Capitol recovers Viscom lots; 5,000 families face loss of homes

CLOSE to 5,000 households living in 10 sitios in Barangay Apas, Cebu City could lose their homes after officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) turned over the titles of 17.5 hectares of land currently occupied by the AFP’s Visayas Command (Viscom) headquarters in Camp Lapu-Lapu to the Cebu Provincial Government.

Apas Barangay Captain Virgil Cabigon told SunStar Cebu on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, that aside from the 5,000 households, which included his own, even their barangay hall and three public schools had been affected by the development.

Cabigon identified the affected sitios as Central Apas, Sto. Niño, Mahayahay, Plaza, Fatima, Upper and Lower Panabang; Upper and Lower Calvary and Rotunda.

The affected sitios are situated in around 15 hectares of the disputed properties, he said.

Cabigon said the three schools affected were the Apas National High School, Apas Elementary School and the Camp Lapu-Lapu Elementary School.

On Monday, the Cebu Provincial Government finally recovered at least 17.5 hectares of the 80 hectares of land occupied by Camp Lapu-Lapu after a dispute of almost 30 years.

DND Secretary Jose Faustino Jr. turned over to Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia the titles of 17.5 hectares covering an initial 16 parcels of lots in a ceremony at the Capitol Social Hall on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.

The full 80 hectares involve a total of 47 parcels of land.

Violation of agreement

The Cebu Provincial Government, under then governor Jose Briones, had donated the 80-hectare property to the then 3rd Military Area on Oct. 12, 1959, on condition that it be used for military purposes only. It later became Camp Lapu-Lapu, the headquarters of the AFP Central Command (Centcom), later renamed the Visayas Command (Viscom).

But it was found out that only 14 portions of the lots were used for military purposes, while the remaining areas were used as a golf driving range and residential sites for military personnel and informal settlers, among other uses. This prompted then governor Pablo Garcia, the current governor’s father, to rescind the donation in 1995.

In her first term as governor in 2005, Garcia filed an ejectment case against Centcom to reclaim the lots.

In 2007, the Province sought intervention from the Executive Branch by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with then defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr.

According to the MOU, Centcom was to return the initial 16 lots to the Capitol while the Provincial Government would allocate funds for the construction of the facilities and infrastructure for the military as well as the DND at their new location in northern Cebu.

However, the Centcom objected and elevated the case to the court. The Supreme Court affirmed Capitol’s ownership of the lots in 2019.

The Provincial Government expects to recover the remaining 31 parcels of land once Camp Lapu-Lapu leaves the area and fully relocates to northern Cebu.

Not consulted

However, Barangay Captain Cabigon claimed that neither the AFP nor the DND consulted them before turning the lots over to the Province.

Cabigon said he and other residents in his barangay aimed to contest the Province’s claim, adding that households situated in two lots in Sitio Central Apas, namely Lots 950 and 1035, were already subjected to a compromise agreement signed by then DND secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Cebu City Government and the Cebu Provincial Government back in 2019.

The compromise agreement was made after a review of the status and implementation of Presidential Proclamation (PP) 409.

PP 409, signed on June 23, 2003, was issued by then President (now Pampanga congresswoman) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to declare a part of the area of what is now AFP Viscom situated in Barangay Apas as a socialized housing site.

Arroyo was even in Cebu to attend the House Oversight Committee on Housing and Urban Development on Feb. 18, 2019, when the compromise agreement was signed by the three parties.

After the issuance of PP 409, the residents in the barangay were just waiting for the DND to give up its claim on the lots after the Cebu City Government and the Cebu Provincial Government signed the compromise agreement that would allow them to buy the properties that are spread across five sitios.

Four administrations

“This issue has spanned decades and the administration of four presidents -- from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when we first signed the memorandum of understanding, to President Noynoy Aquino, and then to President Rodrigo Duterte,” said Garcia on Monday. “And finally, because I was able to speak to President (Ferdinand) Marcos (Jr.) as regards this issue, finally we are seeing the light of a long and arduous, dark tunnel.”

The turnover ceremony was also attended by AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro, AFP Viscom Commander Lt. Gen. Robert Dauz, Vice Gov. Hilario Davide III and members of the Provincial Board, according to Capitol online news portal Sugbo News.

Faustino expressed appreciation for the development as the Capitol will also extend financial support for the construction of facilities that will be used by the military at their new site in northern Cebu.

“Our eagerness to work with the provincial government is founded not only on respect, or for the rule of law, or compliance with the decision of the Supreme Court, but also on our fervent desire to cultivate the solid relationship for the benefit of everyone,” Faustino said.

Transfer to Bohol?

However, Bohol Gov. Erico Aristotle Aumentado also announced over the weekend that the officials of AFP Visayas Command had visited him recently and expressed interest in transferring to Bohol, which he welcomed.

“Nalipay kita sa maong kalamboan, ug andam ang Kagamhanang Probinsiyal nga muabag sa tibuok armadong kusog (We are happy about the development, and the provincial government is ready to support the Armed Forces),” Aumentado said on his Facebook page on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (TPT)