Gwen: Only 1,000 households affected by Viscom land return; settlers seek Cebu City’s help

CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said Wednesday she will assert what has been agreed between the Provincial Government, Department of National Defense, and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Visayas Command (Viscom) regarding the province-owned lots occupied by Camp Lapu-Lapu in Barangay Apas, Cebu City, and that only some 1,000 households would be affected by the development.

The governor also voiced displeasure at talk that the Viscom would transfer its headquarters to the neighboring province of Bohol, as she had already earlier said it would be relocated to northern Cebu.

Garcia told reporters Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 that based on the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 2007, the Viscom had to turn over 16 parcels of the Capitol-donated land that had not been occupied by military structures.

The Cebu Provincial Government, under then governor Jose Briones, had donated on Oct. 12, 1959 the 80-hectare property to the then 3rd Military Area on condition that it would be used for military purposes only. The whole area, which comprises 47 lots, later became Camp Lapu-Lapu, headquarters of the Viscom.

It was found out, however, that only 14 portions of the lots were used for military purposes. The rest were used as a golf driving range and residential sites for military personnel and informal settlers, among others.

This prompted then governor Pablo Garcia, father of Gwendolyn, to rescind the donation in 1995. In her first term as governor in 2005, Gwendolyn filed an ejectment case against Viscom (known then as Central Command or Centcom) to reclaim the lots.

The current governor said Wednesday that based on an inventory of actual occupants in the contested area conducted “earlier” by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), there were only around 1,000 occupants there, most of whom were former soldiers or enlisted men.

"Because earlier there has already been an inventory on the actual occupants on some of the lots. Their existence has been proof that in fact, these lots were not used for military purposes. Also, during my term, we already had initial talks with the occupants because they have associations," she said.

On Tuesday, Apas Barangay Captain Virgil Cabigon had told SunStar that close to 5,000 households in 10 sitios would be affected by the return of the 17.5 hectares covered by the 16 lots to the provincial government.

Garcia said the DENR had already inspected a relocation site in Tuburan town in northern Cebu for the military facility.

“They were going to be relocated for 1,050 hectares that formed part of the National Government reserve in the Tuburan area. That is why the DENR will be the one to determine the relocation site," Garcia said.

Under the 2007 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.

As for the residents, Garcia said “there is always a win-win solution” and that she would honor the MOU that takes into account the existence of the occupants, without specifying their fate.

Bohol

On talk that the Viscom would transfer to Bohol, Garcia appealed to the public Wednesday not to antagonize her.

"Ako lang ika-advise ayaw ko ninyo i-antagonize kay magtarong ta og istorya, kaysa magpa victim card dayon mo diha. Naa bitaw usa diha ka former barangay captain pagkahibaw niya kay kining Viscom pod kunuhay pabuot-buot og adto-adto'g Bohol kay lagi kuno nangita sila'g asa sila mobalhin. But that was not authorized by the chief of staff and the DND. And that was posted, the photo was posted," she said.

(I advise you not to antagonize me because we can talk properly about this, instead of your playing the victim card. There’s even a former barangay captain there who spoke of this Viscom going to Bohol to look for a place to transfer.)

In a Facebook post titled “Gaplano nga mobalhin sa Bohol ang AFP Visayas Centcom!” last Sept. 22,

Bohol Gov. Erico Aristotle Aumentado had uploaded photos of the visit of AFP officials whom he named as Col. Edgar Mangabay, LTC Joey Baybayan and LTC Emmanuel Gallo, to discuss the possible transfer of the AFP Viscom to Bohol.

"Now I am meeting with representatives of the AFP," Aumentado wrote in Cebuano in the post. "They need to transfer from Cebu and look for 40 hectares of land in our province. They chose Bohol for their relocation. We discussed the plan to use Ubay as the site because no one can provide a large area near the airport."

Garcia said the Viscom should also remember that the Province had been unable to enjoy the use of the land for decades since its donation and that those residing in the involved lots were not even constituents of the Province of Cebu.

Garcia has not revealed yet what the Province will do with the lots it has recovered, but assured that they will be used to improve services to Cebuanos.

"I do not lay down my cards ahead of time, but rest assured my decision will always be for the benefit of the Cebuanos. More revenues for the province, so I can translate this to more infrastructure and more services for the Cebuanos without disposing our hard-earned asset," Garcia said.

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.

Seeking City’s help

Residents occupying the provincial government-owned lots in Barangay Apas, now hope the City Government can assure them that no ejectment or demolition will happen to their houses.

Alliance of Barangay Apas Community Association (Abaca) secretary Mayet Manatad told SunStar Cebu Wednesday, that she was hopeful that Presidential Proclamation (PP) 409, which paved the way for the compromise agreement between the DND, the Cebu City Government and the Cebu Provincial Government back in 2019, would be upheld.

Signed on June 23, 2003, PP 409, issued by then President (now Pampanga representative) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, declared a part of the area of what is now AFP Viscom headquarters in Barangay Apas a socialized housing site.

Manatad said Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia filed a case in court to declare the compromise agreement null and void, but they hope the city government will intervene in the matter.

“We are just waiting for the decision of the court. That’s if the case proceeding will be fair. We don’t want to wake up one morning just to find that we no longer have homes. It shouldn’t be that way since these are families of retired soldiers,” Manatad said in Cebuano.

In a separate interview, Apas Barangay Captain Virgil Cabigon said they were not given any notice by the provincial government about the turnover of the properties.

“We received no communication. No one informed us. Many have already asked me. I have not received communication from any government agency on the situation of the residents,” Cabigon said in Cebuano.

Cabigon’s residence is among the 5,000 households in the barangay that are built in the involved area.

The barangay captain explained that most of the occupants are families of retired military servicemen who used to report to the Viscom headquarters. He said his own father used to be a commander in Camp Lapu-Lapu.

Cabigon said when people built their houses in the area, nobody informed them until when they could stay there or if they could eventually own the lot their houses were on. No one also informed them if living in the area was among the benefits for the dependents of AFP personnel that they were not required to pay for.

After the issuance of PP 409, Cabigon said no further processes were done by the government to ensure that the land would be owned by the occupants through a socialized housing program.

“PP 409 had been signed... so it was awarded to us. The problem was that there was still no pricing. We were not given titles. After the MOA (memorandum of agreement) signing, there was no more movement,” he said.

Cabigon said their barangay hall, the Apas National High School, Apas Elementary School, and the Camp Lapu-Lapu Elementary School are situated in the involved lots.

The barangay has no funds to buy the lots from the provincial government should the latter decide to sell the properties to them, he said.

Cabigon said he was willing to sit down with Mayor Michael Rama to discuss the situation and bring answers to the concerns of his constituents.

SunStar Cebu reached out to Rama for his comments, but as of press time, no response was received. (LMY, CTL)