By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
Here are some stories of people who were impoverished by the land laws that were manipulated to enrich conniving politicians.
This first subject is a descendant of the original peoples of Baguio City. Her great and great-great grand parents panned for gold and were cattle ranchers who by the mark-of-the hooves of their cattle on the ground defined the extent of their landholdings that literally was as far as the eye could see. Today, she is about 94 years old.
As it was in her time she was married-off in her early teens. She remembered her father was a drunk and a gambler while her mother worked-off her back in the field, and to preserve their lands inherited from her maternal grandfather her mother depended on an uncle who was lettered to take care of the land ownership and government requirements.
As she remembers their land became smaller and smaller not because it was sold but more because the government, according to her as it was explained by her uncle to her mother; said it was needed “ by the bigger number of people” and they had to give way.
The money from the land they were able to sell was spent to pay lawyers, courts and to pay taxes in the endless fight to defend what landholdings was left. Her uncle is long gone now.
In 1991 she was one of those who along with her sisters and brother filed an ancestral land claim over the last piece of land left from what was taken by the government in the name of the greater Filipino people.
Then some ten years ago, they were told to move again because the area “where they are now is still part of the proclaimed government land and government now needs to use it. She was told they would come “to demolish my house if I do not remove it. There is no ancestral land title yet. I hope they give it soon for where will I go now? They have taken everything,” she lamented.
This second subject is the descendant, a niece and adopted daughter, of a migrant from Mountain Province who came to Baguio to escape the war (WWII) and the scorn of her village for having had lost three husbands successively and then her three young children (to sickness) during the war.
According to Luz, (her nickname) when her mother arrived in Baguio, she found refuge and employment among the Bontoc migrants in the city. Later she found a better paying employment among the natives of Baguio and one of her native employers allowed her to build a hut in their land and later allowed her to apply for it (when the land laws gave an ultimatum for natives to register their landholdings which was then limited to only five hundred square meters maximum).
Luz said, “being unlettered the employer applied for the land in her mother’s name instead of giving it to the government, the employer explained,” and then gave her mother all the papers of ownership.
Then in the late ‘70s some government employees had their house ordered demolished for which they had to go to city hall to clarify the matter. They were told that city hall recognized their ownership and told them to pay taxes and finalize their claim over the land (tax declaration). But then this government employee knew better and by some magic trick eventually took over the land but allowed Luz to rebuild their shack in one tiny corner of the land beside his new three-storey mansion and even employed her as lavandera to pay her “share of the land taxes”. Luz’s mother passed a few years later. Luz is now about 65 years old.
Our third subject is from Ifugao whose husband came to Baguio to contract in kabite work (stonewall building) and as a contract woodcarver in the early 80s. She followed him later and they rented a room until they were offered a piece of land by, what she referred to as a “squatters’ organization” which is now called a “home owners association”. According to Sabit, she and her husband took over a piece of land abandoned by a former member of the organization. They built a shack in the alleged 100 square meters lot and planted the rest of the unoccupied space with sayote and kamote. They now have five children and the youngest barely two years old.
They pay the president of the organization, who is also employed in the government, a monthly fee that is said to be used for the fixing of the papers and government fees of the land. They are not given receipts or copies of the documents for the payments. There are about fifty to seventy members, all of whom were promised eventual ownership of the land “soon”.
Yet according to Sabit, they are continuously threatened with demolition by the City. Every time a demolition notice comes they are informed of it and an amount is collected (aside from the regular monthly fees) and they have to drop everything they are doing and group-up to wait for the demolition team to arrive and then leave (lest their house be demolished without them) before they can go back to work again.
In one of these demolition threats the representative of the government explained to them that the land they have built-on is titled. The owner has now filed a complaint in court and therefore they cannot own it unless they legally buy it from the owner. The organization’s president said that he is working on it and therefore Sabit and other members must keep paying the land owner.
Why don’t they complain or leave? I asked. Sabit explained, “We have put so much money already and we cannot afford rent and where can we go?”
Se liv vie … such is life in one of the bottom rungs of the beautiful Baguio City!#