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. 

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