Ruling on ancestral lands seen to curb Baguio decay

City eyes voiding of Ibaloy property turned into private lots amid planned moratorium on new buildings
/ 04:20 AM November 19, 2019

FIRST RESIDENTS The Baguio government honors the city’s original settlers by celebrating Ibaloy Day, highlighting the culture and contribution of indigenous peoples of Benguet province to the development of the country’s summer capital. —EV ESPIRITU

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—A Supreme Court ruling that says ancestral lands may not be issued titles in the summer capital will affect the status of Ibaloy lands sold to developers and stave off overdevelopment in the summer capital, according to lawyers of the Baguio legal office.

In one of the last decisions penned by retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the court’s Second Division said the townsite reservation in Baguio cannot be covered by certificates of ancestral land title (CALT) and certificates of ancestral domain title (CADT) as stipulated by Section 78 of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (Ipra, or Republic Act No. 8371).


The court described Section 78 as a special provision that recognizes Baguio’s authority to govern townsite lands, which are exempted from the coverage of Ipra.

“RA 8371 is clear that for properties [within the] townsite … , no CALT or CADT may be issued by the NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples),” the high court said.


Ipra tasked the NCIP to issue CALT, which recognizes the native right to individual family properties, and CADT for vast communal lands that serve an indigenous peoples group.

The court made this argument when it nullified 28 CALTs issued in 2010 to the heirs of Josephine Molintas Abanag and the heirs of Piraso, also known as “Kapitan Piraso.”

The city challenged the issuance of these CALTs for encroaching on forested sections of Wright Park, within the presidential mansion complex, and on an area where Baguio’s oldest hotel, Casa Vallejo, operates, said lawyer Melchor Carlos Rabanes, assistant Baguio legal officer, on Monday.


Rabanes said some of the CALTs revoked by the high court were also sold to developers, violating a rule that ancestral lands may be transferred only to family members or members of the tribe.

Voiding the CALT meant more Baguio lands would be spared from development, Rabanes said.

Mayor Benjamin Magalong got Malacañang’s approval “in principle” to impose a moratorium on building construction and tree cutting.

The city’s next step is to seek a court order voiding Ibaloy lands that were converted into private lots, said lawyer Isagani Liporada of the city legal office.


HERITAGE HOTEL Casa Vallejo, a heritage building and the oldest hotel in Baguio City, was nearly evicted by an Ibaloy family which was granted an ancestral land title covering this property. —VALERIE DAMIAN

Ibaloy families have yet to comment on the court ruling, although a member of a prominent Ibaloy clan admitted that family members were concerned about its impact on cases challenging other Baguio CALTs.

The Department of Agriculture asked local courts to withdraw the CALTs issued for Baguio Dairy Farm, after discovering that these lands were later sold to private individuals. Baguio’s only CADT at Barangay Happy Hallow inside the Camp John Hay reservation, has been contested by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.

Representatives of Ibaloy families, during a Sept. 13 Baguio land summit, asked the government to deal with spurious CALT.

Processing continues

The NCIP will continue to process 563 CALT applications, while the commission appeals the latest Supreme Court ruling, said Roland Calde, NCIP Cordillera director.

Section 78 does not affect all ancestral lands, Calde said, because Ipra recognizes land rights acquired or secured through judicial and administrative processes before the law was enforced.

Ipra, he said, still applies to lands outside the townsite. Many land claims lie within forest and government reservations that were separated from the townsite.

The American colonial government classified Baguio as a townsite, where alienable lands may be auctioned off to townsite sales applicants.

The townsite process was enacted in the early 1900s to populate Baguio. A century later, the government is still processing more than 10,000 townsite sales applications.

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TAGS: ancestral lands, Baguio, Ibaloy lands, Supreme Court
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