Issues on STP expansion project tackled

The Baguio City Council discussed last Monday several issues raised by residents of Purok 2 North Sanitary Camp Barangay concerning the proposed expansion and rehabilitation of the city’s sewage treatment plant (STP).

Atty. Rhenan Diwas, City Environment and Parks Management Officer, said that the upgrading or rehabilitation of the city’s STP will require the expansion of the area, affecting the residents living around the facility.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan and Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda advised Diwas to look into the claim of affected residents that the lot they are occupying is a titled property in the name of a private individual.

Diwas disclosed that the executive department is currently negotiating with the National Power Corporation (NPC) for the purchase of the land where the city’s STP is located. He affirmed that there are affected settlers within the NPC land. However, he was unaware of the case of the other affected individuals claiming they are occupying a titled private property excluded from the NPC land.

He said records obtained from the City Assessor’s Office made no mention of a titled lot owned by a private individual within the expansion area.

Olowan and Tabanda asserted that the identity of the lot in question should be studied thoroughly by the executive department to be able to properly address all land issues before carrying on with the project.

Mario Angnen, one of the affected residents, said they feared that the expansion of the city’s STP might lead to their dispossession and relocation.

The Luna Terraces located in Irisan, a socialized housing project, is being eyed as the relocation dwelling of these affected residents.

In a letter dated August 12, 2021 and addressed to Mayor Benjamin Magalong, the residents expressed their refusal to be relocated.

“We had introduced valuable and substantial improvements in the said area such as, but not limited to, clearing, construction of our residential houses with strong materials, and the construction of riprap in the river banks serving as flood control,” the letter stated.

The residents claimed they had been declaring and annually paying the real property taxes of their residential houses since 1988 as evidence of their possessory right. In the letter, they reiterated their appeal to the city government to help them acquire legal rights over the lot they are occupying.

Based on the joint profiling done by the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 76 families and 16 individuals living alone will be affected by the proposed project.

Virgilio Orca, Punong Barangay of North Sanitary Camp, disclosed that some affected residents agree with the proposed resettlement, but he appealed that the housing cost should not burden the affected individuals.

The residents opposing the proposed relocation also questioned the intent of the survey undertaken by the ADB and CSWDO. They said they willingly participated in the survey since they were made to understand that the purpose of it was only to determine the social and economic impact of the project.

But later on, they feared that their participation in the survey would be understood as concurrence with the proposed compensation or resettlement.

Diwas clarified that the results of the survey will dictate whether project alternatives shall be undertaken or whether to proceed with the project.

According to ADB’s Planning and Implementation Good Practice Sourcebook, ADB mandates its clients/borrowers to conduct surveys or censuses to identify all persons to be displaced by the project and to assess the project’s socioeconomic impacts on these affected persons. The social impact assessment is essential for the crafting of a resettlement plan that will ensure improved livelihoods and improved standards of living for all displaced persons.

The sourcebook stated ADB would not grant a loan to any applicant that is not compliant to its policies and objectives.

Diwas said there is no final and concrete plan yet for the implementation of the project and that everything accomplished so far is a preparatory measure.

In April 2021, various meetings and consultations were conducted by the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) for the preparation of the Preliminary Resettlement Action Plan (PRAP) for the affected residents within the expansion area. Also, during one of the meetings, a cut-off date for the entitlement of compensation by the project was set. The agreed cut-off date which was April 22, 2021 would cover the completion of the surveys for the residents affected by the STP expansion.

TIEZA is the national agency partner of the city government for the implementation of its sewerage projects. A paying scheme has been arranged where TIEZA shall obtain a loan from ADB on behalf of the city, then the city shall pay TIEZA the amount of the said loan.

Diwas explained that the purpose of the cut-off date is to determine the value of assets within the area for compensation. He explained that additional improvements built or introduced after the cut-off date would not be compensated.

In his letter to the city council, Mayor Magalong requested the legislative body to confirm/affirm the established cut-off date as required by TIEZA.

The city council members, however, asserted they cannot act favorably on the request as the legislative body was not involved in the planning stage of the project, thus had no knowledge about it.

The city council referred the matter to the Sanggunian’s Committee on Laws, Human Rights, and Justice for further study. –Jordan G. Habbiling