BCDA blocks planned farm road in Baguio ancestral domain
BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) has blocked the construction of a 1.25-kilometer farm road inside the only Ibaloy ancestral domain in the city, asserting that it owns all lands inside the Camp John Hay forest reservation.
The P20-million road project of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will legitimize a communal road inside Barangay Happy Hollow that is “tainted with illegality,” said BCDA lawyer Christian Duldulao during the session of the city council this week.
Happy Hollow’s Ibaloy and Kankanaey families were granted a certificate of ancestral domain title in 2006, which the BCDA had petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify.
But the council passed a resolution urging the BCDA to reconsider its move. The farm road would have provided better access to vegetable gardens and a poultry farm there, the councilors said.
This was the latest conflict between the BCDA and villages inside Camp John Hay from the time it was operated as a rest and recreation baseland by the United States military.
In July, residents of Barangay Scout Barrio complained to the council about its oldest school, John Hay Elementary School, which was taken over by the BCDA subsidiary John Hay Management Corp. (JHMC) in March. The school closed in April 2020 during the Luzon lockdown.
In 1994, the BCDA had committed to segregate Happy Hollow, Scout Barrio and 12 other villages from the Camp John Hay reservation, which is one of 19 conditions set by the Baguio government in exchange for endorsing the master plan used to lease 247 hectares of Camp John Hay to a developer. To date, only Scout Barrio families have been given titles to their homes.
BCDA officials said it denied the DPWH’s request to ship in construction materials and equipment, as well as documents on the agency’s engineering activities to build the farm road, because the project would improve a dirt road that they described as “an illegal road excavation.”
Ferdinand Figuerres, lot manager of JHMC, presented a series of maps to show that the road appeared only in 2017, and that it traverses settlements and small gardens there.
Figuerres, an engineer, blamed the excavation for an erosion in 2017 after a storm blew through the city. He also provided documents indicating that none of these settlements were granted building permits.
The BCDA’s actions would compel the Baguio Engineering District to return the project funds to the national treasury, said DPWH district engineer Rene Zarate, so it could be realigned for other projects.
But Happy Hollow elder Joselito Dizon said the dirt road was originally a horse trail used in the early 1900s by both the Ibaloy and American soldiers who turned Camp John Hay into a garrison.
Dizon said the farm road and the vegetable gardens were economic plans indicated in their Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan, a version of municipal or city land use plans that are required by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
He also said the community asked for permission to construct slope protection at the erosion site, which was rejected by JHMC.
Figuerres confirmed that the request was denied over legal issues, to which Councilor Michael Lawana replied: “At the expense of the safety of people?”
Other road projects inside Camp John Hay have not elicited this kind of resistance from the BCDA, said Lawana, president of the Association of Barangay Councils and village chair of Barangay Lower Dagsian, which is also inside the Camp John Hay reservation.
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