It will be the Philippine Coast Guard who will proceed with the construction of its base at the site of the former US Long-Range Navigation (LORAN) Station on the northwestern part of Panay island in Quigaray, Bagamanoc.
The Tribune learned from a provincial official last week that the PCG will be urged to proceed with the long-delayed construction of the Coast Guard Catanduanes base at the 41,395-square meter site with a nearly 300-meter-long beach front facing the Pacific Ocean.
Officials from the Provincial Assessor’s Office (PASSO) headed by Provincial Assessor Milagros Sabalas, along with several Coast Guard personnel, conducted a two-day areas survey at the former LORAN station last week to determine and fix the specific land boundaries of the property.
The results of the land survey will be relayed to PCG officials, with PCG Catanduanes personnel to replace the temporary wooden stakes on the lot corners with concrete monuments anytime this week.
The survey came just a few days after Governor Joseph C. Cua, accompanied by his son Joseph Jr., paid a courtesy call on PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio M. Abu at his headquarters last July 18, 2022.
During the said visit, the chief executive followed up the proposed establishment of the Coast Guard base in Panay Island, which has been delayed for over two years due to a land dispute.
Gov. Cua told Adm. Abu that the provincial government would extend help to the PCG by purchasing parcels of land to expedite the process.
The base construction project is expected to ensure security over Philippine territorial seas by monitoring activities at the Benham Rise, locally known as “Kalipungawan” which is just north of Catanduanes.
In expressing his support for the project, Cua said this will not only benefit the country but also bring positive results to the province of Catanduanes, as the base would help monitor illegal fishing activities and provide resources for rescue operations in Catanduanes waters especially during disasters.
It was learned that the 4.1-hectare land described as Lot No. 4454 is already titled in the name of the Philippine Coast Guard under Original Certificate of Title No. 2019000235 covered by Special Patent No. SP-NGA-CAT-0002.
The title and Special Patent were issued on Oct. 19, 2019 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Regional Office No. V and signed by then OIC-Regional Executive Director Atty. Gil A. Aromin.
Tribune research showed that Section 4 of Republic Act 10023 (An Act Authorizing the Issuance of Free Patents to Residential Lands), public land actually occupied and used for public schools, municipal halls, public plazas or parks and other government institutions for public use or purpose may be issued special patents under the name of the national agency or Local Government Unit concerned.
A Special Patent is a patent issued to grant, cede and convey in full ownership alienable and disposable lands of the government upon promulgation of a special law or act of Congress or a proclamation by the President of the Republic, authorizing the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources to issue such patent.
Any government corporation, province, municipality or other branches/subdivisions of the government, through the authorized official, may apply for a Special Patent, upon the submission of the following requirements: written request; approved survey plan; verified technical description; geotagged photos showing panoramic view of the subject area; and, certification stating that there is no pending land registration case from the Regional Trial Court (RTC) or Land Registration Authority (LRA).
How it all began
The proposal for the construction of a Coast Guard base costing about P500 million in Panay island was pushed by then Congressman Cesar Sarmiento in 2017.
An initial allocation of P200 million was included in the 2018 national budget for the Department of Transportation (DOTr), with the bidding for the Design & Build for the Construction of Coast Guard Base Catanduanes held on Feb. 14 that same year.
Based on the project duration of 540 calendar days, the project was reportedly started by the unidentified contractor on Jan. 26, 2019, with an original completion date of July 10, 2020.
The contractor, however, was unable to begin the project due to a dispute with the heirs of the original owner of the five-hectare land on which the LORAN facility sits.
It is claimed that the PCG allegedly proceeded with the project on the assumption that the land was theirs as the facility was turned over to them by the US Coast Guard in 1971.
Reports at the time stated that the legal counsel of the heirs, a certain Atty. Ernesto Cabrera, sent a letter to the Bagamanoc LGU asking the latter to stop construction of the base.
The letter, it is alleged, was not accompanied by documents supporting the claim.
Catanduanes, more specifically Panay island, is about 220 kilometers south of the Benham Bank, the most prominent feature of Benham Rise.
The potentially resource-rich part of the continental shelf is an extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea that has been known to the fishermen from Catanduanes as “Kalipung-awan” reportedly as early as the precolonial era.
It may be recalled that on June 20, 2021, then Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. of the Philippine Army’s Southern Luzon Command, Commodore Jose Ma. Ambrosio Ezpeleta of Naval Forces Southern Luzon, and Maj. Gen. Henry Robinson Jr. of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division visited Panay island after meeting with the governor.
At the same time, a Navy patrol craft anchored off the old port at the northwestern side of the island that afternoon to begin conducting a hydrographic survey to determine the actual depth of the sea as well as the shape of the seafloor and coastline, the location of possible obstructions and physical features.
The results of the survey was supposed to determine whether the relatively shallow Babaguan Bay separating Panay from the main island is capable of hosting Navy vessels.
A Navy plane also conducted an aerial reconnaissance of the small island and flew over it, including the road network being built by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Catanduanes District Engineering Office as part of a Tourism Convergence Project.
The road, according to DPWH sources, is being funded on a multi-year basis and will link the three barangays of Quigaray and Suchan in Bagamanoc and Panay in Panganiban, as well as the white sand beaches and the picturesque Lolong Point.
During the meeting with Gov. Cua, Lt. Gen. Parlade said he would pursue the naval base project at the former LORAN site and the old berthing facility.