IPs protest P10,000 fine for unpermitted structures in CJH reservation

BAGUIO CITY – Indigenous peoples (IPs) residing within the Camp John Hay (CJH) Forest Reservation are up in arms against the imposed administrative fines on their structures with no building permits.

Joselito Shontogan, the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of Loakan-Liwanag Barangay, brought to the attention of the Baguio City Council on June 3, 2024, that residential houses undergoing repairs in Loakan-Liwanag, Loakan Proper, and Camp 7 barangays had received notices of violation from the City Building and Architecture Office (CBAO).

Additionally, they were instructed to pay an administrative fine of P10,000.00 for breaching Section 301 of the National Building Code.

Loakan-Liwanag, Loakan Proper, and Camp 7 are three among the 13 barangays being eyed for segregation.

Aligned with the 19 conditions imposed for the development of the John Hay Special Economic Zone, the city government has been actively working for decades to achieve a commitment from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) concerning the segregation of the 13 barangays within the reservation.

According to records of the CBAO, there have been 34 notices of violation issued across the 13 barangays in response to complaints from the CJH management.

These violations are distributed as follows: four in Lucnab, 11 in Loakan-Liwanag, one in Upper Dagsian, 11 in Happy Hallow, one in Green Water, two in Camp 7, five in Country Club, and one in Scout Barrio.

Shontogan mentioned that residents were also ordered to obtain building permits, further complicating matters as they are unable to establish legal ownership over their properties amid the ongoing land dispute between the IPs in the 13 barangays and the BCDA.

Shontogan appealed to the city council for immediate intervention.

He sought assurance that they could proceed with repairing their structures without the threat of demolition, thus avoiding potential displacement.

In response to the appeal, the Baguio City Council requested a status quo from CBAO and the CJH management.

The body sought the suspension of the imposition of administrative fines until jurisdictional matters are clarified.

The city council further mandated Baguio IPMR Maximo Hilario Edwin Jr. to assist affected residents in negotiating the issue with proper government agencies.

In a phone interview, Donald Gas-ib, head of the CBAO Investigation and Demolition Division, said dialogues with the CJH management and the affected residents along with their respective barangay officials had been set to thresh matters out.

Gas-ib said the issuance of notices of violation was a response to the complaints filed by the CJH management before their office.

While he understands the sentiments of the affected residents, he said it is the mandate of their office to act on complaints regarding construction of structures without building permits.

He expressed hope that the issue would be resolved through diplomatic dialogues.

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