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. 

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