Officials of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) informed the members of the Baguio City Council in a forum last February 13 that the academy would not demolish structures of land claimants situated within the military reservation unless there is a demolition order issued by the court or by the mayor. Maj. Julesther Cañada, PMA real estate officer, said the academy has “no authority” to dismantle structures within the 373-hectare military reservation without any court’s or city’s order.

LTC Maria Elena Esteban, PMA’s legal officer, said the academy had not executed any demolition, adding that all issues arising from the construction of structures in the area by private citizens are
referred to the city’s anti-squatting committee. To date, there are two cases of “squatting” referred to the committee, she said. The discussion stemmed from a city council resolution stating that there shall be a “status quo” in the area pending the resolution of a land dispute between PMA and the Bontoc Organization of Purok Ongasan, Loakan, Incorporated (BOPOLI).

During the forum, it was clarified that the status quo pertained to the agreement between PMA and BOPOLI during a committee hearing conducted by Councilor Leonardo Yangot Jr. on August 17, 2022 that there would be no demolition of structures; and that the status quo did not pertain to the construction of a fence surrounding the military reservation.

It may be remembered that the BOPOLI members, in 2021, had protested against the construction
of a perimeter fence which they claimed would enclose the lot they are currently occupying. The
fencing project is funded by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the
Department of National Defense (DND). A fencing permit had earlier been issued by the chief engineer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who serves as the building official authorized by the DPWH to issue fencing and building permits for structures within military reservations in the country.

The lot occupied by BOPOLI members is part of the area covered by Proclamation No. 2405, s.
1985 which declared certain portions of land of the public domain situated in Fort Gregorio Del Pilar as a military reservation subject to prior rights, if any there be. The entire reservation covers an area of 3,731,399 square meters more or less whereas the lot claimed by BOPOLI covers an area of 29,631 square meters. The BOPOLI members claimed the said area had been occupied by their forefathers since World War II and prior to the establishment of PMA.

Cañada and Esteban disclosed that the fencing project is “eighty-percent done and still ongoing.”
They assured the city officials and the BOPOLI members that populated areas would not be fenced as issues on land claims are being resolved. Meanwhile, Atty. Severino Lumiqued, lawyer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples-Cordillera Administrative Region (NCIP-CAR), apprised the city council that there are two pending applications for Certificates of Ancestral Land Titles (CALTs) covering portions of lands within the military reservation. These are the applications filed by the heirs of Chacchakan covering an area of more than 28 hectares and by the heirs of Bella Canda covering an area of more than three hectares.

SP/Jordan G. Habbiling

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