A land dispute that hundreds of years, a revolution and a world war failed to resolve has apparently been settled by the stroke of a pen. Long-time residents of Krus Na Ligas, once regarded as “illegal settlers’’ on property owned by the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, will soon become rightful owners of the land that their ancestors had occupied long before the city or the university even existed.
Last month, Republic Act No. 11454 was signed into law authorizing UP to sell 22.467 hectares of land in Barangay Krus Na Ligas to the Quezon City government. This marks a significant turning point in a decades’ long dispute between the UP Diliman campus and Krus Na Ligas, a community adjacent to the university whose history goes back hundreds of years, and whose life today is distinct from yet intertwined with the national university’s flagship campus.
The Katipunan and the village of the cross-shaped ligas tree
According to various accounts, what is now Krus Na Ligas was once a large forested area west of Marikina surrounded by high hills; the people of Marikina simply called the area “Bundok.” Around the year 1700, some 30 families, who were until then living in a part of Marikina now known as Barangay Tanyong, migrated to the area to live off the land as farmers. These families bore such names such Tiburcio, Salvador, Cruz, Santos, Baluyot, Francisco, and Fulgencio. The community, which was under the territory of Marikina, became known as “Gulod,” and in time the farmlands of the settlers covered around 2,000 hectares. The residents erected a chapel made of bamboo and cogon, and built their homes around it.
How did it get its name Krus Na Ligas? Back in the Spanish period, according to one account, a Spanish soldier on a hunting expedition in the area asked a local what the name of the place was. The local thought the Spaniard was asking about the name of the tree he was pointing at. The tree in question, a ligas tree, was growing in a cross formation and considered sacred, so the local answered “Krus Na Ligas.”
The community played an important role during the onset of the Philippine revolution in August 1896. Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan and regarded as the Father of the Philippine Revolution, is said to have established Krus Na Ligas and nearby Balara as a fortress or defensible site due to their strategic location.
An account by Atoy M. Navarro and Raymund Arthur Abejo published by the National Research Council of the Philippines and UP, said that on August 26, 1896, three days after the August 23 Cry of Pugad-lawin/Balintawak, a battle between the Spanish forces and the Katipuneros took place near Pasong Tamo. Afterward, Bonifacio and other Katipuneros retreated to Balara and Krus Na Ligas, then known as Gulod, to rest, eat and take shelter from the rain. Among those present, aside from Bonifacio, were Emilio Jacinto, Aguedo del Rosario, Enrique Pacheco, Cipriano Pacheco, Alfonso Pacheco, and possibly Guillermo Masangkay and Pio Valenzuela.
Katipuneros were said to have rested at a spot known as Hangyang Gipit, which was a path between two large hills in the area now known as Maginhawa Street in Teacher’s Village. The Katipuneros also stayed at a house in front of the church and the plaza. Bonifacio and the others used the time to plan their next moves in preparation for their August 29 attack on Manila, ultimately deciding to head to Malanday and Barangka in Marikina.
A hundred years later, a marker was installed on the façade of the old church of Krus Na Ligas by UP to commemorate the role that Krus Na Ligas played in Philippine history.
Titles of land and Spanish nobility
Another side of the Krus Na Ligas story begins with a Chinese trader from Binondo named Son Tua, who prospered from the galleon trade. Son Tua, who changed his name to Don Antonio Maria Tuason, led and organized the Battalion of the Royal Prince against the British forces that occupied Manila from 1762 to 1764 to prove his loyalty to Spain. As a reward, King Carlos III of Spain elevated the family to Spanish nobility, and awarded Don Tuason a large encomienda, a land grant which comprised vast areas of what is now Quezon City and the Marikina Valley.
Before his death in 1775, Don Antonio Tuason founded a mayorazgo or noble estate, and his eldest son, Don Vicente Dolores Tuason, became the first holder of the mayorazgo. Don Vicente soon acquired the Jesuit Hacienda de San Isidro de Mariquina, as well as the Hacienda de Maysilo in Tambobon (now Malabon). With the Hacienda de Nagtajan bought by his sister in Pandacan, and Don Vicente’s purchase of the Hacienda de Sta. Mesa formerly belonging to the Real Mesa de la Santa Misericordia and which included Sitio Diliman, the Tuasons became owners of four vast haciendas contiguous to one another.
The Tuasons managed to hold onto their mayorazgo until the 1890s. The Americans, however, did not recognize the concept of a noble estate. On May 3, 1914, the Tuasons registered their title to the land on the Mariquina Estate, which included Krus Na Ligas, at the Office of the Register of Deeds. Although Krus Na Ligas accounts indicate that on March 25, 1877, the Tiburcio family was granted a Titulo Posesorio to the land they lived on by the Spanish government, the Supreme Court in 1967 declared the family’s title invalid in favor of the Tuason title. The Tuason family eventually sold the title to the People’s Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC) and to UP.
The church at Krus Na Ligas acquired an Original Certificate of Title in 1913. However, this title did not include the farmlands of the Krus Na Ligas residents.
UP and the rise of President Quezon’s dream city
The University of the Philippines, founded in 1908, soon outgrew its original site in Manila. In 1935, plans for UP’s relocation to a larger site gained traction when Manuel L. Quezon, then the Senate president, became the first Commonwealth president. On December 14, 1937, President Quezon created the Committee on Education Policy to study UP’s relocation.
UP’s relocation meshed well with President Quezon’s dream of improving the living conditions of laborers and low-salaried employees, and to create a new city to replace Manila as the Philippines’ capital. To achieve this dream, Quezon created the People’s Homesite Corporation, the first government housing agency, which was a subsidiary of the National Development Corporation. In October 1938, the Board of Directors of the PHC approved a resolution to purchase “a tract of land consisting of 15,723,191 square meters” from the Diliman Estate of the Tuason Family, at five centavos per square meter. The Tuasons donated an additional 493 hectares to serve as UP’s new site.
President Quezon urged the National Assembly to legislate UP’s relocation. On June 3, 1939, the Assembly enacted Commonwealth Act No. 442, allowing the UP Board of Regents to proceed with UP’s relocation.
At the time, Krus Na Ligas was one of the rural barrios in the Diliman Estate, which also included Culiat, Balara, Pansol, Barangka, Quirino, Mahabang Gubat and Bago Bantay. When UP acquired the site and delineated the Diliman campus, it included within its boundaries a number of these barrios.
The parallel rise of UP, Quezon City and Krus Na Ligas
The Krus Na Ligas community gradually grew. In 1940, the Krus Na Ligas Elementary School was founded as an annex of the Balara Elementary School. In its first year, the school handled a first-grade class of 26 students. Without a school building, classes were held in the house of a Krus Na Ligas resident. According to Krus Na Ligas accounts, by 1948-1949 a census found that there were 163 families and a total of 815 people, including children, living in the barrio.
The war devastated UP’s Manila campus, giving greater impetus for UP’s relocation. On July 17, 1948, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act No. 333 amending Commonwealth Act No. 502, “An Act to Establish the Capital of the Philippines and the Permanent Seat of the National Government.” RA No. 333 authorized the Capital City Planning Commission to purchase all private estates in the delineated land, including the Diliman Estate. The full relocation of UP to Diliman was accomplished from December 16, 1948 to January 11, 1949, and on January 12, UP formally began classes on its new campus. In February 1949, UP celebrated its 40th anniversary with the transfer of the Oblation from Manila to Diliman.
According to the official monthly review of President Elpidio Quirino published in the Official Gazette, the President signed on March 1, 1949 the deed of sale transferring the eight parcels of land in the Mariquina estate now occupied by UP to the UP BOR. A token sum of one peso was paid by UP to the Philippine government.
The relocation of the campus to the Diliman site was a turning-point for Krus Na Ligas. Some residents found work in the new campus doing laundry or selling produce to campus residents. On the other hand, construction in the campus and in the housing projects in Quezon City brought in an influx of workers who settled in the nearby rural communities, including Krus Na Ligas and Old Balara. In 1951, a temporary school building was set up in Krus Na Ligas; in 1955, a regular health center was also constructed. In 1961, the first school building for the Krus Na Ligas Elementary School was built.
Push and pull between UP and Krus Na Ligas
There have been conflicting claims over ownership of the lands covered by Krus Na Ligas and UP for decades. Families residing in Krus Na Ligas contested the Tuason family’s titles over the lands, which according to them put the legitimacy of the transfer of ownership of the lands to the PHHC and UP into question.
On August 16, 1967, in GR No. L-24114, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Transfer Certificate of Title 9462 and 1356 in the names of UP and the PHHC, which the Tiburcio family of Krus Na Ligas had challenged. Previously, the same court stated that the degree of registration issued in 1914 under the Torrens system to the Tuasons, who were the predecessors-in-interest to UP and the PHHC, became incontrovertible after one year. The question of ownership of the lands, according to the Supreme Court, was now a matter “settled definitely and conclusively by the courts, and must be deemed well beyond the reach of review.”
On April 18, 1975, UP President Onofre D. Corpuz announced his administration’s intention to transfer nine hectares of Barrio Krus Na Ligas to its bona fide residents on the basis of communal ownership. This sought to resolve a 26-year-old problem between UP and the residents of Krus Na Ligas. Dr. Corpuz stated: “My decision was based primarily on the recognition that the population of both the barrio and of the University community will continue to grow, and that the early solution of the land problem would avert any possible collision in the future. I also hold the opinion that it was never the intention of the University to dispossess people of their rightful ownership to the land and that the transfer of this land to them would be in keeping with the spirit of the government’s national housing program for the masses.”
UP’s continued expansion to provide for housing spaces for its academic community had negative impacts on the community of Krus Na Ligas. According to accounts by Krus Na Ligas residents, in 1972 UP had the houses of farmers who were living in Sitio Paltok and Sitio Libis torn down, and in 1977, UP destroyed some of the farmlands to construct the Pook Amorsolo housing project. Expansion projects undertaken by the government also adversely affected the livelihood of the Krus Na Ligas farmers. From 1976 to 1981, the Ministry of Human Settlements destroyed more farmlands to construct the UP Sikatuna BLISS Housing Project of Imelda Marcos, then first lady and Metro Manila governor. Camp General Caringal was also established in this area. As a result, the once 2,000 hectares of land that the Krus Na Ligas ancestors had farmed shrank to around 50 hectares.
In 1986, the UP BOR, through UP President Edgardo J. Angara, granted a Deed of Donation granting 15.8 hectares to the residents of Krus Na Ligas. This Deed of Donation was executed by UP as the donor and the Quezon City government as the donee. It bore several terms and conditions that were to be implemented within 18 months from the date of donation. However, because the conditions of the donation were not met, UP President Jose Abueva issued Administrative Order No. 21 on February 6, 1988 declaring the Deed of Donation revoked.
Krus Na Ligas residents continued to campaign for the preservation of their farmlands. From 1990 to 1991, Krus Na Ligas farmers applied to the Department of Agrarian Reform to have their farmlands covered by the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. However, UP successfully opposed the petition. Construction of a housing project for UP faculty and employees in the late 1991 in what was formerly the community of Daang Tubo sparked protests among the Krus Na Ligas residents and farmers.
The complex relationship between UP and Krus Na Ligas
The relationship between UP and Barangay Krus Na Ligas from the 1990s onwards could be described as a complicated, at times uneasy, co-existence. The years 2003 to 2006 saw legal battles as Krus Na Ligas residents, who were to be the beneficiaries of the 15.8 hectares to be donated by UP to the Quezon City government, demanded the turnover of the title. This case was resolved in favor of UP as the donation was revoked by UP President Abueva since the Quezon City government was not able to fulfill some conditions in the deed of donation.
The historical lineage of Barangay Krus Na Ligas was recognized in 1998, when the National Historical Institute declared the Krus Na Ligas Church a historic site, together with the Plaza Sta. Ines, which was found to have been built in the early 18th century. That same year, the Krus Na Ligas church and Plaza Sta. Ines were also declared a historical site by the National Research Council of the Philippines and UP.
In 2008, Republic Act No. 9500 or the UP Charter was signed. It prohibited the sale of real property owned by the national university. In 2011, UP President Alfredo Pascual created a UP Legal Team as a counterpart to the Quezon City Task Force UP and Its Surrounding Communities. Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista was cognizant of the aspects unique to Krus Na Ligas, such as that accounts indicate that the settlement dates back to the 1700s, preceding UP’s existence by hundreds of years, thus, the community cannot be simply demolished and resettled elsewhere. However, as Mayor Bautista pointed out in a letter to UP President Pascual, “the residents are also legally considered ‘informal settlers’ due to their lack of a title to the lands they are living on, and UP has not been able to make use of the land occupied by the community.” Krus Na Ligas presented a problem for the Quezon City government as well, because the residents could not be made to pay real property tax due to the lack of ownership documents over their property. Neither did they need to apply for building permits, even for the private structures they built, because they are legally under UP’s jurisdiction. Neither can the local government enforce order inside the community, because territorially, they are supposed to be within the security arrangement of UP. A solution that would mutually benefit all parties involved should therefore be sought.
Recourse to the law
In the succeeding years, discussions were held both within UP and between UP and the Quezon City government and the Krus Na Ligas community. In 2015, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. filed House Bill No. 5737 (HB No. 165 in the 17th Congress) declaring a portion of UP Diliman a disposable asset for housing and urban settlement based on the constitutional precepts of social justice. The bill would amend the UP Charter by declaring Krus Na Ligas as the only exception to the provision prohibiting the sale of the University’s real property subject to the provisions of Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992. UP sought clarification over what constituted the boundaries of Krus Na Ligas, and the appropriateness of RA No. 7279 as the basis for exempting Krus Na Ligas from RA No. 9500, given that existing data supplied by Krus Na Ligas barangay officials indicated the presence of at least 500 two-storey to four-storey residential buildings. Additionally, since many UP students, faculty and employees now live in Krus Na Ligas, the University has the responsibility to discuss the issue with its stakeholders and to see to their welfare.
On July 21, 2016, Senator Ralph G. Recto filed Senate Bill No. 864, and on October 24, 2017, Senator Vicente Sotto III filed Senate Bill No. 1606. Both bills sought to amend the UP Charter to authorize the sale of land in Barangay Krus Na Ligas to its legitimate and qualified residents. UP President Danilo Concepcion, in a letter dated February 2018 addressed to Senator Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, clarified UP’s stand on the issue: that the metes and bounds of the Krus na Ligas property that UP would be authorized to sell should be fixed by geodetic survey; that UP should be authorized to sell only to the Quezon City government at an acceptable, fair and reasonable price; that the sale of the Krus Na Ligas property should be considered perfected from the time all parties have agreed on the price and terms of sale; and that immediately after the law takes effect, the Quezon City government would construct a fence along the boundaries segregating Krus Na Ligas from UP. On May 20, 2019, UP, the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture and the Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement held a joint public hearing to discuss SB No. 1606, SB No. 864 and HB No. 165.
Amending the UP Charter of 2008
Republic Act No. 11454, authored by Senate Pro-Tempore Recto, Senate President Sotto, and Senator Escudero, amends RA 9500 or the UP Charter, thus allowing UP to sell not more than 22.467 hectares of land in Barangay Krus Na Ligas at a fair market price acceptable to UP. During his sponsorship speech of the Senate bill that eventually became RA 11454, Senator Escudero emphasized the fact that Barangay Krus Na Ligas is a historic community that had existed since at least the Spanish period, predating modern-day Quezon City, a fact that has documentary proof.
However, UP can only sell this land to the Quezon City government at the agreed-upon price, and only until UP has received the full payment will ownership of the land be transferred to the Quezon City government. Payment must be made within one year after the execution of the agreement between UP and Quezon City. The law further states that the authorization of UP to sell is automatically revoked if UP and the Quezon City government fail to agree on the terms and conditions of the sale within one year from the effectivity of the law, or if UP has not received the full payment one year after the execution of the agreement. All in all, the law must be implemented in full approximately two years from its effectivity.
The terms and conditions of the sale of the land in Barangay Krus Na Ligas would be agreed upon by both UP and the Quezon City government. Once the ownership of the land is transferred from UP to the Quezon City government, the latter is to immediately fence off the property of UP to separate it from the area sold under the law. The city government must also transfer the property to legitimate residents of Barangay Krus Na Ligas. This transfer, said Senator Escudero in his sponsorship speech, may be done via donation or a program carried out by the NHA.
According to the law, the Quezon City government shall create a Technical Working Group to determine the “legitimate residents” of Barangay Krus Na Ligas—those whose long-standing residence in the area can sufficiently be established by authenticated documentary and testimonial evidence, who are themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in continuous possession and occupation of the same parcels of land as owner since time immemorial, or for a period not less than thirty years. The Quezon City government shall also assist UP in resettling all the other settlers found in the remaining property in UP that is adjacent to the parcels of land in Barangay Krus Na Ligas.
Those who have been determined as “legitimate residents of Barangay Krus Na Ligas” are forbidden by the law to sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of their lots or any right therein to anyone except their legal heirs. Otherwise, the transaction shall be rendered null and void, and the residents would lose their right to the land and forfeit the total amount of amortization they have paid. If the legitimate resident dies before full ownership of the land has been vested on him or her, his or her heirs shall assume both the full ownership of the land and its obligations. If the heirs somehow fail to assume the obligations, the land reverts to the Quezon City government for disposition.
To issue the necessary guidelines for the effective implementation of the law, an Interagency Committee would be created, to be headed by the Quezon City government and composed of representatives of UP, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Housing Authority.
While it is still a waiting game for Krus Na Ligas residents to fully acquire ownership of their lands as full implementation of the law may take two years from now, this is nothing compared to their decades’ long struggle to gain what is rightfully theirs.
(This story was written with the assistance of J. Mikhail Solitario, Frederick Dabu, Jeremi Elaijah Barretto and Peter Paul Vallejos.)