Stone Kingdom faces regulatory hurdles
The renowned Igorot Stone Kingdom, a beloved tourist destination known for its unique stone structures and cultural appeal, grapples with regulatory challenges particularly in obtaining necessary permits and land titles.
This was revealed by its owner, Engr. Pio Velasco, during the regular session of the Baguio City Council on February 5, 2024.
In his dialogue with city officials, Velasco narrated the struggles he had to encounter to secure these permits.
One of the primary challenges cited was the requirement for a land title which is essential for obtaining a building permit. He said, although they had initiated the titling process for certain portions of their property, the lengthy bureaucratic procedures had caused delays in compliance. He emphasized that a significant time was required for procedures such as approvals, surveys, and documentation, leading to delays in obtaining a title.
These delays in titling could potentially impact the Stone Kingdom management to operate legally within the city. Velasco pointed out that many properties in the city lack titles, making it difficult to obtain building permits.
Engr. Stephen Capuyan, Asst Department Head of the City Building and Architecture Office (CBAO), emphasized the need to adhere to the regulations outlined in the National Building Code. He mentioned that while there may be discussions about exemptions from building fees for specific types of structures particularly those of cultural and indigenous significance like the Stone Kingdom, the need for a building permit is not negotiable under the law.
Capuyan and Councilor Fred Bagbagen said there is a need to validate the Stone Kingdom’s structural integrity and check its ability to withstand earthquakes. However, Velasco asserted that the structures had undergone slope analysis and structural testing, with certifications attesting to their stability. He further claimed that the buildings could withstand an earthquake of up to magnitude 8 based on analyses conducted near fault lines in the area.
Velasco also highlighted a significant obstacle in the conversion of residential properties into commercial status before becoming eligible for the issuance of aa business permit. He said that this conversion process, especially for properties along roads, should be streamlined.
Asked by Councilor Benny Bomogao on how the city can improve its permitting processes to facilitate economic growth while ensuring compliance with safety and regulatory standards, Velasco suggested that businesses be allowed to proceed with operations while completing their requirements.
It can be remembered that the Stone Kingdom was issued notices of violations last year due to the absence of a building permit. This matter eventually went to court due to the presence of illegal structures. The city lost the case under Section 301 of the National Building Code because it failed to demonstrate how the buildings posed danger.
Recently, two ongoing structures were discovered, and notices of violations had been issued again for those structures. Capuyan urged Velasco to legalize the existing structures first before making any further improvements.
The construction of the stone kingdom started during the pandemic era when many workers were grounded without jobs to support their families due to lockdowns and restrictions. Velasco conceptualized and built it as a childhood dream and vision. According to him, he felt compelled to create job opportunities for his workers and materialize his dream despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. **Jordan G. Habbiling