Baguio council mulls over purchase of Topinao land
The Baguio City Council once again deliberated on the prospect of purchasing parcels of land in Topinao, Tuba, Benguet as part of the city’s land banking initiative.
Several city council members expressed reservations on the request of Mayor Benjamin Magalong to grant him an authority to enter into a Deed of Absolute Sale for the purchase of the said land.
The land consists of two parcels with a combined area of 63,585 square meters. The properties are being sold to the city government for P95,377,000.00.
In the Annual Investment Plan for Fiscal Year 2020 which was approved by the city council in 2020, the executive department identified the purchase of the said land as one of the city’s priority projects for land banking purposes.
According to Oxford Languages Dictionary, land banking is “the practice of buying land as an investment, holding it for future use and making no specific plans for its development.”
Councilor Michael Lawana expressed objection to the purchase of the land, stressing that the said land banking initiative “lacked sufficient details.”
“All items in the AIP that we approved have very specific details except for Item 8 which is the purchase of the land in Topinao. It is very general. There is no technical description of the project title which is very important, and there are no detailed metes and bounds indicated,” he said.
Meanwhile, Councilor Leandro Yangot Jr. underscored that the land to be purchased is outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the city; thus, according to him, the city government has no control over the area “in case something goes wrong.”
“Should we pursue the sale, we must be assured that there is a perpetual road right-of-way leading to the property. Should the city government decide to develop it, we have to contend with the arduous process of getting through development restrictions, planning, as well as legal costs. If the city fails, the city’s investment would remain stagnant and the land would remain unsaleable,” Yangot stated.
Magalong’s request for an authority to enter into a Deed of Absolute Sale had been referred to the city council’s Committee on Laws, Human Rights, and Justice.
In its report endorsing the approval of Magalong’s request, the committee asserted that the said request should be granted on the grounds that the city council had approved the Annual Investment Plan for Fiscal year 2020 which covered the funding requirements of the said lot purchase. The committee also pointed out that an amount of P120,000,000.00 had been appropriated for the lot purchase by virtue of Ordinance 42-2020.
Citing the case of Verceles vs. Commission on Audit, the committee highlighted the Supreme Court’s explanation on Section 465(b), (1), (vi) of the Local Government Code which stressed that “the prior authorization for the local chief executive to enter into contracts on behalf of the local government unit (LGU) may be in the form of an appropriation ordinance passed for the year which specifically covers the project, cost, or contract to be entered into by the LGU.”
The committee claimed that, under the Local Government Code, the local chief executive is allowed to implement specific projects with corresponding appropriations without securing a separate authority from the city council, provided there are appropriation ordinances covering the funding requirements of such projects.
Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda asked, “If it is true that the council’s [authority] is not needed, then why do we still have to act on [the mayor’s request]?”
She also claimed that the purchase of the parcels of land in Topinao is different from the case of Quisumbing vs. Garcia which was cited by the Supreme Court in its Verceles vs. Commission on Audit ruling since the subject of the said case was a project involving the procurement of goods and services which required a public bidding; whereas there was no public bidding involved in the executive department’s plan to purchase the parcels of land in Topinao.
Tabanda agreed with the committee’s recommendation in its report that there should be guidelines to be approved by the city council on the city’s land banking initiatives.
Furthermore, she asked about the method of selection for the land to be purchased.
“Why this lot? Why not any other lot? Has the method of the selection for this property been strictly in compliance with procedures provided for by law considering that there was no public bidding since it is not for the procurement of goods and services?” she continued.
The other councilors stressed that the identification of the land to be purchased should have gone through a procurement procedure in compliance with any existing procurement law.
Councilor Levy Lloyd Orcales said the city government needs to categorically identify who and which sector will benefit from this undertaking.
“Who would be our direct beneficiaries? would it be the peasants, the farmers, the manufacturing sector, or our landless and houseless constituents in the city? [I hope it would be] the powerless and the marginalized. But based on the previous discussions, this question was not answered,” Orcales said.
During an earlier session they attended, Magalong and City Planning and Development Coordinator Donna Tabangin told the council that the land to be purchased could be used for the creation of a new economic zone where different industries could thrive or flourish and for the city’s future housing projects.
Councilor Mylen Yaranon questioned the timing of the plan of the executive department to purchase the 95-M land.
“From the very beginning, I have always asked if this is a priority at this time or not. For me, it isn’t. In the coming years, we have to tighten our belts because of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Yaranon claimed.
Councilors Peter Fianza and Jose Molintas, chairperson and member of the committee, argued that these issues raised by the other councilors should have been taken up during the approval of the Annual Investment Plan and the appropriation ordinance.
Taking into account the opinions raised by the council members, Fianza withdrew the committee’s report endorsing Magalong’s request for further study on the matter. **Jordan G. Habbiling