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NCIP confirms fraud in Baguio land titling

/ 12:20 AM September 30, 2015

BAGUIO CITY—The agency that issues ancestral land titles has found evidence of fraud in the processing of three property claims here, including one made over a section of the Mansion, the official summer residence of the Philippine President.

Acts of fraud explain the “undue haste” in releasing certificates of ancestral land title (CALTs) to Ibaloy claims inside the Mansion compound and the Wright Park; the Forbes Park on South Drive and sections of the Baguio Botanical Garden reservation; and the city’s oldest hotel, Casa Vallejo, on Session Road, according to an investigation team from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

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The NCIP report was discussed during a session of the city council on Monday. It was part of the evidence submitted to the court by the city government, which was sued in August for allegedly preventing a businesswoman from developing a section of a titled ancestral land that she bought, said Melchor Carlos Rabanes, city legal officer.

The investigation started after the Commission on Audit (COA) reported the disappearance of three ancestral land title forms from the NCIP archives that correspond to the CALTs issued in 2010 to the heirs of Cosen Piraso; Josephine Abanag and Mercedes Tabon; and Lauro Carantes. The forms authenticate the CALTs.

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The NCIP team discovered “procedural and substantive defects, [which] constitute fraud that warrants the cancellation of the CALTs issued,” according to an Aug. 24 en banc resolution signed by NCIP Chair Leonor Oralde-Quintayo and Commissioners Zenaida Brigida Pawid, Bayani Sumaoang, Cosme Lambayon and Dionesia Banua.

The NCIP en banc attributed these irregularities to NCIP officers and employees who were directed to respond before the commission could “act on the findings and recommendations.”

The NCIP team said the CALTs for the three families turned out to be registered with the city’s Register of Deeds on Dec. 8, 2010, although the titles have not been officially released.

Addressing the sets of CALT issued to Piraso and Carantes, the team said the ancestral lots “have already been allocated to different individuals, to whom apparently eventual transfers would be made through transfer certificates of title, [which was] a circumvention of the prohibition under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (Republic Act No. 8371, or Ipra).”

Ipra prescribes a process for transferring ancestral lands using customary laws. It restricts the sale of titled ancestral lands only to members of the family or the family’s indigenous peoples’ group.

The NCIP said it was apparent that transfers of titles were being negotiated before the sets of CALT were issued.

It also discovered “documentation anomalies,” including what appeared to be a falsified document of the Land Registration Authority, which is a prerequisite for the conversion of CALTs into private titles.

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The team said the sets of CALT issued to Abanag were processed and approved without a survey plan.

It said the spurious ancestral land title forms, which disappeared from the NCIP, bore the signature of then NCIP Chair Roque Agton and were under the custody of Myrna Caoagas, then ancestral domain office director. Agton and Caoagas  disowned responsibility for the loss, the team said.

The heirs of Abanag went to court to stop the construction of a Philippine Television Network (PTV) building at the Philippine Information Agency in front of the Mansion. The facilities are within the Mansion property.

Last year, the Piraso family issued Casa Vallejo’s administrators an ejection notice.

On Aug. 20, the lawyer of businesswoman Imelda Tan Lao asked the court to compel the city government to issue the permits she needed to develop a 2,972-square-meter lot in front of the Mansion.

In the petition, Tan’s lawyer, Jose Olarte Jr., said his client did not know that the property was derived from ancestral lands. But Olarte said that since a CALT covered a private property, the land sale was valid.

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