Baguio wants ‘gross errors’ in new city charter fixed
BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — The city council is asking the Senate and the House of Representatives for access to its records so it could determine how “gross errors” ended up in the summer capital’s modern charter, which replaced what was essentially its founding constitution.
Reviewing congressional records could help the council “get to the bottom of things” and find the source of these errors, including a provision in Republic Act No. 11689 (the new Baguio City Charter) that requires Baguio, a highly urbanized city, to transmit all its ordinances and resolutions to the provincial board of Benguet for confirmation.
Section 23 of Article 8 of the modern Baguio charter has tasked the council’s secretary with forwarding to the Benguet provincial board copies of duly approved ordinances in the manner provided in Sections 56 and 57 of the Local Government Code of 1991 (RA 7160).
That provision downgrades the city’s status to that of a component city, said Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan during the council’s regular session this week.
“That new stipulation was not even in the 1909 Charter,” he said during discussions about the allegedly flawed RA 11689.
But because this task is part of a law, the Benguet provincial board could now veto Baguio’s ordinances, Olowan, the council’s presiding officer, pointed out.
Heeding the suggestion of a senator involved in drafting RA 11689, the council has invited members of the Senate and House secretariats to a closed-door meeting of elected officials and legal experts, to include the charter’s chief sponsor, Baguio Rep. Marquez Go.
The group would discuss the needed amendments to the law “before the errors affect the operations of the summer capital,” said Olowan.
Supreme Court Justice George Malcolm had been credited with writing the original Baguio charter, which was incorporated into Act No. 1963, when he served as a law clerk for the American colonial government in the early 1900s.
Baguio was designed, built and declared a chartered city in 1909 by the American colonial government. It served as a hill station and summer government site for American officials who needed to escape the heat of Manila during the dry season. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals still hold summer sessions in the city every April.
The majority of the council last year tried but failed to get the bicameral committee version of RA 11689 vetoed by Malacañang due to “objectionable” provisions.
Among the council’s primary concerns was the exclusion of the Camp John Hay reservation, which is administered by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, from the Baguio townsite reservation.
According to the council, it may affect Baguio’s stake at the former American-run John Hay Air Station due to unfulfilled conditions set by the city when it endorsed the commercialization of 280 hectares of that reservation in 1995.
The council also protested the absence of a defined territorial boundary for Baguio.
In earlier forums, Go said Congress simply defined Baguio as “the present territorial jurisdiction of the city,” because of unresolved boundary disputes with neighboring Benguet towns like Tuba.
Many of these errors were discovered by the council when provisions of the draft law was outlined to them in March last year by Secretary Luzverfeda Pascual, presidential adviser on legislative affairs, who had clamored for the new Baguio Charter to undergo a referendum.
Olowan said the absence of a fixed boundary and the expansion of the Camp John Hay territory could trigger accusations of gerrymandering, a political term for the manipulation of electoral district boundaries.
Go has yet to issue a statement, but his office informed the Inquirer on Monday that the lawmaker would wait for the council’s written suggestions until July 24.
Go had filed House Bill (HB) No. 7406, which amends four provisions of RA 11689.
For instance, HB 7406 removes the provincial board provision that got Olowan’s ire this week.
It also reinstates a 1909 provision that allows Baguio to retain all revenues from the sale of townsite lands. This time, a portion of townsite sales revenues would go to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which validates and approves townsite sales applications alongside the Baguio government.
Go had declined the council’s invitations to discuss the charter formally at its sessions, drawing the ire of city legislators.