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Urban migration: A threat to the Summer Capital
by Harley Palangchao

Baguio’s vanishing beauty is due to many reasons, but a glaring one is the unabated rural migration to the city after World War II. Having gone way beyond its carrying capacity, the city is fast losing its natural assets and its grandeur as the Summer Capital of the Philippines that it dearly held for over a century now is gravely threatened.

This city, which has a land area of 57 square-kilometer, now hosts close to 320,000 people, based on the 2010 census. Actual daytime population even reaches almost 400,000, including domestic and foreign visitors that come in and out of the city.

Baguio’s population is steadily growing out of proportion, posting the highest growth rate among the six provinces in the Cordillera from  1990 to 2010. In fact, the city’s population growth rate is higher than the national average based on the national census of 1990, 2000, and 2010.

From its 183,142 population in 1990 or a population growth rate of 3.26 percent, it ballooned to 252, 386 in 2000 with a growth rate of 2.36 percent or an additional 69,244 people in only 10 years time.

Baguio’s population in 1990 was almost equal to the population of Mountain Province and Apayao combined, and its 2000 population was equivalent to Apayao and Ifugao population combined.

In 2010, the Population Commission reported Baguio’s population was 318,676, even higher than the combined population of Apayao and Ifugao or Apayao and Mountain Province.

Using the 2010 census as a baseline, Baguio is arguably one of the most densely populated urban areas in the country today with 5,542 people per square kilometer or close to 20 times higher than the national average.

The ideal standard number of people per sq. km. is 1,000.

To stretch the city’s carrying capa-city, forest reservations are now inhabited and remaining green patches face serious threats from more human encroachment.

City opportunities: Bane or boon

Because of quality education and work opportunities, Baguio beckons. However, these very same assets that have lured rapid migration to the city for almost a half a century now exert pressure on the city’s fast disappearing natural resources and result in social problems.

PopCom Regional Director Rosa Fortaleza explained to Baguio officials as she gave her 5th State of the Philippine Population Report (2010) that migration, not newborn statistics, accounts more for the city’s high population growth.

Baguio has close to 80,000 college students, mostly from the provinces, enrolling in various higher learning institutions here every school year. Many also decide to stay.

There are families from the interior provinces of the Cordillera who migrate to Baguio in search for greener pastures, but work is not easy to come by, and they eventually become part of the urban poor.

Baguio Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda said in 2011, there were already about 72,000 poor families in the city.

Tabanda released this data when she proposed a resolution requesting the national government through concerned agencies led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to expand the coverage of pro-poor programs such as the 4Ps.

Aside from efforts to address poverty, the city government is also facing an uphill battle to stop squatting and encroachment into forest reserves, government reservations, and watersheds for human settlement.

The squalor from the squatting problem

In a 1963 article written by former Baguio Midland Courier staff reporter, Gabriel Keith, almost 2,000 families had their houses built on public lands and re-servations without any permit.

At that time, the surveyed population per hectare in the city was nine persons, but squatting was already a serious problem. Keith said the squatting problem had already plagued the city shortly after the Baguio Liberation Day on April 27, 1945.

The first “Squatters Ordinance” was passed in December 1962, which gave close to 2,000 families a chance to secure their building permits. The recommendations of the Committee on Squatters’ Relocation were never implemented due to political reasons, a problem which is still very much apparent to this day.

City watersheds and reservations under threat

Over time, encroachment into major watersheds and forest reservations has become a serious concern. After the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights’ Act, applications for certificates of ancestral land titles compounded the problem. 

Today, almost all forest and government reservations in Baguio such as Busol, Buyog, Forbes Park, Baguio Dairy Farm, and Camp John Hay have one thing in common – the threat of continued human encroachment.

While the Supreme Court has allowed the city government to pursue its demolition on illegal structures of informal settlers at the Busol Watershed, it remains on the drawing board.
The city was supposed to carry out the demolition of a concrete residential house in the Busol Watershed in 2009, but the plan was halted due to the intervention of one of the current city officials.

That year, former city administrator and now a city councilor, Peter Fianza, recorded around 900 illegal structures in the watershed, some of which were three-story structures.

Thirty-three structures located in three sections of the watershed were set for demolition in July 2009, but the operation was not totally carried out after NCIP Hearing Officer Brain Masweng issued a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction.

The High Tribunal later cited the NCIP legal officer for contempt for this action, but the problem of squatting remains.

Even the Buyog Watershed, which was proclaimed a forest reserve in November 1992 covering 20 hectares, is not spared from human encroachment.

In 2009, barangay officials of Pinget requested the city for the segregation of 113,193 square meters from the Buyog Watershed. The barangay officials also informed city officials that the residents constructed their houses in the area in the late 1970s.

Buyog Watershed supplies water to the Buyog area, Camdas, Dizon Subdivision, Pinget, and Quirino Hill.

The city government and the Office of the Solicitor General are also currently exhausting legal remedies to invalidate the Certificates of Ancestral Land Titles (CALTs) issued covering parcels of lots within Forbes Park and other reservations.

Even geo-hazard areas are occupied

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has reported that structures are built on the surface of areas surveyed to be prone to flash floods and landslides.

Geo-hazard areas in Baguio due to flooding and mass movement have been found in City Camp Lagoon, Dominican-Mirador area, Purok 7 in Irisan, a portion of Kennon Road within the city limits, Camps 7 and 8, Mines View, Victoria Village, Purok 3 in Central Fairview, Pacdal, Old Lucban along Magsaysay, Cabinet Hill, and Lucban.

When Typhoon Pepeng hit Baguio and the rest of Luzon in October 2009, it left 49 dead and four injured in the city due to landslides.

Climate change to trigger rapid migration

Recently, Baguio was cited as the most vulnerable among four cities in the country that will experience the economic consequences of climate change, according to a study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund and the Bank of the Philippine Islands Foundation.

Baguio scored the highest vulnerability index based on climate exposure, socio-economic sensitivity, and inverse adaptive capacity. The other cities surveyed by this study titled “Business Risk Assessment and the Management of Climate Impacts” were Cebu, Davao, and Iloilo.

The study says, “The management of urbanization trends and watersheds as well as Baguio’s population growth, will play major roles in defining the continued viability of this city’s economy.”

It noted that the city must explore its opportunity beyond its boundaries and even beyond BLISTT and must identify its unique competences then craft a “climate smart” long-term development plan that defines a regional role for the city within the Cordillera and even Region 1.

Further rapid migration is expected since Baguio is likely to become a site for “environmental refugees” when people from the lowlands unable to withstand the increasing temperature start migrating to elevated areas with temperate climate and where basic services and job opportunities are present.

The current state of migration in Baguio also greatly contributes to the marked increase in the volume of garbage generated from households and business establishments.

BLISTT: An answer to rapid urban migration

If Baguio will be effective in convincing Benguet officials that the implementation of the BLISTT concept will bring more socio-economic opportunities to the outlying towns, then it can  address the rapid urban migration.

BLISTT stands for neighboring Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay.

The impending adoption of the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) is likewise important because the plan defines use of the various zones in Baguio.

The CLUP focuses on the allowed uses within the different zones, sets building heights and the provision of a land use map which will specify the land use allocation of the various zones as residential, commercial, industrial, institutional and utilities zones.

The creation or development of service centers such as those present in Baguio in the other rural areas, especially the emerging urban areas in the Cordillera, such as communication infrastructure, health care centers and education will also help mitigate the rapid migration to this mountain resort.

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