year-end stories

Lines drawn, battles fought: The Makati-Taguig land tussle in 2023

James Patrick Cruz

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Lines drawn, battles fought: The Makati-Taguig land tussle in 2023
2023 became the year of navigating this seismic shift, a journey marked by hiccups, power struggles, and people caught in the crossfire

For decades, the border between Taguig and Makati was more than just a line on a map – it was a source of simmering tension. 

In a landmark ruling in 2022, the Supreme Court reshuffled the deck, awarding Fort Bonifacio and the Enlisted Men’s Barrios (EMBO) to Taguig.

2023 became the year of navigating this seismic shift, a journey marked by hiccups, power struggles, and people caught in the crossfire.

Education: School daze in a divided landscape

The new school year in EMBO (Enlisted Men’s Barrio) was not just about a fresh set of backpacks and notebooks for public school students.

In August, Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano visited the Makati Science High School to lead the annual Brigada Eskwela, the government’s volunteer program for school repairs. Cayetano also met with principals, teachers, students, parents and volunteers from other schools in EMBO. 

She made the visit after Department of Education (DepEd) National Capital Region Director Wilfredo Cabral released a memo dated August 7, 2023, stating that 14 public schools in the EMBO localities were then under the management of the Taguig-Pateros division.

Following Cayetano’s visit, Makati asserted its ownership of the EMBO public schools by prominently displaying a large banner that boldly declared, “This property is owned by Makati.”

‘Banner war’ erupts as Taguig takes over some schools from Makati

‘Banner war’ erupts as Taguig takes over some schools from Makati

As tension intensified, the DepEd central office stepped in a few days later to directly supervise the affected schools and facilitate the transition.

Days after, Makati Mayor Abby Binay said that some public schools in EMBO barangays will be leased to the Taguig City government. Makati also started to put labels on its properties across the schools. 

“It’s not possible for Taguig to just take it, or else Makati will simply reclaim the equipment if Taguig or DepEd [is] not capable of compensating,” Binay said. 

Cayetano, however, seemed to be not keen on the idea of leasing the equipment, arguing that these schools were funded by the taxes of EMBO residents. 

For some EMBO residents, the opening of classes offered a glimpse of what Taguig has to offer to them, based on the free school kits given to public school students. These kits were compared to what they had received from the Makati government.

Lines drawn, battles fought: The Makati-Taguig land tussle in 2023

The fight even infected healthcare.

The Makati City government initially proposed a memorandum of agreement offering the Taguig government a substantial credit line that will give EMBO residents access to essential healthcare services in EMBO healthcare centers and the Ospital ng Makati. 

Taguig, however, said that Makati’s proposal was banking on “the false premise that they own the land and the health centers built thereon.” It also argued that it goes against the directive of Health Secretary Ted Herbosa to exclude ownership issues in the transition process. 

Business and infrastructure

The land issue also affected the financial landscape of both cities.

Taguig has started to provide instructions to EMBO residents to settle their real property taxes in Taguig. To encourage them, Taguig promised lower tax rates, discounts, and special lanes.

Taguig’s residential property tax rate is 2%, compared to Makati’s 2.5%. For commercial and industrial properties, Taguig levies a 2.5% tax rate, while Makati charges 3%.

Binay calculated that the cost of serving EMBO residents is a staggering P9 billion – a figure overshadowed by the relatively low tax income of P1 billion from these primarily residential areas.

Aside from revenues, Makati’s ambitious $3.5 billion subway project, envisioned to be the nation’s first, hit a deadend due to the shifting boundaries. 

Binay previously said that the subway system with 10 stations would connect key areas in Makati. It was projected to serve 54,000 passengers per hour in both directions.

Legal wranglings

In April 2022, the Supreme Court definitively ruled that the contested areas fall under the jurisdiction of Taguig, and subsequent pleas or motions will not be considered.

Despite this, the discussion extended to the necessity of a writ of execution following the Supreme Court ruling. A writ of execution is a legal directive from a court empowering the implementation of a judgment or court ruling.

Makati contended that this document is crucial to formalize the jurisdictional transfer. In contrast, Taguig maintained that these court decisions are inherently self-executing and there’s no need for a writ.

In October, the Makati City government turned to the court where the legal battle between the two cities started – the Taguig Regional Trial Court. 

Binay filed a motion for clarification and guidelines on how to implement the High Court’s decision. She also asked the court to order a status quo. 

Loyalty and politics

The recent barangay elections not only determined the new village officials, but also acted as a litmus test for loyalty among them. A notable majority seemed devoted to the Binays.

Instead of taking their oath before Cayetano, many newly-elected officials from the EMBO barangays opted to take their oath before Binay at the Makati City Hall.

In a Facebook post, Binay expressed her gratitude to the newly-elected officials for their “loyalty and solidarity.” 

The political influence of Cayetano in the EMBO barangays was also put to a test in the recent village polls.

Former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado was among the candidates that Cayetano backed in the 2023 barangay elections. Mercado was an ally of the Binays until he turned against the family patriarch, former vice president and Makati mayor Jejomar Binay, in a Senate hearing on alleged corruption in Makati in 2014. 

Mercado and other candidates backed by the Cayetanos lost. 

[OPINION] Political terrain in Taguig has shifted

[OPINION] Political terrain in Taguig has shifted
What’s next?

There are many questions and concerns that would have to be addressed in the coming year.

What will happen to District 2 of Makati which is largely in Taguig? Will it be dissolved? How will EMBO be represented in Congress and the city council?

As Taguig grapples with this internal reshuffle, can it effectively manage the disputed territory while facing off against rival claims from Pateros? 

Binay had also said that she was thinking about running for Taguig mayor. How will this figure in the already complex equation?

Only time will tell how this complex story would unfold, but one thing is certain: The shift in the map of this part of Metro Manila has left a tangled web of challenges. –

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James Patrick Cruz

Patrick Cruz is a researcher and writer for Rappler’s governance cluster. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, he covered local governments focusing on Metro Manila.