Baguio charter change measure passes House
BAGUIO CITY—The summer capital is getting another shot at amending its 1909 Baguio City Charter, after Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. announced that a new bill passed third reading last week.
In a speech read by his son, Quezon City Rep. Christopher Belmonte, during the program for Baguio’s 105th founding anniversary on Monday.
Belmonte said amending the 1909 charter was Baguio’s way of “keeping up with fast changing times.”
But a city entitlement espoused by the 1909 charter may have been abandoned in the proposed modern charter, House Bill No. 3463.
Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr., who sponsored House Bill No. 3463 with Belmonte, told reporters that the new charter no longer allows the Baguio government to keep all proceeds from the sale of townsite lands sold to private owners.
The new measure replaces HB 121, the first charter measure passed by Congress in 2012, which was vetoed by President Aquino in January 2013, owing to reservations about its impact on the national land distribution process.
The city was designed and built by the American colonial government and was chartered as a townsite reservation.
Townsite lands are auctioned off by a committee composed of the city mayor and officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Section 2544 of the original Baguio charter states: “All [money] received from the sale of public lands within the city shall accrue to and be deposited in the treasury thereof, and all the fees and charges accruing with the city under general laws, which but for this chapter would accrue to a province (Benguet in this case) shall accrue to and be deposited in the treasury of the city.”
Baguio has been the only city operating in this manner since the turn of the 20th century until Mr. Aquino questioned this in his veto message of HB 121.
The President cited Section 80 of the Public Land Act which requires all land sale proceeds, including the sale of lands in townsite reservations, to be deposited in the national treasury.
Aliping said he drafted the measure to address all of Mr. Aquino’s concerns.
He said Baguio remained a townsite reservation. But instead of acquiring all of the townsite profits, Aliping said Baguio would receive a share of the proceeds as part of its annual internal revenue allotments (IRA), once the townsite revenues are remitted to the national treasury.
“This is the process under the Local Government Code (Republic Act No. 7160),” Aliping said.
HB 3463 also cites the free patent law and miscellaneous land sales as means of acquiring townsite lands in the city.
Victor Carantes, a retired Cordillera regional director for land services of the DENR, said the townsite sales provision introduced by the Americans in the 1909 charter helped preserve a city that was designed for 20,000 people.
The bidding process was intended to regulate the Baguio population, and the proceeds were remitted directly to Baguio to help finance its development, said Carantes, who used to process townsite sales applications (TSA) as a member of the townsite committee prescribed by the 1909 charter.
But the TSA process was stopped by a presidential decree in 1976, and was reinstated only in 1985, leaving a backlog of home lot applicants that grew to 20,000 potential homeowners and a bigger squatting problem, he said.
Aliping said HB 3463 included other amendments derived from Mr. Aquino’s veto message.
For instance, the new measure excludes the Camp John Hay reservation administered by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) from the townsite reservation.
Last month, the DENR denied BCDA’s application for a special land patent over the Camp John Hay reservation.
The modernization of the Baguio charter was first pursued by former Baguio representative and now Mayor Mauricio Domogan in 2001.
The measure passed the bicameral congressional committee last year under the sponsorship of Domogan’s successor, former Baguio Rep. Bernardo Vergara, who ran and lost in the 2013 elections.
Like HB 121, HB 3463 states that a modern charter would improve the system of townsite sales, and resolve a boundary dispute with neighboring Tuba town in Benguet province.
Aliping’s version of the charter said Baguio comprises its present territory, without prejudice to any future resolution to boundary disputes with adjacent local governments.
The city closed Session Road to traffic on Monday for a civic parade and a series of concerts for the city’s 105th founding anniversary. Also on Monday, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) declared Dominican Hill as a protected heritage site through the installation of a historical marker in the Diplomat Hotel. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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