lands were not bought by the government that time since most are pasturelands and the creation of a city would have probably drove the Ibalois farther away from the city to find better pasture for their herds. 

When development came, the Ibalois then (except Mateo Cariño) didn't know how to claim their rights to their lands. In our laws, ignorance is no excuse and if you don't know the law, it's your fault. It's a hard fact that all of us is forced to accept. It's the same with these land claims. Our Ibaloi forebears left  their lands pushed away by the creation of a busy metropolis and their abandoned lands looked upon by the government as neglected or deserted and claimed ownership following the Regalian Doctrine, then came the American Torrent system of distributing lands (someone correct me here if I'm wrong).

On July 22, 1915, the Americans issued a notice to the people claiming lands inside the reservation to file within the next 6 months their respective claims. On November 13 that same year,  Judge C. M. Villareal made a ruling declaring all lands within the Baguio Townsite reservation as public lands except for lands reserved for specific public purposes and lands claimed and adjudicated as private properties. 

Many of the unclaimed disposable lands were sold to migrants. While some were passed on to different hands, many of the original buyers or their families still live in their purchased lands. Of course those settlers have their own rights too having bought those lots legally. It would be a hard battle to claim them as ancestral domains, although there are areas currently in dispute between claimants and current owners.

It is probably easier to claim the protected lands since no private owners will defend them, only the government. But let's just say these claimants win and they will take over those protected lands. The forest reserves (Busol and others), the parks (Forbes Park, Burnham, etc.), the government centers (Casa Vallejo, City hall, Convention center, etc), what will become of Baguio? We are already facing gigantic problems with our current population and buildings, how much more when those remaining spaces become residential and commercial areas. We will have chaotic city with not enough water supply and clean air to breathe in the coming years. 

The Government may argue that without the City development, we probably would not have progressed here in the highlands. The value of the land we are so zealous to claim today would not have increased as much. We probably did not become a center of civilization and owning those lands wouldn't have been as valuable. The migrants are one of the main reasons why Baguio is now a valuable City. But to the claimants, what good is civilization if the supposed original owners are discarded from it?

The claimants have their rights, but we have to balance also how our lands will be used because in the end it will affect us all, yet the claimants should not be discarded aside. Let us not forget the fact that they owned these lands long before us and they have been discriminated being ignorant to the foreign laws.

So how can this dilemma be solved? Does the government still have disposable lands to give in substitute to the claims? Are the heirs willing to accept it or perhaps accept compensations instead? Or if granted, are the heirs willing to follow the land use plan of the city and utilize those properties accordingly so as not to worsen the urbanization problems of the City? Will the claimants and the government willing to meet halfway?

If we are not willing to bargain, our time will just be consumed between these battles for land claims that are being questioned even by the very office who issued those titles. It has also become a battle between government agencies and offices. Even the IPRA is being questioned by many sectors. 

MateoCariño's claim won in an American court on February 23, 1909, years after he died, and the case now known as the Cariño Doctrine earned international recognition and used as an example by indigenous peoples fighting for their rights worldwide. But even after winning the court battle, those lands were not returned back to the family of Cariño until now.

So when will this end? Probably until the next generation of claimants, probably never. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

NCIP Issued Titles Questioned

Government officials, private citizens and a congressional inquiry are now focused at questionable NCIP issued land titles as different issues are arising between claimants and current owners. 

Questions are arising especially to land titles issued to claimants of Casa Vallejo and the construction site of government broadcast station in Wright Park. 

The heirs (represented by Richard Acop), who trace their roots to Cosen Piraso known as Kapitan Piraso, earlier secured two Certificates of Ancestral Land Title (CALT) which cover the property. Last year, the NCIP issued a writ of possession to the heirs to take over the property. 

Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDC), the corporate arm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), earlier protested the writ issued by the NCIP's regional hearing office, saying it was done in an “irregular and unlawful manner.” 

On January 2, present tenants of Casa Vallejo, which now houses a hotel, a bookshop, a cinematheque, a restaurant, and a spa, received a notice to vacate the property. This was supposed to be implemented on January 10, but the city sheriff postponed it to Tuesday, January 14. 

The property in question was part of the government center under proclamation 63 signed on August 1925 by then Governor-General Leonard Wood. This government property was passed on to different government agencies over the years. Since 2007, it was under the care of the NRDC. 

The Casa Vallejo was erected in 1909 within the said Government center and was then called “Dormitory 4,” where civil government employees stayed during the summer when Americans started developing Baguio. 
Salvador Vallejo, a Spanish businessman who hailed from Malaga province, secured a lease to operate the dormitory into a hotel in the 1920s and 1930s, thus earning the name Casa Vallejo 

Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda filed a resolution on Monday, January 13 urging President Benigno Aquino III to declare the 105-year-old hotel as "a heritage site”. 

The take over "as an ancestral claim and its sale to a corporation" of the disputed lot "may cause physical and cultural destruction of a site considered as a century old historical landmark," Councilor Tabanda said in her resolution. 

Last January 14, the NCIP head office issued an order to refrain from implementation of the writ of possession issued by the same office to the Cosen Piraso heirs not to complicate the ongoing congressional inquiry and being a subject matter for another case now pending before the supreme court. 

Baguio's oldest hotel is maybe saved by the status quo order issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) on Tuesday, January 14 to heirs of Cosen Piraso but “it did not dictate the writ of possession issued by the same office nullified”, said a concerned citizen. 

The local government and concerned residents in Baguio fear once this property is won by the claimants, it may result in the demolition of the historic hotel to pave the way for further development. Other citizens who acquired their residential lots legally are also concerned that if titles issued by NCIP to take over government properties are granted, how much more for private properties. Some of these citizens had been living in Baguio since the 1950s and 60s and fear that they will also be evicted because of titles issued by NCIP. 

On October last year, Baguio Congressman Nicasio Aliping, Jr. issued house resolution 419 “directing the house of representatives committee on Indigenous Peoples to conduct an inquiry and/or investigation, in aid of legislation, on the blatant deviation from the Indigenous concept of the ownership of ancestral lands / domains over which certificates of ancestral land titles/ancestral domain titles (CALT/CADT) were issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)”. 

This Congressional inquiry was timely to stop the writ of possession; "the first issued to all NCIP issued titles" according to NRDC president Felix Marinias. It is also timely as several issues regarding NCIP issued titles are coming out including a claim on a construction site for a government broadcast station at Wright Park where the injunction to stop the construction by the heirs of Quintino and Josephine Abanag represented by Marion Pool and Isaias Abanag was junked by NCIP itself. 

Some residents including an officer of DENR was hoping this inquiry will solve the issues involving the NCIP issued land titles. “Maybe they should re-examine the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA)”, said the DENR Official. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 Highlight: My coverage for the year (Part 1)

Here are my coverage and where abouts for the year 2013, some adventurous, some the usual stuff, mostly good.

One of the mostly photographed place was the highest point of the Philippine Highway system which I passed by several times this year. The place always has a new story to tell.

Roaming around, I always bump with media friends, sometimes during a coverage, most of the time during drinking session and sometimes catching them doing bizarre things. Here is Franc Cimatu shooting a little character posing for a picture. 


Of course there's my group doing a book drive in a mission to build libraries in isolated schools in Cordilleras. Successfully visited more than 10 high schools and Elementary schools in Benguet, Ifugao and Mountain Province assisted by different organizations and government agencies.


There's also the movement to save 182 trees from SM's expansion, the movement is now turning 3 years this January.

Of course not to forget the coverage on crimes and security by the PNP,


and listening to Dr. Cheng's last Chinese New Year Speech.


Also attending the Media's occasional sponsored parties.

Meeting other media and photographers using same camera brand as I.


Shooting the Panagbenga and winning a photo competition with cash prize I have yet to receive and it's already turning one year since I took the winning photo.


Shooting beauties like Riza Gomez and Shamsey Supsup.


Watching artists work or shooting their art expressions.


Citizens ignoring signs or vendors selling anywhere.

Government projects some controversial and not so controversial to the public. (I'm just wondering if there is such a project with no controversy in the eyes of the public.)


Taking a quick shot at the controversial wake skating site in Banaue, Ifugao.

Talking to a pretty saleslady along the Halsema Highway in a place called Guerilla Saddle. 


Covering rallies.

Dropping by my birthplace, a cold highland farmland between Baguio and Bontoc. It's still cold even during summer. 

Trying out and writing about foods like this Strawberry French Crepe in La Trinidad during the Strawberry Festival. It's not a creepy food, just your ordinary pan cake with variety of fillings. Baguio and Benguet has a lot of places for food trips.

Covering Pony boys' activities in and outside Baguio City.

Covering sectoral group activities like these Muslim group joining women's rallies.

Shooting national and local politicians who came to meet with the press,

and Politician-sponsored events.

Full coverage of cultural events and festivals like the Lang-ay Festival in Bontoc, Mt. Province.

The most colorful part of these cultural activities are the things that happen behind the scenes. Here, an elderly feeds a little boy with "watwat" during the celebration of Bindiyan Festival in Kabayan.