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BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — The Supreme Court has upheld the victory of Sugpon, Ilocos Sur against Bakun, Benguet on a boundary dispute involving 1,117.20 hectares (120.25 million square feet) of border land.
The High court’s Third Division, in its decision dated April 20 but only released on September 12, denied for lack of merit Bakun’s petition against the Court of Appeals’ February 1, 2018, and July 6, 2018 resolutions.
The CA resolutions upheld the April 28, 2015, and July 27, 2015 decisions of the Regional Trial Court Branch 25 in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur.
Lawyer and former Ilocos Sur Sangguniang Panlalawigan Member Pablito Sanidad, Jr. said the SC decision was a “historical win” for the province.
Among the key points that won the dispute for Sugpon, a 5th-class municipality with a 2020 population of less than 5,000 is a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title presented by its local government.
It showed continuous occupation by indigenous residents of Sugpon.
Bakun, with a population of more than 14,000 is a third-class municipality.
The High Court decision set aside the May 2014 joint resolution of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Benguet and Ilocos Sur, adjudicating the dispute.
“Bakun simply failed to show, by preponderant evidence, that the conflicted areas are located within the ‘new boundary line’,” said the decision.
While Bakun presented five documents showing it exercises some acts of dominion over the property, the town failed to prove that the modified boundary line covers the disputed areas,” the High Court said.
Sugpon, meanwhile, was able to present the Administrative Map of Benguet showing the area under contention outside the province’s territory.
Sugpon also acquired certifications from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the Ilocos Sur Division Office of the Department of Education, affirming the location of the land within its jurisdiction.
Why is it important?
“The real significance [of the victory] is it increases the National Tax Allotment for Ilocos Sur and Sugpon,” Sanidad told Rappler on Tuesday, September 20.
Allotment from the national tax is based on land area, population, and income.
During his nine-year stint as a provincial council member from 2013 to 2022, Sanidad headed the contingent that negotiated with Benguet and other provinces regarding boundary disputes.
“Sugpon really did their research to prove that the area in dispute belongs to them,” Sanidad said.
“We had to go to the boundary, to the disputed area and interview the residents that are there… It was a barren and mountainous area, but there were residents in those area that we were able to talk to,” he added.
Sanidad said the dispute, like most boundary disputes they contended with, “originated from the several border changes throughout the century.”
Bakun and Sugpon were originally part of the Amburayan subprovince within the Mountain Province during the American period. But in 1917, the municipalities of Taguidin, Alilem, Sigay, Sugpon, and Suyo were placed under the jurisdiction of Ilocos Sur.
The boundary line between Mountain Province, La Union, and Ilocos was established in 1920 through Act No. 2877. However, the law did not fix the borders between Bakun and Sugpon.
Sanidad said that before Sugpon decided to seek the court’s intervention, the provincial board of Benguet and Ilocos Sur held hearings to adjudicate the matter. He said they must go through this “political exercise” as the law provides.
Section 118c of the Local Government Code states that “boundary disputes involving municipalities or component cities of different provinces shall be jointly referred for settlement to the Sanggunians of the provinces concerned.”
“Of course, the representatives from Benguet will not agree to give the land to Ilocos Sur and us from Ilocos Sur will also not approve of allowing Benguet to have the area,” Sanidad said.
“Actually, we had a tie. So, the presiding officer has to break the tie. And at that time, the joint committee on the boundary dispute on Bakun and Sugpon was the vice governor of Benguet. And when he broke the tie, of course he voted in favor of Benguet,” he recalled.
Aside from Bakun, the provinces have two more border rows – between Cervantes, Ilocos Sur and Mankayan, Benguet and Sugpon and Kibungan.
Proceedings for both disputes are still ongoing between the provinces.
“I think this is a wakeup call for Benguet… I guess they will research more and will try to fortify their positions now,” Sanidad said. – Rappler.com