File photo shows houses crowding the slopes of the Quirino Hill area in Baguio City. The area, formerly known as Carabao Mountain, was declared a relocation site in the 1960s for residents awaiting issuance of titles to properties, according to local officials.
Artemio Dumlao
After Boracay, Palawan rehab, Baguio is next
(The Philippine Star) - December 15, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — After the successful rehabilitation of Boracay and ongoing efforts in Palawan and other beach destinations, the government is now setting its sights on the highlands, in the country’s so-called Summer Capital, Baguio City.

The city government led by Mayor Benjamin Magalong has prohibited the cutting of trees and ordered a stop to all new construction of homes and office buildings as he sets out to turn Baguio into a “smart city,” according to Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat.

To revive the City of Pines, the city and national governments also plan to relocate structures, mostly private homes, that have been built along the slopes, to new developments being planned in the outskirts of the city and neighboring municipalities, Puyat said.

Facing “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News last Friday, Puyat disclosed that more detailed discussions are set in January among the Baguio government, the Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other agencies involved in the revival of the country’s top travel destinations.

“Mayor Magalong already told us that he has prohibited cutting of trees, no more new buildings,” Puyat said.

She said Magalong, a former police officer, had given assurance that Burnham Park at the heart of Baguio would not be converted into a parking lot, as envisioned by the previous city administration.

“We have given him P400 million to rehabilitate Burnham Park,” Puyat said, with the money to be used to install more lights, improve sanitation and develop pedestrian areas.

The DOT, through its infrastructure arm the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), is releasing an initial P500 million to the city, of which P400 million is for Burnham Park.

Among the projects that TIEZA will help the city implement are the rehabilitation of the public market, the creation of pedestrian-only areas and phase one of the upgrading of water and sewerage facilities, Puyat said.

The city used to be redolent with the scent of pine trees as well as dahlias, hydrangeas and other flowers that thrive only in the highlands.

Over the years, however, the city’s slopes were progressively cleared of pine trees to make way for houses and commercial establishments.

Puyat pointed out that the slopes are mostly danger zones that should be off-limits to homes and offices.

Seismologists have warned that a strong earthquake could cause grievous loss of lives in the city that has become overcrowded. Baguio City was isolated for two days and was among the hardest hit when a magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck Luzon on July 26, 1990. The quake left over 1,600 people dead, mostly in Baguio and Nueva Ecija.

Puyat said the government is drawing up plans for new property development outside the city, where affected slope dwellers can be relocated.

“It’s so exciting that we have the government helping us out,” Puyat said. “It cannot be just the national government. Kailangan tulong-tulong (Everyone must help).”

Filipinos who have been regular visitors to the city have complained about the disappearance of pine trees and the replacement of the bracing scent of trees and flowers with noxious fumes from traffic jams.

“I told nga mayor, I don’t like to go to Baguio anymore, it’s so traffic,” Puyat said. “(And he said) no, no, no, I’ll convert it into a smart city.”

In July last year, Baguio became the first city to be included in the Creative Cities Network of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Puyat wants to build on this, highlighting the unique artistry and culture of the Cordilleras and reviving the landmarks of Baguio such as its popular public market, Burnham Park, Mines View Park and the cathedral at the top of now overcrowded Session Road.

She told The Chiefs that local government executives across the country have become more cooperative with the national government in rehabilitation efforts following the successful cleanup of Boracay.

The national government provides funding and other forms of assistance to cooperative local officials in cleaning up and reviving their areas, Puyat said.

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