by Hanna C. Lacsamana
While the city’s Environment Code explicitly bans treasure hunting activities in Baguio, the City Council has approved the request of a resident to dig and prove the existence of treasure beneath the Baguio Convention Center.
With two councilors abstaining, the City Council gave its consent to the plan of Bakakeng resident Eliseo Cabusao to explore the area in recognition to the permit granted to him by the National Museum.
The permit granted to Cabusao, according to concerned quarters, takes precedence over local laws.
The Treasure Hunting and Disposition of Recovered Treasures Permit from the National Museum obtained by Cabusao in October last year authorizes him to retrieve gold bars supposedly deposited by Japanese soldiers inside a tunnel during the closing days of World War II at the vicinity of the Baguio Convention Center.
He said he got the information from a 90-year old Japanese who supposedly knew the location of the treasure, as he was one of those who personally buried the treasure.
Cabusao earlier wrote the city council through Vice Mayor Edison Bilog and asked the body’s consent to the plan.
In consenting to the request, Councilor Michael Lawana said conditions have been set for Cabusao’s strict compliance.
He said in fact, the treasure hunter did not have to seek for the council’s okay by virtue of the permit from the national government, but the city has to set the parameters for safety and security purposes, given that city premises will be disturbed.
Lawana said Cabusao, who earlier posted P250,000 performance bond with the city, should assure that the digging will not cause obstruction, will not endanger individuals that shall conduct the digging of the tunnel, and shall implement precautionary measures for the safety of the public.
He said Cabusao committed that his crew will only conduct preliminary digging and bore small holes to explore and find out if indeed treasures are still buried within the Baguio Convention Center and portions of the University of the Philippines Baguio.
The treasure hunter also assured there would be minimal ground disturbance when they retrieve the treasure. The National Museum has approved their technical and environmental work program.
If they are able to confirm the existence of the treasure, Lawana said Cabusao shall coordinate the findings to the city council to discuss the conduct of actual excavation.
If the group is able to retrieve the treasure, the national government, through the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas is guaranteed 35 percent share, city government – 35 percent, and the treasure hunter will get 30 percent share from the proceeds.
The councilor admitted that approving the treasure hunting implies that the Environment Code of the city has to be set aside in respect to the national law. “Parang ganun talaga ang lumalabas, and it will surely set a precedent to other treasure speculators. But I did not positively vote for that because I raised a lot of questions. I voted for it subject to conditions,” said Lawana, who was counting that other council members who are law practitioners knew the legalities best.
Councilors Peter Fianza and Arthur Allad-iw abstained from voting.
Earlier, Fianza expressed concern about giving way to the national law, as it would mean disregarding or violating the city’s own laws. “What to do now with our Environmental Code? If we allow the permit, the tendency is we violate the code, unless we set it aside first,” Fianza said.