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Rehabilitating the ‘City of Pines



AFTER Boracay and Manila Bay, the government now turns its attention to the environmental degradation that has befallen Baguio City.

The city government itself, led by Mayor Benjamin Magalong, is leading the cleanup drive with a 15-year program that will start with Burnham Park, the city’s famous center which is probably the most frequently visited part of the city by tourists coming mostly from the lowlands in the south.

The national government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Interior and Local Government, will be involved in the enforcement of environmental and other laws. The Department of Tourism is committing to a P480-million improvement of Burnham Park.

There are many tourist attractions around the city, but it is at Burnham Park, with its small lake and tiny rowboats, where everybody ends up. Not too far away is Mines View Park, but it is constantly jammed with traffic.

In fact, the entire city now suffers from heavy traffic on any given day, but especially during weekends and holidays, thousands of cars speed through the series of expressways from Metro Manila, only to slow down to a crawl up Kennon Road. There simply are too many visitors and too many vehicles.

With so many people, both residents and visitors, Mayor Magalong has included the boosting of the city’s sewerage treatment plant among his first projects in his 15-year plan. This need may not be read­ily visible, but it is at the core of any environmental problem, such as in Boracay and in Manila Bay.

To many visitors, the more obvious change they have seen in Baguio over the years has been the sight of so many small houses clinging to the sides of mountains, slopes that used to be green with trees. These and other structures so dominate the landscape where there used to be pine trees, so that some critics ask if Baguio is still the “City of Pines.”

Baguio, chartered in 1909, was originally designed for 25,000 people by American architect Daniel Burnham. It suffered much destruction at the end of World War II in 1945 and in the Luzon earthquake of 1990, but it has continued to grow, with a construction boom and an urban sprawl that destroyed many of the city’s pine trees.

The city’s population has been estimated at around 400,000, but the visitors from the lowlands were estimated at 1.8 million in 2018, up from 1.5 million in 2017. At this rate, the weekend population of the city must be over 2 million by now and increasing. No wonder, Baguio has a pollution and sewage problem and Mayor Magalong has made expansion of the city’s sewage system one of the first projects of his 15-year plan.

Baguio will continue to grow and it will continue to draw visitors in the millions because it is blessed with good weather and now, with the new expressways, greater accessibility. The pollution, over-con­struction, and traffic will be the principal targets of the rehabilitation program. But the people will more easily see its success and welcome it when they see more pine trees growing all over the city so that it is once again truly the “City of Pines.”