BAGUIO CITY – Mayor Benjamin Magalong on Aug. 9 agreed to put on hold the demolition of eight on-going constructions at the Busol watershed even as he secured commitment from the informal settlers to guard the reservation from further intrusion while both parties decide on a long-term solution to the standoff.
In a dialogue with the watershed occupants numbering 150, the mayor stressed the city’s firm position to safeguard the remaining unoccupied portion of the watershed placed at only 60 percent of the entire Baguio side of the reservation it shares with La Trinidad, Benguet.
He said that while the city gives humanitarian consideration to the predicament of the occupants, many of whom are ancestral land claimants who claimed to be long time settlers of the forest reserve, law and order must be respected.
But while the city is deciding on what action to take and while court cases remain pending, the mayor said the city can strike an agreement with the occupants toward the achievement of a common aim to preserve what is left of the watershed.
“If we don’t agree soon, we are sure to move in the direction of removing all of you from the watershed because our priority is to save the watershed from further intrusion and destruction,” the mayor challenged.
The occupants led by the heirs of the Gumangan clan and heads of the four barangays straddling the reservation agreed to cooperate with the city by stopping the entry of more settlers and undertake preservation measures even as they appealed for a win-win solution on their plight.
The mayor agreed to give them a month to organize and present a plan of action for the guarding and preservation of the watershed and promised to explore ways to help them in their predicament.
Busol, the city’s biggest source of potable water, is embroiled in several court cases involving informal settlers and ancestral land claimants.
On February 4, 2009 the Supreme Court ruled with finality sustaining the city government’s bid to demolish some structures covered by Demolition Order No. 33 series of 2005 of former mayor Braulio Yaranon.
The High Tribunal sustained the city government’s contention that the city is governed by its charter and “thus, (lot occupants) cannot claim their alleged ancestral lands under the provisions of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA).”
To date there are other cases pending before the various courts.
The city is also poised to pursue the reversion procedures before the Office of the Solicitor General to reclaim the 7.8 hectare lot within the Busol watershed that was divided into 22 lots and illegally titled by unscrupulous individuals in 2015.
The subject lot is covered by a 211 title or part of those titles issued under Civil Reservation Case No. 1 Record 211 and which were declared void by the Supreme Court because the court that issued the same had no jurisdiction. The said titles can be legalized only upon undergoing validation proceedings./Aileen P. Refuerzo