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A bill to deforest route to Baguio

The greenery on both sides of the Marcos Highway to Baguio would soon disappear. In its stead would rise tens of thousands of hectares of tenements and malls, shanties and stalls. The 47-km scenic route would become a mere feeder to an ugly mishmash of asphalt side roads and alleys. A bill to guarantee that reportedly has passed third reading at the House of Reps.

The STAR’s Victor Agustin sounded the alarm in his Money-Go-Round business column last Friday. “Savor (now) the forest corridor lining up the highway because the green cover may not be there for long,” he wrote. “La Union Rep. and former Agoo mayor Sandra Eriguel, the bill’s main proponent, wants 80 percent of the forest ... converted into residential and agricultural lands for settlers and claimants.” Experience shows that any such conversion leads first to a construction boom then urban decay. Carpetbaggers will cash in on the first phase, then leave future generations to clean up the consequent mess.

President Marcos in 1978 had decreed to preserve a five-km forest corridor along both sides of the highway. The aim was to protect the new mountain route from erosion. “Said strip of land shall be closed to logging and mineral exploration, but may be released for human settlement upon recommendation by the Ministers of Natural Resources and of Human Settlements,” Presidential Proclamation 1754 stated.

Eriguel’s House Bill 678 would repeal the decree. Marcos’ intent was made to look frivolous, that he supposedly only wished to spruce up a pet project named after him but paved via a Japan loan. An older law supposedly had classified the land as alienable for farming and housing, until Marcos displaced a sprinkling of settlers.

Marcos’ edict covered 31,000 hectares of forest and watersheds. Eriguel would carve out 26,000 hectares for unnamed residential and agricultural claimants – likely for roadside hotels, shops, and other commercial purposes. Only 5,000 hectares of forest would be left along the erosion-prone mountainside.

Imagine rocks and mud cascading down the highway. (One should see the hotel-room size boulder that crashed onto the side of Marikina City’s Montevista Subdivision clubhouse parking, from the hillside construction above it. Thank God nobody was hurt in that recent pre-dawn landslide.) Imagine too the mad rush for highway-side land. That wouldn’t be hard to do: just look at how highways engineers and politicos recently grabbed the wider shoulder bends of Kennon Road, another route to Baguio, for three- and four-story mountain view hostels. The deforestation would mar six of 11 towns in Eriguel’s 2nd La Union congressional district: Agoo, Aringay, Pugo, Rosario, Sto. Tomas, and Tubao. Incredibly, Eriguel’s bill aims for “environmental protection.”

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First-termer Eriguel, a doctor, had succeeded her husband Eufranio who served two terms. The husband, also a doctor, was mayor of Agoo for three terms; their daughter, Stefanie Ann, now holds the post. Speaking of which, doctor-politicians elsewhere are steeped in nature conservation. Like, Romblon provincial Gov. Eduardo Firmalo, a surgeon, preserves the islands’ seaside, rivers, and forests for tourist attraction. Dr. Leila Arboleda, mayor of Looc town, diligently has been maintaining a fish sanctuary inaugurated in 1999. One doesn’t need to be a medic to understand the importance of protecting nature. US soldier-president Dwight D. Eisenhower declared millions of hectares of Alaskan forests off limits to miners, loggers, and settlers; future presidents and congresses not only kept but expanded the scope.

Congresswoman Eriguel is pushing for the eviction of squatters in 10,000 hectares of La Union beachfront for resettlement inland. The bill was first introduced by husband Eufranio. To their credit, that measure could end illegal and overfishing. The male Eriguel is in President Rodrigo Duterte’s list of narco-politicians, Agustin reported. He is also in the annals of jurisprudence, as the Supreme Court illegalized his collateralizing of the Agoo town plaza for a bank loan to build shops and diners on the same open space.

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Where is Christmas? Shopping malls being what they are naturally commercialize the season. It was always that way since the retail boom of the ‘60s. But in the holiday decors at least were depictions of the Christ story. At the COD department store in Metro Manila, later moved to Greenhills Commercial Center, were yearly life-size mechanical puppet reenactments of the Nativity. Aside from the Holy Family and their donkey were the Three Kings bearing gifts, the shepherds with their sheep and cow, and the angels trumpeting the birth of the Redeemer. At the Meralco, Coca Cola, and National Bookstore-Main were giant crèche (belen) displays. Shops and restaurants in Baguio and Cebu would have employees singing Yuletide carols.

Not anymore. Malls today have colored lights and balls, giant trees adorned with giftwrapped boxes, spray-foam snow, and reindeer(!). Piped-in songs are all about partying, exchange gifts, and cold-season romances. Nothing about Jesus’ birth.

Christmas it seems has given way to pure profit taking and misplaced secularism.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

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