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battle to protect busol on; mayor discards ancestral claims over watershed

BAGUIO CITY – The city government’s battle for the protection of Busol watershed took a new twist last week as the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) issued a temporary restraining order barring the Baguio Regreening Movement (BRM) from undertaking a nursery project over an area claimed by an ancestral land applicant.
But Mayor Mauricio Domogan last Wednesday said the nursery project pushed through last July 5 implemented by foresters from the city environment and parks management office and the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“Since the city government and the DENR were not restrained, the city proceeded with the nursery project which is part of our mandate to protect and nurture the remaining portions of the watershed,” the mayor said.
Councilor Erdolfo Balajadia, chair of the BRM, last Monday raised alarm over Busol’s condition in view of NCIP’s seeming bias towards the ancestral land claimants.
“We are worried that if applications for titling of portions of Busol watershed in favor of these applicants will not be stopped, we will lose the watershed which supplies 38 percent of the city’s potable water supply,” Balajadia lamented.
The mayor agreed that NCIP’s move to issue the restraining order in favor of the ancestral land applicants within just a few days from filing by the applicants was rather unusual.
The NCIP had in the past issued similar restraining orders that thwarted the city’s efforts to demolish the illegal structures in the said watershed.
This despite Supreme Court decisions denying with finality the claim of ownership by the Busol claimants, according to the mayor.
The mayor cited the decision of the Court of First Instance in Civil Reservation Case No. 1 dated November 13, 1922 as reiterated in the case of the Heirs of Gumangan et. Al. vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 75672 and 75673 dated April 19, 1989 and in the recent of the City of Baguio et. al. vs. Brain Masweng et. al. GR No. 180206 promulgated on Feb, 4, 2009.
The said decision which recognized Busol wastershed as “inalienable” has attained finality as of June 9, 2009, according to the mayor.
The mayor reiterated the said court decision to NCIP Baguio officer-in-charge John Ray Libiran who furnished the city mayor with a copy of a resolution of Busol claimants composed of the heirs of Molintas, Kalomis, Gumangan and Rafael serving intention to agree to a joint survey of the metes and bounds of the watershed.
In his letter to Libiran, the mayor discarded the heir’s claims on the legitimacy of their applications over Busol lands based on the court decisions.
“Notwithstanding the foregoing final decisions of the court that finally denied the alleged ancestral land claim of the claimants over a portion of the Busol Watershed Reservation, we welcome a dialogue with them not on the said claims which had long time been denied but to collectively work together to continue ecological balance and preserve the fragile environment of the city,” the mayor wrote Libiran.
The mayor said the heirs may have misinterpreted their names’ identification in Proclamation No. 15 as recognition of their claims but he said the court ruled that the Proclamation “merely identifies the families… but does not acknowledge vested rights over the same” and thus did not give a “definitive recognition” of their claims.
The bamboo nursery project which is a joint project of the city, the BRM with barangays Ambiong, Brookspoint, East Bayan Park and Pacdal, is located at a site being claimed by the Ampaguey family within the watershed.
The project was supposed to have started last June 26 but members of the family barred the implementers.
On July 3, the TRO was issued by the NCIP barring the BRM and Councilor Balajadia from pursuing the project but on July 4 Mayor Domogan issued a directive for the removal of the barriers put up by the claimants and for the CEPMO to fence off the area for the nursery project which was carried out on July 5. – A Refuerzo

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