The Battle for Fort Bonifacio

While the current talk in global affairs is about the conflict of Syria and the possible involvement of the US and whoever of its allies willing to join, Metro Manila is seeing a conflict of its own too as two highly-urbanized cities and a small municipality are engaged in all-out war of sorts for the control of the most disputed territory in the country right now, the almost 730-hectare territory which was once part of a vast military complex known as Fort Bonifacio.

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The battle for the control of this former military base turned into a bustling commercial and business district has been subject of a long ligation that has been going on for 20 years and counting. Lately, the conflict escalated into a war of harsh statements, propaganda, even harassment. While it is sad and disappointing to see what should be a purely legal dispute degenerate into this mess, I suppose from the point of view of the claimants, the prospect of controlling a rising commercial-business hub (with all the income it generates) is something worth fighting for.

This entry will not attempt to analyze as which party Fort Bonifacio belongs to. Rather, this will serve as a humble attempt to collate whatever information is available as to the case of each claimant and how they might administer the territory.

FROM MARICABAN TO MCKINLEY

What is known is that the present-day Fort Bonifacio was once part of a vast estate known as Hacienda Maricaban, a property of a certain Dolores Casal (or Cabal in other sources) that also encompassed the present EMBO (enlisted men’s barrios) barangays near the Fort which is under Makati’s jurisdiction: Pembo, Comembo, Cembo and South Cembo, and East and West Rembo, extending all the way to what is the now the Villamor Airport and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport complex.

Then in 1902, the American government acquired the entire hacienda which became the site of a military camp they established known as Fort William McKinley, named after the US president under whose administration the Philippines came under American rule. Another part of the hacienda eventually became a military airbase that was built in the 1930s called the Nichols Airbase, the precursor of today’s NAIA and Villamor Airbase.

Years after the country became independent from America in 1946, Fort McKinley, and eventually Nichols Airbase, was returned to Philippine sovereignty. In 1957, Fort McKinley was renamed as Fort Andres Bonifacio, the headquarters of the Philippine Army and the Philippine Marines.

Fort Bonifacio

CLAIMS TO OWNERSHIP

All 3 parties based their claim on Fort Bonifacio based on historic grounds, that being the aforementioned Hacienda Maricaban. Taguig, Makati, and Pateros each claim that at least part of the hacienda, in particular on what is now the present Fort Bonifacio lie in their jurisdiction. They also have presented their own documents, old land surveys and maps in particular, to bolster their claim, depending on who you believe.

For the many of us lay people who were not familiar with the disputes, what was known, especially among the oldtimers was that the Fort Bonifacio area used to be depicted as under Makati’s jurisdiction. Checking an old Metro Manila map from the 1970s until the mid-1990s show the Fort area as under Makati territory. In fact, Makati established two barangays to serve the area: the Post Proper Northside and Post Proper Southside, the latter lying within the disputed territory itself.

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Then I recently came across from Paulo Alcazaren’s FB page this curious map from 1967 which is a map of the pipelines which were set in place in Metro Manila. (or Greater Manila as it was called before) What makes it interesting is that it shows the boundaries of Makati (colored yellow) not including the area we know as the EMBO barangays and Fort Bonifacio as well. Unfortunately the map did not go far in showing the rest of the metropolis for us to determine as to which jurisdiction that map shows the aforementioned barangays belong to.

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But going back to the story, in 1993, Taguig filed a case in the lower court to determine the boundaries of the town as it began to fight in what it believed was territory that belonged to them. The lower court sided with Taguig which caused a great shift in the metropolis’ geopolitical scene. At the same time, much of the territory of Fort Bonifacio was being prepped for development as a way for the modernization plan of the military. The area’s eventual growth and development over the years has helped the former struggling town of Taguig achieve progress and was a factor for it to become a city in its own right in 2004.

Makati in turn filed a motion for reconsideration in the lower courts but was denied at least twice. The latest denied ruling came in 2012, which dealt a bigger blow to Makati as it assigned not only the Fort area but also the neighboring EMBO barangays that were noted earlier.

At the same time, Pateros have filed a petition in the courts as well in reclaiming the disputed area and also sought for a return of revenues collected over the years by Makati and Taguig in that area. So far, their previous petitions have been denied by the courts but there is another one that is still being heard in the lower court, pending resolution.

The latest chapter in this saga happened on July 30, 2013 as the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled that the lower courts erred in their decisions of handing the jurisdiction of Fort Bonifacio and the neighboring EMBO barangays to Taguig and deemed that they are under Makati’s jurisdiction. Taguig immediately filed a motion before the CA and at the time of this writing, is still being heard.

WORD WAR AND TENSIONS

Pending a final decision by the court, a propaganda war of sorts by Taguig and Makati. (and by Pateros too in some extent) On Makati’s part, it promises that the benefits its residents are enjoying like health care and senior citizen benefits will be enjoyed by the residents there. Of course that also included no vehicle coding windows (with the dreaded Makati traffic enforcers to boot) as well as higher taxes for businesses there. For Taguig, it vowed the present benefits Fort residences already enjoyed like lower taxes and “no corruption.” What could be more apt than using the image of the hero under whose name the disputed property is named after?

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Recently, the war turned ugly when tension erupted between Taguig personnel and Makati police over arrests made by the former on some men who were trying to install Makati banners inside the disputed territory. Fortunately, the tension eased up as both Taguig and Makati have agreed not to make any further actions that will raise the tension further, keeping the status quo while there is no final resolution to the case.

And with so much at stake, especially the revenues of the area, it will be interesting to see what the future of this dispute will be.

acknowledgements to the Court of Appeals, Inquirer, Philippine Star, and thePOC.net

© The Urban Roamer

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