Baguio’s titling of Burnham Park raises legal issues
BAGUIO CITY—The local government has successfully titled portions of Burnham Park to preserve its man-made lake, the Baguio Orchidarium, the Melvin Jones Grandstand, and its football field, which fall within the alienable public domain, an official said on Monday.
Eugene Buyuccan, chief of the General Services Office (GSO), said the city government became the owner of 182,040 square meters (18.2 hectares) of the century-old park following the issuance of the Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 2023000017 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on March 3. He made the disclosure to the city council on Monday.
PH 1st land title
The portions in the new title were not part of OCT No. 1, which covers the rest of Burnham Park, one of the most popular tourist spots in the summer capital, including the Athletic Bowl and its surrounding woodlands. OCT No. 1 in Baguio, which was issued in 1910, is the country’s first land title.
Baguio began the process of titling all city-owned or administered public properties within the townsite reservation since 2017, including parts of Burnham Park to prevent private individuals or groups from acquiring them through the American colonial era’s townsite sales process that is still operating today or through land patenting laws, Buyuccan said.
He said the new Burnham Park title does not mean the city government would change its status and use as prescribed by Proclamation No. 64, which reserved the 32-ha area “for park purposes” in 1925.
The park reservation was separated almost a decade after Baguio was declared a chartered city by the American colonial government in 1909.
But the city council advised the GSO to inform the Department of Tourism (DOT) about its decision to title Burnham Park because of concerns raised by Councilors Elmer Datuin and Mylene Yaranon about its legality.
The DOT and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, or Tieza (formerly the Philippine Tourism Authority, which had direct control over Burnham Park in 1981), would need to study the city’s actions, said DOT Cordillera director Jovita Ganongan.
When then President Fidel V. Ramos turned over the management of the park to Baguio through Executive Order No. 224 in 1995, his directive stipulated that the city government could not “encumber, mortgage, or alienate any portion of the park,” Ganongan told the Inquirer.
The council had been deliberating on the park’s titling since Feb. 27, when Datuin pointed out that the city’s action might have breached an understanding with DOT officials that Baguio was merely its custodian.