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Baguio: Where every piece of land is valuable
by Rimaliza Opiña

The current state of the environment in Baguio is an issue close to the heart of every resident. The concern to conserve the remaining open spaces and green patches has become more fervent recently with the construction boom in the city, eventually compromising its once pristine state and more importantly, its carrying capacity.

Even with limited space, overpopulation, traffic congestion, pollution, lack of water supply, among others, Baguio continues to be a favored area for business, housing, as well as venue for institutions such as schools, trainings and conventions, events, and government offices.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT -- The city government has come up with a comprehensive land use plan implemented alongside the Zoning Ordinance and other national laws to ensure that future developments in Baguio adhere to land use classifications such as residential, commercial, institutional, forest reservations, and parks. -- Harley F. Palangchao

In an area where amenities such as shopping centers, schools, hospitals, hotels, electrical and Internet connection, conference venues, banks, transportation, jobs, and government offices are easily accessible, Baguio remains a magnet especially for real estate development.

It is also this convenience that explains why despite the over 20-year-old concept of spreading economic activities in outlying towns of Baguio, development is concentrated in a city already overflowing with people and buildings.

The only way is up

As population grows, so does the need for commodities, and services like health care, transportation, food, clothing, and shelter, arise.

As an educational center, schools construct more buildings to cater to a growing student population. Saint Louis University for instance, built schools in its properties outside of its main campus at Bonifacio Street. Some departments, which used to operate at its main campus, have been relocated to Bakakeng and Navy Base. The University of the Cordilleras also has built a building entirely for other courses in its campus at Legarda Road.

Call centers have also recently made Baguio their regional base outside of Metro Manila.

The demand for shelter has also increased exponentially.

With the rise in the number of students enrolling in the city’s schools and with people migrating to Baguio for employment purposes, many residents have converted their homes into boarding houses, while those into real estate development have built easy to acquire condo units as alternative to rented apartments.

Limits in space notwithstanding, vertical development has been on the rise. Construction of condominiums has increased and has become the alternative way of owning a property in the City of Pines. Owning a unit has in fact, become a lucrative business for some, as these are leased when owners are not in town. Baguio, after all, is a place that does not run short of people looking for a place to stay – for the short or long term.

Seeing the promise of developing real estate in Baguio, developers have constructed buildings over the four-story limit post-1990 earthquake.

Using the amended provisions of the National Building Code that allows the construction of over four-story buildings provided that it is cleared for ground and structural stability, many “high-rise” buildings have since been built in Baguio.

At present, the tallest building in the city is an eight-story hotel in Marcos Highway.

Sustainable development

Seeing the boom in construction and its impact on the environment, several measures have been passed to regulate development. Some of these are the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) and the Zoning Ordinance.

The CLUP, along with the Zoning Ordinance, was envisioned to achieve sustainable development in Baguio. It is the guidebook in development by protecting the character of the different zones as enumerated in the Zoning Ordinance.

Under the CLUP, land uses were classified into residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, watersheds or forest reservation, and parks, among others.

The CLUP also identified the city’s topography and slope, drainage, flood points location, geology, landslide susceptibility and sinkholes.

To decongest the central business district, the CLUP also classified commercial zones at the outskirts of Baguio like the Quirino Highway (formerly Naguilian Road), Irisan, Camp 7 and Palispis-Aspiras Highway (Marcos Highway).

Commercial activities, which used to be concentrated at the CBD have indeed expanded to these areas but many find the development already taxing for a small city like Baguio.

Slow down

Alarmed by the rate of development vis-à-vis its impact on the environment, an online petition has been submitted to Malacañang asking President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a moratorium on building construction in Baguio.

The petition cited diminishing green covers, slow recharge of aquifers, imminent danger to life and property because of the construction of buildings on seismic faults, and the need to revisit the CLUP and the Zoning Ordinance, as reasons for the halt in construction.

Armed with the enthusiasm of the new administration, the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in July, organized a consultation with stakeholders regarding the proposal for a building moratorium. The agency has also prepared a draft executive order to be signed by the President but its contents have yet to be divulged pending feedback from the DENR central office or the Office of the President.

But the proposal that regulates building construction is not an entirely new policy in Baguio.

On the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake, the city council passed a resolution limiting building height to four storys. At that time, prices of real estate in Baguio were down. Apart from the paving of roads and construction of government buildings as part of the city’s rebuilding process, only a few forms of commercial development took place.

From the archives of the city council, at least two former councilors have proposed a building moratorium. One was submitted in 2009 by former councilor Perlita Rondez, then in 2018 by former councilor Leandro Yangot, Jr.

Baguio Water District Salvador Royeca also asked for a moratorium because the high rate of concretization has resulted in the slow-rate of recharge of aquifers thereby affecting water supply in Baguio. He also asked the city council to regulate drilling of deepwells by private water delivery services, as well as a halt in the issuance of locational clearances to subdivision developers unless they are able to find a source of water for residents in their respective subdivisions.

Some of these proposals have been partially addressed through the CLUP and Zoning Ordinance but many apply to new constructions.

For instance, building permits may only be issued upon compliance with ordinances or national laws such as the Subdivision and Condominium Buyers’ Protective Law, Batas Pambansa 220 which sets the standards and technical requirements for socialized housing projects, National Building Code, Sanitation Code, Plumbing Code, Structural Code, and other guidelines issued by national government agencies.

Also, buildings that are over three-feet in height are required to submit an environmental clearance certificate and rainwater harvesters.

The CLUP also contain landscape regulations, preservation of heritage sites and landmarks, and among others, installation of wires underground for utility companies.

Further, the CLUP prohibits land and building development if the project will result in flooding, deterioration of physical environment unless provided with drainage system and other safeguards, maximum excavation, shall not be more than six meters, based on natural contour.

Mixed land use and Quirino Hill as poster boy

Pre-CLUP, mushrooming of structures without regard to an area’s appropriate use resulted into what we see now as a mess of structures standing side by side and built even on precarious areas and on reservations.

To this day, encroachments on watersheds remain a problem of the local government. Efforts of government to demolish illegal structures are often limited to new structures or shanties while fully built structures still stand, as owners are able to secure court orders that halt demolition while the case of ownership is under litigation.

There are 16 reservations in Baguio. Majority of these areas are now partially encroached by informal settlers or were issued ancestral land titles such as the Busol and Buyog watersheds, Camp Allen, Crystal Cave, Bureau of Aeronautics (Loakan Airport), Camp John Hay, Commonwealth of the Philippines (located at Loakan Proper),Baguio General Hospital compound, Baguio City Economic Zone, University of the Philippines, Philippine Military Academy, Quezon Elementary School, Baguio Health Department at the Slaughterhouse Compound, Forbes Park parcel III, Teachers’ Camp, and a portion of OCT 1.

Baguio’s urban blight reached even the national government’s legislative branch. During a Senate committee hearing about the BLISTT development concept, Sen. Richard Gordon said houses, not trees have sadly taken over the hills of Baguio.

He said areas had areas like Quirino Hill been preserved, pine trees that made Baguio famous would still be around. Gordon even suggested for the relocation of residents to give way to the regreening of the area but his proposition had legal challenges – Quirino Hill was declared a housing site by former mayor Luis Lardizabal and that, the original settlers have been issued titles.

Making it happen

Upon his assumption, City Mayor Benjamin Magalong has included in his governance agenda the revitalization of the environment. He backed the call for a construction moratorium and had immediately coordinated with the central and regional offices of the DENR to draft an executive order to be signed by the President for a one-year moratorium on building construction. He also announced plans of demolishing structures built in rights-of-way and upgrading of the sewerage treatment plant.

The Philippine Institute of Civil of Engineers is divided about the proposal. PICE-Baguio chapter president Aloysius Mapalo said the ban will give an opportunity for policymakers to review regulations imposed by the local government and national agencies. But for other members of the PICE, strict implementation of the National Building Code is enough to ensure that even with the construction of high-rise buildings, these structures are sturdy enough to withstand strong temblors.

PICE past president Antonio Caluza said during a press forum in July, that after the 1990 earthquake, new provisions have been added in the National Building Code that contain risk assessments for buildings. Included in the law is an assessment of buildings after construction.

“Safety of a building starts with proper planning and design,” he said, stressing that the new buildings that the public sees now have undergone thorough assessment and have followed the regulations as prescribed in the Zoning Ordinance.

“There are variations in building height depending on which zone the structure is built,” Caluza said.

Reassessment of policies

As the government and the private sector anticipate the issuance of a moratorium, DENR Regional Executive Director Ralph Pablo explained in the stakeholder’s meeting it organized in July 29 that previous issuances have somehow contributed the present environmental problems Baguio is experiencing now.

As a town site reservation, he said, all of Baguio is considered alienable and disposable. “Without the reservations being maintained by the government, the entire Baguio can be titled (to individual owners).”

He added that houses have also been built at slopes by virtue of a decree issued in 1985 by then President Ferdinand Marcos, which authorized the classification or reclassification of lands 18 percent in slope of over in Cebu and Benguet as alienable and disposable lands.

Just like the PICE, Pablo said the moratorium is a time to give Baguio some “rest” from overdevelopment.

Pablo said the moratorium is a time for all concerned sectors to issues on the implementation of local and national laws. He suggested for a review of the Zoning Ordinance, particularly the classification of alienable and disposable areas, forest areas, and parks.

“My approach is to saturate all open areas with pine trees and let’s not consider planting near houses,” Pablo said explaining that allowing trees to be planted on ones backyard will not stop the cycle of people asking for cutting permits when these grow and property owners need to develop.

“In other areas, forested and residential areas are delineated. Here, it is hard to identify which is one is residential and which one is forested kasi may residents sa loob ng forest or watershed.”

For Office of the Civil Defense Regional Director Albert Mogol, the CLUP has to be amended where measures will be instituted to address disasters specifically perennial landslides in the city.

The city government is presently conducting meetings in relation to the updating of the CLUP.

Mogol said the city government has to come up with a long-term strategy focusing on the engineering aspect of addressing potential disasters.

“The city government, with the help of other sectors should come up with engineering interventions that will make Baguio resilient to natural calamities, especially landslides and earthquakes,” Mogol said.

Mogol’s observation is acknowledged in the 2013-2022 sectoral study of the CLUP. It states that among the strategies or policies that need to be implemented are the strict implementation of the Zoning Ordinance, mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and management in the CLUP, application of multi-hazard mapping and risk assessment, application and adoption of environmentally sound technologies all development interventions, strict implementation of anti-squatting laws, intensified information and education campaign on compliance on environmental laws, mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in all plans and strengthening of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

MIXED LAND USE -- In the effort to preserve the remaining green patches of Baguio, the city government and concerned citizens has asked the President to declare a building moratorium. -- Harley F. Palangchao

LZBAA abolition

Mayor Magalong, on the other hand, said Baguio’s CLUP has lived up its intention as a guidebook that will chart the city’s present and development. “I do not see anything wrong with the CLUP. It’s very strict,” he said noting that the only deficiency he saw is the non-inclusion of easements along waterways.

However, Magalong said he intends to abolish the Local Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals (LZBAA).

Enhancing the application of the CLUP and the Zoning Ordinance has in fact, been added in the city’s executive-legislative agenda.

Kaya mahina kasi there is the LZBAA that gives exemptions,” he said.

But the plan might not be easy given that before the LZBAA grants exemptions, it first sets requirements that the entity seeking exemption has to comply.

The city mayor stressed that under his agenda on enhancing the environment, prescribed land uses have to be followed so that open spaces shall remain as such, while vital reservations will continue to be preserved for the future generations to still be able to see.
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Philippine National Police – Police Regional Office – CAR
R.A Gapuz Review Center

Baguio Central University
Baguio Country Club
Benguet Electric Cooperative Inc.
Congressman Mark Go
Data Center of the Philippines of Baguio City, Inc.
Department of Health – CAR
Kings’ College of the Philippines
Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong
Pines City Colleges
Sangguniang Panlungsod
SM City Baguio
Social Security System
Veterans Bank

Albergo Hotel and Residences
Baguio Center Mall
Baguio Water District
C & Triple A Supermart
Congressman Nestor B. Fongwan
Curamed Pharmacy
Department of Agriculture – CAR
Department of Environment and Natural Resources – CAR
Ganza & Solibao Restaurants
GMS Technology
Governor Melchor D. Diclas
John Hay Management Corporation
Mayor Romeo K. Salda
MMS Development Training Center Corporatino
Mother Earth Deli Basket
Philipppine Science High School
Regional Development Council – CAR


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