Seas and cities of disaster
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - May 31, 2003 - 12:00am
In the Philippines, you can tell the changing of the seasons by the disasters. Long summers suddenly end with ferry boat sinkings. Monsoon rains and typhoons conspire to tell one and all that school is about to start. For all our education, we never learn.

Floods overcome us. We curse and swear. Manilans have done so for centuries now. We have always known that the rains will come, that our esteros and drains are clogged, that the seas can get rough, that passenger manifests are always a joke. But it is no laughing matter. Will heads really roll this time? Or will we forget by Christmas season? (Which in the Philippines starts in August.)

Our problems with torrential rains and typhoon winds have gotten so great that even elevated Baguio does not escape inundation. But then, Baguio is already drowning in its own, ever-increasing, flood of problems. This week’s article was supposed to head straight to that subject, but we have been drenched in woes these past few days.
Pining For Change
Just two weeks ago, when the sun was still shining, the chatter on the heritage and planning websites intensified. I monitor signs of activity on these channels so as to keep abreast of heritage loss or signs of terrorist activity against culture and the rights of citizens to a healthy and ennobling environment.

A petition suddenly hit the sites calling for the declaration of Baguio as a special heritage zone. The call came from one Dion Fernandez, a Baguio resident, who wrote: "I am a Baguio City resident who is sick of the environmental and cultural degradation this city has seen in the last two decades. If you feel strongly about the sentiments I write below, please do sign the petition and spread the word. Thank you for your time."

The petition states:

We believe that the city of Baguio is culturally, environmentally and aesthetically unique and different from other cities in the Philippines.

We believe that Baguio is the nerve center of four rich and diverse cultures: The Filipino culture in general, the highland Cordilleran culture, the lowland Ilocano culture, and the heritage culture brought about by the Americans during the early 20th century.

We believe that in the past two decades, the city of Baguio has experienced a substantial degradation of its unique culture, environment and art. We believe that the approval by certain politicians with no respect for the aesthetics and the environment of Baguio to put up concrete structures such as malls, overpasses and flyovers only worsens Baguio City’s lamentable decay as a "City of Pines." We believe that this overdevelopment and resulting pollution have to stop.

We believe that due to its unique history and blend of cultures, Baguio can be to the Philippines what Barcelona is to Spain, Chiang Mai is to Thailand, and San Francisco is to the United States: A main center of arts, culture, philosophy, education, tourism, sustainable development and environmental awareness.

We believe, therefore, that the city of Baguio deserves to be declared a special heritage zone so that the degradation brought about by overdevelopment can be minimized and gradually controlled. We believe that Baguio City’s heritage as a center of culture and environmental awareness is a valuable asset not just to the Philippines, but also to the world.

We now respectfully call on the residents of Baguio and the Filipino people to sign this humble petition, and for the local and national governments concerned to confer on this unique mountain city the special heritage status as soon as possible, preferably before the Baguio Centennial in 2009, so no further destruction of its limited cultural, environmental and aesthetic resources may continue.

Heritage Conservation Society’s Ivan Mandy quickly responded with a note to remind everyone that, "Baguio is the only American colonial hill station designed by the eminent Daniel Burnham. Other hill stations in Asia are Darjeeling and Simla in India,

Bandung in Indonesia, and the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia."

Ivan has his heritage history right. The Americans invented Baguio as a refuge from the debilitating heat and tropical cyclones of Manila. Since the commonwealth period, the City of Pines has become a summer destination for all who could make the trip up. Many a heartwarming summer spent in Baguio fills the collective memories of generations of lowland folk like most of us. Who does not remember boating in Burnham Park, Baguio’s strawberry fields (but not forever), its famous strawberry jam or the scent of cool pine?
Sign Up Now!
But alas, all is not "pine" for Baguio these days. The evergreen trees have given way to artificial ones. Strawberries and everlasting flowers can still be bought but now, Baguio reeks of the everlasting stink of diesel fumes and unflushed toilets (in the park). Like almost all cities in this country, Baguio has been unable to repel attacks from jeepneys, tricycles, billboards and politics. The only green space left in Baguio is John Hay but even that is endangered. Malls, flyovers, and more politics are threatening to bring Baguio down to the sordid level of less elevated environments like Manila’s.

The response over the Internet was quick. Within a few days, the petition was signed by concerned Filipinos from Manila to Melbourne. Among the signers were Cristina Bejar Gallardo, Maximino M. Bejar, Monserrat M. Bejar, Minette Cruz-Soriano, Jaja Mendoza, Jaime B. Antonio Jr. (Local Government Academy), Augusto Villalon (HCS), Rene Luis S. Mata (HCS and UP College of Arch.), Gemma Cruz-Araneta (HCS), Fernando Nakpil-Zialcita (HCS), Leon Cruz Araneta (HCS), Peter Allan R. Bontuyan (HCS), Fulvio Ma. Guerrero (HCS), Verna Mamicpic-Alih (Siquijor Heritage Foundation, Inc.), Dr. Minguita Padilla (Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines), Manny S. Gaerlan, Ivan Mandy (Heritage Conservation Society), Fr. Rene B. Javellana, S.J. (Ateneo de Manila University), Ivan Anthony S. Henares (HCS/City of San Fernando Tourism Division), Reddy  Gonzales (APOHKAA, Hongkong), Pastor Joseph T. Gutierrez (San Francisco, California), Ed Andanar (Univ. of Melbourne), Maridel Martinez Andanar (Univ. of Melbourne), Faustino P. Villamayor, Johnson Fernández (Canadá, DILA), Juan Mauricio Reyes (DILA), Dindo Generoso (DILA), Santiago B. Villafania (Ulupan na Pansiansia’y Salitan Pangasinan), Virginia Ganzon Rodriguez (N.C., USA), Trixie Cruz-Angeles (Angeles Grandea and Paler Law Office, Manila), Maribel Ongpin (Friends of the National Museum), Hans Gaisano, Kate Uy, Marinella Mina, Gerard Rixhon, Sony K. Ng, (HCS/Museum Volunteers), Michelle Olondriz (Museum Volunteers of the Phils.), Carol Mrazek (Museum Volunteers of the Phils.), Niño Charls C. Oliveros (Salinlahi UP Manila), Aurora "Bugan" Ammayao-Hettel (Ifugao from Banaue), Jean Indunan Getchell (Ifugao from Kiangan).

Lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, one of the petition signatories, also suggests that the petition could lead to a more specific (or alternative) declaration of Baguio as a special cultural and environmental zone, to be protected by the DENR.  This, she explains, would mean no new constructions can be made without clearance and studies on cultural and environmental impact.  And this would further require even the local government to comply as well ("no more special projects involving making concrete facsimiles of trees!" she says). The good attorney, who specializes in heritage, also advises the creation of a restoration plan with timetable and funding proposal, noting that sources other than government endowments and private funds require a legislative act for allocation.

Other citizens like Ray Baguilat recommends, among other measures, the banning of unleaded gasoline, cargo trucks, and smoke belchers; the replanting of pine trees and flowers that used to fill Baguio’s hillsides; and outdoor advertisement control (in relation to this, reports from professional photographers indicate the difficulty now of shooting picturesque shots of tourist destinations like Baguio, Boracay, Bohol and Pangasinan … all because of the uncontrolled proliferation of outdoor advertising!).
Let’s Roll!
I hope the petition does not fall on deaf ears (deadened from all the noise of tricycles and jeepneys). Baguio could be wonderful again, as with all our cities, if we remove air pollution, conserve our landmarks, and plan for more public space. We could all benefit from these initiatives, along with other more basic ones such as the provision of housing, sanitation, drainage and good governance.

I hope next year I do not have to repeat this article. Our calendar of disasters really is starting to tire me, as I’m sure it is really tiring everyone. There is no excuse for all this cyclical tragedy. Even if we can escape to a revived Baguio, we must also prevent Metro Manila from going under. The same goes for all cities as with the fixing of our dangerous transport system. Short memory or not, the Filipino deserves better.

Let’s see those heads roll, Madam President!
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