BAGUIO CITY—President Benigno Aquino III has vetoed a bill updating the 1909 Baguio City Charter, which the American colonial government enacted 104 years ago.
City officials, however, have yet to receive any explanation for the decision to nullify House Bill No. 121, Baguio Rep. Bernardo Vergara said Monday.
“I spent a year and six months talking to every senator about the amended charter of the summer capital. The veto shocks me,” Vergara said.
The measure was passed by the Congress’ bicameral conference committee in November last year and would have automatically lapsed into law on Jan. 18 had the President not acted on it.
Vergara said his office was informed about Mr. Aquino’s decision by the Presidential Management Staff on Monday. He said Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate committee on local government, also called him to relay the news.
Vergara said the measure was approved “with no objections” by the bicameral conference committee on Nov. 20. Vergara and Mayor Mauricio Domogan, who sponsored the first Baguio charter change bill during his term as representative in 2001, intended the amended charter to be passed in 2009 in time for the Baguio centennial.
It was designed to resolve the city’s land use problems, the lawmaker said.
For example, the new charter would legitimize a land-swap arrangement between the city and neighboring Tuba municipality in Benguet, which would settle a boundary dispute and correct Baguio’s territory as 57 square kilometers instead of the 49 sq km prescribed in the original charter.
The charter change initiative drew more controversy when the amendments pushed by Vergara and the city government would have made Baguio the owner of the city’s townsite reservation. It would have given the summer capital the exclusive right to determine how townsite lands would be sold.
Since its founding in 1909, Baguio operates as a townsite reservation, where land parcels are sold through government auction under the supervision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The city is the only townsite operating in the country today. Unlike former townsites, such as Cebu, Baguio gets all of the proceeds from townsite sales.
Townsite surveys and auctions are administered by a committee under the supervision of the environment secretary, the director of the DENR’s land management bureau and the city mayor.
However, alleged anomalies that resulted in a 5,000 backlog in settlement applications have infuriated the city government, which decided to wrestle control over the processing of townsite sales applications (TSAs), Vergara said.
He said he removed the provisions granting Baguio control over the TSAs. Instead, the amended charter passed by Congress imposes an updated land value matrix for townsite lands and speeds up the process for pending townsite applications.
Many residents are applicants who settled on untitled lands and not informal settlers, he said.
In April 2012, the Senate committee on local government received formal objections from the DENR, which believed the city charter bill may disrupt national land laws.
In a meeting here on the same month, Environment Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio Jr. and representatives of the Bureau of Local Government Finance said the proposed charter revisions removed the authority of the environment secretary to issue titles in Baguio.
In a letter to the Senate committee, the DENR said only the President may issue private titles, which he delegates to the environment secretary and, since 1997, to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples as prescribed by the 1987 Constitution. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon