Baguio City

Baguio councilor files graft complaint vs Magalong over P95-M Benguet land deal

Sherwin de Vera, Mia Magdalena Fokno

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Baguio councilor files graft complaint vs Magalong over P95-M Benguet land deal

BAGUIO MAYOR. Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong delivers a speech in Baguio City

Baguio City LGU

(1st UPDATE) Councilor Mylen Victoria Yaranon files the complaint five days before Christmas, accusing Baguio's mayor of giving a Benguet landowner 'unwarranted benefit'

BAGUIO, Philippines – A city councilor has filed a graft complaint against Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong for the alleged anomalous purchase of a 6.5-hectare property for nearly P100 million early this year.

Baguio Councilor Mylen Victoria Yaranon filed the complaint for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees against Magalong on December 20, just five days before Christmas.

In her complaint, Yaranon asked the Office of the Ombudsman to suspend and then remove Magalong from public office.

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‘Scandalous price’

The councilor’s complaint stemmed from the city hall’s purchase of parcels of land in Topinao, Tuba, Benguet, for a socialized housing project. 

The city government bought the 65,585-square meter property, owned by one William Tan Jr. and his daughter, for P95.377 million.

Yaranon said the city government bought the property at “a scandalous price” of P1,650 per square meter.

She alleged that there was no road leading to the area, and a third of the property was “not suitable for residential use.” 

“[Magalong] also acted in bad faith or inexcusable negligence when he signed the Deed of Absolute Sale without authority from the Sangguniang Panglungsod,” Yaranon said. 

She accused Magalong of giving the Tans “unwarranted benefit, advantage, or preference” at the expense of the local government. 

Yaranon alleged that even before the approval of the ordinance allocating P120 million to buy the lots, the mayor was already negotiating with the owners. 

She criticized Magalong for allegedly not disclosing the city government’s intent to purchase land and organize a public bidding process to secure a more competitive offer. The councilor alleged that there was an absence of a thorough examination of the property’s status.

Yaranon argued that a feasibility study should have been undertaken before the acquisition to assess its benefits for the city.

Notice of dispute

The controversy traces back to an offer by Tan Jr. on January 4, 2020, to sell his Topinao property to the city government.

Subsequent requests by Magalong to the City Council for authorization to proceed with the purchase, dated March 23, 2022, and April 13, 2022, allegedly received no formal approval. 

These requests were followed by inquiries from the City Council into various aspects of the property, including accessibility, geo-hazard risks, and its agricultural status.

According to Councilor Yaranon, the property involved in the Deed of Absolute Sale executed on January 10, 2023, contains a Lis Pendens annotation, indicating pending legal disputes over title or interest. 

She said this raised further questions about the prudence of the transaction and its implications for the city government’s interests.

However, a report by Councilor Peter Fianza, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Human Rights, Law, and Justice, showed that the previous City Council had authorized the purchase, including the adoption of a resolution approving its inclusion in the annual investment plan and an ordinance allocating funds for the acquisition. 

One report showed that in April 2020, the City Council approved a P704.1-million supplemental budget, which included P120 million for the purchase of the Tan property. 

A July 2022 report of the City Council’s Committee on Laws showed authority requested by Magalong to buy the property was given when the local legislature approved Baguio’s 2020 Annual Investment Plan, providing funds for the specified programs and projects. 

‘Good faith’

Baguio City Legal Officer Thea Alberto said the Lis Pendens – a notice to potential buyers that there is a legal claim or dispute involving a property – pertains only to a part of the lot, and that at the time of the purchase, “the title was clear, and the city acted in good faith.”

Alberto assured transparency and adherence to legal protocols.

Architect Donna Tabangin, who heads Baguio’s City Planning, Development, and Sustainability Office, emphasized the importance of the land purchase for the city hall’s housing development project. She described it as a crucial step in addressing Baguio’s housing backlog of 28,000 units.

In a statement, Magalong said he would face Yaranon and respond to her allegations “in the interest of truth and justice.” 

“I am prepared to answer all the charges in the proper forum. I welcome the development to determine who is telling the truth,” said Magalong, adding that all documents about the controversial land purchase are available for public scrutiny. 

Magalong added, “I am confident that justice will prevail because the acquisition of this lot, which is intended for our socialized housing project, underwent a complete, correct, and transparent process. Due diligence was observed all throughout.” 

Magalong, who is known to be advocating “Good governance beyond politics,” is one of the lead convenors of the “Mayors for Good Governance Movement” launched in August at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. 

Magalong and Yaranon don’t see eye to eye. In 2022, the councilor filed a complaint for slander and libel against Magalong.

Yaranon is also the only member of the Liberal Party (LP) in the city council who was excluded in Magalong’s ticket in the 2022 elections. That year, Magalong included LP candidates for City Council seats in his line-up of bets. – Rappler.com

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