Residents within the Busol Watershed appealed to the Baguio City Council to reconsider the proposed ordinance which, if and when approved, would mandate the fencing of the entire Busol Forest Reservation
(BFR) Baguio Side which is covered by Proclamation No. 15. The proposed ordinance in question seeks to establish, maintain, protect, and conserve identified communal forests, watersheds, parks, tree parks, spring lots, greenbelts, urban green zones, and other similar forest development projects in the city.

The BFR Baguio Side is one of the reservations identified by the proposed ordinance. Section 3 of the proposed ordinance states that all identified areas shall be “fenced-off” and shall be put up with appropriate signages indicating that these are protected areas. The inhabitants, occupants, and land claimants of the Busol Forest Reservation (BFR) Baguio Side and members of the Ambiong-Baguio, East Bayan, Brookspoint, Pacdal, and Peripheries (ABEBBPAP) Federation submitted to the Baguio City Council their
position paper opposing the inclusion of the entire forest reservation as a protected area to be fenced-off.

The position paper expressed that the provision of the proposed ordinance requiring the fencing of the
reservation and with no limit or restriction, flexibility, guidelines, or qualifications whatsoever is “distressing, causing too much anxiety and pain, too dangerous, and totally provocative.” “Imagine your own existing
dwelling or similar property very dear to you being fenced against your will and with a matching signage installed thereat,” the position paper read.

According to the position paper, the proposed ordinance would “only weaken the capacity and chance of those inhabitants including the ancestral land claimants to pursue whatever rights or claims, remaining or in the future, they have over the place.” The position paper suggested that the fencing and installation of signages should only focus on and be limited to the wholly unoccupied portions of the forest reservation.
Likewise, it called for a declaration or statement by the city government recognizing the existing human communities in the area.

“The proposed ordinance [should] not prejudice the legitimate pursuits by the BFR Baguio Side inhabitants
including the ancestral land claimants of their rights and claims thereof,” the position paper stressed.
The BFR Baguio Side straddles four contiguous barangays namely Pacdal, Ambiong-Baguio, East Bayan
Park, and Brookspoint. According to the ABEBBPAP Federation, there are 758 residential structures within the BFR Baguio Side alone with the most in number in Pacdal and Ambiong-Baguio.

The federation also claimed that there are about 4,500 permanent residents therein with the indigenous peoples constituting the vast majority of the population. The position paper further suggested that the total land area of the BFR Baguio Side should be determined accurately. It pointed out that the total land area of the BFR Baguio side is currently inconclusive as the proposed ordinance claims it to be 112 hectares while the Conservation and Development Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources asserts it is 83.968 hectares and the existing project map approximates the area to be 82.4617 hectares.

In a public consultation held last August 22, City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO)-Baguio said that the BFR had already been delineated and surveyed and that the data and the management plan had already been transmitted to the City Environment Park and Management Office.
In April 2021, some structures within the area were successfully dismantled by the city’s demolition team.

Subsequently, the ABEBBPAP Federation lobbied to the city council and Congressman Marquez Go for
the segregation of the heavily populated portion of the BFR Baguio Side. The federation asserted that, for decades, this portion had been resided by the descendants of four claimants namely Gumangan, Molintas,
Kalomis, and Rafael whose land claims are believed to have preceded the enactment of Proclamation No. 15.

The federation further claimed that Proclamation No. 15 mentions and recognizes the land claims of inhabitants within the reservation. It can be remembered, however, that the Supreme Court, in its 2014 decision, stated that Proclamation No. 15 does not appear to be a definitive recognition of ancestral land claims. The Supreme Court’s decision further stated that the proclamation “merely identifies the Molintas and Gumangan families as claimants of a portion of the Busol Forest Reservation but does not acknowledge vested rights over the same.”

The federation begged the city officials to consider their plight, stressing that the only way to protect the residents with legitimate land claims is for the inhabited portion to be segregated from the forest reservation.

Sangguniang Panlungsod/Jordan G. Habbiling

Amianan Balita Ngayon