Magalong vows demolition of structures in forest reserve

Magalong vows demolition of structures in forest reserve

BAGUIO CITY – Mayor Benjamin Magalong will pursue the demolition of illegal structures at the Busol watershed, one of the city’s biggest sources of potable water, chief of the city public information office, Aileen Refuerzo, said Friday.

This was after the city government discovered that occupants at the watershed reneged on an agreement in 2019 that they would help prevent the entry of intruders and would not introduce additional improvements to their structures.

Busol is one of the few remaining forest reserves in the city, hence the need to preserve it.

The city government demolished five of the 16 structures at the watershed on March 23 and 24. Eleven of the structures were spared after their owners were able to obtain a temporary restraining order from the court.

Refuerzo said the city conducted a series of dialogues with the watershed occupants on the city’s demolition plan in 2019 after Magalong assumed as mayor of Baguio.

An agreement was entered into with about 150 occupants and heads of the four barangays straddling the reservation for them to cooperate with the city by refraining from introducing improvements or expanding their structures.

The occupants also agreed to help guard the watershed against intruders.

However, the city government found out that instead of complying with the agreement, the occupants made expansions, and new structures mushroomed inside the watershed, Refuerzo said.

She said the City Buildings and Architecture Office notified the affected parties in January of the scheduled demolition, which however covered only five occupants.

Refuerzo said the mayor has stressed the city’s firm position to safeguard the remaining unoccupied portion of the watershed, which is estimated at only 60 percent of Baguio’s side of the reservation

A portion of the Busol watershed is within the jurisdiction of La Trinidad, Benguet.

Several cases involving informal settlers and ancestral land claimants remain pending in court but its protection needs to be pursued.

Refuerzo shared that on Feb. 4, 2009, the Supreme Court ruled with finality in favor of sustaining the city government’s bid to demolish some structures covered by Demolition Order 33 series of 2005 of former mayor Braulio Yaranon.

She said in its decision, the Supreme Court sustained the city government’s contention that it is governed by its charter and “thus, (lot occupants) cannot claim their alleged ancestral lands under the provisions of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA).”

Other cases are pending before various courts.

Refuerzo said the city is also poised to pursue the reversion procedures before the Office of the Solicitor General to reclaim a 7.8-hectare lot at the Busol watershed that was divided into 22 lots and illegally titled by unscrupulous individuals in 2015. (PNA)

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