Uriel Quilinguing .
CAMPAIGN promises from those who lost in electoral contests may still make sense, particularly from aspirants of substance. They may have impressive academic credentials and honorifics are attached to their names, yet these do not matter to most voters today. And, if we examine the list of winners, they are the ones voters can easily relate to, those who are not necessarily a cut from the rest, yet their names were expertly packaged with images of lasting imprints, catchy words and sounds for easy recall.
Take the case of Gil Banaag, a lawyer and a certified public accountant, who has at least 17 years of experience in public service as a city finance employee and a barangay council member; he was a poor third in last week’s congressional race in Cagayan de Oro’s first district.
It’s a check when it comes to name recall for incumbent Congressman Rolando “Klarex” Uy, who overwhelmingly got a fresh mandate, being with the political party in power, backed by an impressive record of performance, a well-oiled organization and sufficient logistics.
But the underrated Banaag, who is also a licensed real estate broker, made a startling revelation when he, during the candidates’ forum at Xavier University, said that about 92 hectares in three of the city’s suburban barangays of Bulua, Bayabas and Carmen should be reclassified from timberland to alienable and disposable (A&D) lands. This, he said, would be one of his legislative priorities if he made it to the House of Representatives.
Pressed for explanation, Banaag who is also a weekly newspaper publisher, said the city government would stand to benefit from the reclassification of these timberlands since real estate taxes of these lands, once these are declared A&D lands, would increase, other than the legitimizing the claims of the occupants. Even non-lawyers know that timberlands, which are supposed to be lands of public domain cannot be titled by private groups or individuals.
Even former councilor and vice mayor Cesar Ian Acenas, who was also seeking the congressional seat in the first district, agreed with Banaag, and said that a private corporation has already been utilizing a portion of lands still classified as timberland.
Both Banaag and Acenas failed in their bids yet they must have left something for people to ponder on.
Mediakonek can hardly believe only Banaag and Acenas are aware of the existence of timberlands in densely populated barangays of Bayabas, Bulua ad Carmen that have already been occupied by residents and commercial establishments. It could be that lands of timberland classification may be found in other barangays and have already been illegally occupied and converted to other uses.
If residential and commercial structures have already been constructed and occupied, these must have been legitimized by building and occupancy permits. If occupants are engaged in business and acquired permits for such, then whoever legitimized their presence must have valid reasons for doing so. They must have been paying taxes for the lands which are not rightfully theirs.
Banaag’s exposé on the 92-hectare timberlands is worth pursuing by those who earned their seats, either in the City Council or in the House of Representatives. Perhaps, there’s a need for a legislative inquiry into the legitimized occupation and utilization of private individuals and corporations of timberlands.
If necessary, our lawmakers should revisit Section 20 of Republic Act No. 9160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code, and see if the provision on land reclassification is still relevant to the time, and consider if there is a compelling need for it to be revised.
Admittedly, succeeding in the reclassification of timberlands to alienable and disposable lands so that these can be converted to other uses, thereby benefiting the general public and increasing the assessed value of lands, may not be so attractive to politicians who wish to become household names and be assured of reelection.
Construction of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and public buildings often generate the publicity that are desired, aside from their being concretely visible to the electorate. These, of course, realize campaign pledges and who, in his right mind, would dare raise eyebrows when these address perceived, felt and real needs.
(Uriel C. Quilinguing is a former editor-in-chief of this paper and past president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club.)