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Chasing Baguio’ dream as ‘Safe and Smart City’
by Harley Palangchao

One rainy Sunday morning, a Muslim religious leader and a city mayor alternately stood before Christians inside the Baguio Cathedral. It was the first of its kind, done not for religious reasons but in an act of common love and concern for the citizenry.

Their agenda – to caution residents of a supposed leaked military intelligence report about terroristic attacks targeting churches and pilgrimage sites in Northern Luzon, including Baguio.

PEACEFUL BAGUIO -- Muslim leaders pledged to the Baguio City Police Office and to the city government to help in the peacekeeping efforts in the city, and not to harbor any terrorist who will seek refuge in their midst. -- Harley Palangchao

There’s more. Muslim brethren gathered outside the Cathedral right at the heart of Baguio to secure the church and to help authorities thwart any terror act, a scene once witnessed in the conflict-stricken southern Mindanao.

In the past, reports on alleged impending terror attacks were relayed to the public through mainstream and social media; thus, having the urgent information reach a wide spread of readers.

The military intelligence report was unverified, but Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong still opted to convey the threat to churchgoers, not to sow fear, but to advise the public not to let their guards down. It must be his instinct, having been a police officer for a long time, that prompted him to know that precaution goes a long way in thwarting any kind of security threat.

New approaches and innovations in maintaining peace and order is one of the 15-point agenda of the Magalong administration, a campaign promise that will define his leadership style in civilian life after a colorful 38-year in military and police service.

In his speech before parishioners, Magalong reminded that peacekeeping effort is everyone’s concern, not solely the job of government forces. He stressed that terror attacks in the city can be best prevented through public vigilance and urged residents to be proactive and not to be complacent.

Going the extra mile

With Magalong at the helm, Baguio City Police Office Director, Col. Allen Rae Co, said the local police force is going the extra mile by being an environment and tourist-oriented police force on top of their traditional peacekeeping duties.

Acknowledging that traffic woes of motorists and commuters alike, especially during the peak season has been a long standing concern, Co said that BCPO is with the city government in its efforts to ease this problem by clearing streets and sidewalks of obstructions.

Magalong and the BCPO personnel are relentless in their clearing operations along major thoroughfares, warning car owners and establishments to stop obstructing traffic. In his first month in office, Magalong and the BCPO have already been able to improve traffic along Palispis-Aspiras (Marcos) Highway, Quirino Highway (Naguilian Road), Magsaysay Ave., and Buhagan Road (Bokawkan), among other major routes in and out of the city.

Due to the increasing number of registered vehicles traversing city roads and streets, traffic congestion remains an ever-mounting concern for the BCPO and the city government.

Records from the Land Transportation Office show that there are almost 60,000 registered vehicles plying city roads, aside from countless more vehicles registered in local LTOs in nearby provinces that also traverse Baguio.

Maj. Oliver Panabang, chief of the BCPO-Traffic Enforcement Unit, said that illegal parking contributes significantly to the gridlock especially within the central business district. He added that obstructions along sidewalks such as spaces occupied by vendors also greatly slow down road traffic.

Within the city’s CBD, parking is not allowed along major thoroughfares from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. to allow the smooth flow of traffic during these peak hours. But still, gridlock is heavily felt during rush hours due to the high volume of vehicles.

In his campaign, Magalong has vowed his administration will come out with a more effective traffic management system implementing a consistent application of the four Es, which stands for enforcement, engineering, education, and enactment of appropriate legislations.

The mayor said road discipline among motorists and pedestrians must be inculcated and that sidewalks will have to be re-designed and strictly be for people’s use. Traffic signs and other facilities must also be well maintained while walking must be promoted.

“With crime volume decreasing the past months, our local police force has stepped up its campaign on traffic, enforcement of local laws concerning the environment, and tourism,” Co said, adding that BCPO must sustain the gains of being one of the safest cities in Southeast Asia.

IN CONTROL -- Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong and Baguio City Police Office director, Col. Allen Rae Co, vowed that the city would remain as one of the most peaceful highly urbanized cities in the country, as they both called on the public to help authorities in their peacekeeping efforts. -- Harley Palangchao

Safest cities technology

Given his vast experience in police operations and administration, Magalong aims to introduce to the city the adoption of innovative peace and order management, which he claimed in his campaign promise, will bring the best possible peace and order for the city and its people.

The adoption and application of safer cities technology, Magalong said, will further improve the peace and order situation in this mountain resort, which is also the gateway to the wonders of the Cordillera.

Safer cities technology includes the massive instillation of closed circuit television surveillance cameras in the city, especially in crime-prone sites within the central business district.

In 2017, the city government adopted an ordinance that mandates all business establishments to install CCTV cameras, video recorders, and monitors for security purposes. The non-installation of CCTV cameras can be a ground for non-renewal of a business permit.

The ordinance penned by former councilor Edgar Avila claimed a marked decrease in crimes in Baguio in 2011 compared to 2010 after many establishments and households installed CCTVs.

In 2018, Baguio and four other cities in the Philippines, were included in the list of top 10 safest cities in Southeast Asia, a feat both for the city government and the BCPO for making the city an ideal place to work, study, live, and do business in.

With Singapore topping the list of safest cities with 83.77 percent safety rate, Baguio ranked sixth place with 59.43 percent next to Valenzuela at the National Capital Region with 74.79 percent and Davao City with 71.21 percent rating.

The safety index was tabulated by Numbeo, the world’s largest crowd-sourced database firm that collects data from consumer prices to perceived crime rates and quality of health care in various cities worldwide.

Former Baguio mayor Mauricio Domogan, who was at the helm of the city when the safety index among key cities was announced, attributed the favorable peace and order situation in the Summer Capital to the unified efforts of all stakeholders, especially the strong partnership between the BCPO and City Hall.

“It is a collective effort of the people of Baguio, which is being recognized outside the city. We have to express our commendation to all those who have contributed to this, especially to our BCPO, volunteers, barangay officials, tanods, and all people who make the city of Baguio a peaceful city for all of us,” Domogan said.

Safer city innovation

Magalong, who is known for conceptualizing and introducing innovations on the use of technologies to further improve peace and order during his stint with the Philippine National Police, said that to sustain a safe city, City Hall and BCPO must envision an ambitious command center for Baguio where an information communication technology (ICT)-enabled system on peace and order, traffic, and disaster response can be remotely controlled.

“We are envisioning the use of technology in dealing with peace and order, traffic, and disaster concerns in Baguio with the establishment of a command center. We have requested funding assistance from the President for the realization of this project,” Magalong said.

The city mayor told the Courier that he had mentioned to the President during the Philippine Military Academy 2019 graduation rites his administration’s plan to establish a command center in line with the safer city technology project of the city government.

The command center, complete with its components such as installed CCTVs in strategic locations in Baguio, will cost P200 million. The command center is planned to be set up at the City Engineering Office compound where the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council office also stands.

The safer city project for Baguio is expected to be completed within six months as soon as funding has been made available, according to Magalong.

With the use of geographical information system-empowered technologies under the safer city project, the command center will have a better tracking system that the local police, firemen or rescuers can use in times of emergencies and disasters. Better tracking system will also mean quicker action on the part of the local police when responding to crime incidents.

“With GIS-empowered technologies, police personnel will have a clear vision on the exact location of the crime site or the location of a caller reporting an incident. This would mean quick dispatch and quick response on the part of our policemen, or even our firemen,” Magalong said.

The “Safe City” project is not new in the country as the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Department of the Interior and Local Government also launched the safe city solutions in 2017, which focuses on ICT-enabled solutions to foster secure, inclusive and sustainable development in the country.

Under such partnership, “Safe City” was developed to aid city leadership, police departments and other government stakeholders in mitigating crime and security risks, improving disaster management and addressing pollution and traffic congestion, among other issues.

The safe city framework promotes civic engagement through enabling technologies – from advanced security and environmental monitoring to public safety information systems. “Safe City” also allows technology to inform, educate, and engage the citizenry.

COMMAND CENTER -- The current command center, which monitors traffic situation in strategic areas within the central business district, is currently housed at the Baguio City Police Office. The new local administration aims to expand and improve the command center in a new location. -- Harley Palangchao

From “Safe City” to “Smart City”

Depending on the success of the “Safe City” project, Magalong is also envisioning transforming Baguio into a “Smart City” to make government service more efficient with the use of high-end technologies.

A “Smart City” is a city that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public, and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.

Early last month, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno announced his plan to convert the city into a “Smart City” to better serve his constituents. Smart City elements comprise of enhanced flood monitoring and prevention, efficient traffic management, and effective crime prevention.

“Smart City” helps in crime prevention as technology can help police arrest wanted persons through facial recognition captured through CCTV. The project also helps law enforcers through no-contact apprehension, as the BCPO can issue citation to owners of moving vehicles violating traffic rules if captured through CCTV.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is currently implementing the no-contact apprehension for traffic violators.

Greater challenges ahead

But there are greater tasks ahead where Magalong can be of big help, like helping the BCPO in lobbying for more police recruits to be detailed in the city. Recent surveys show that Baguio, with a land area of over 57 square kilometers, has a daytime population of more than 500,000 with a population density of more than 6,000 persons per square kilometer. It means that a city designed for 25,000 population has surpassed its maximum carrying capacity a hundred fold.

This means too that more policemen are needed in a city where population growth has been rapidly growing out of proportion.

Several years ago, BCPO’s manpower was around 500. This means that during daytime, 303 cops were serving more than 450,000 people or a ratio of 1:1, 400 while 170 cops assigned during nighttime were serving 220,000 or a ratio of 1: 1,200. The police detail remains close to that number today, falling short of the needed police in the city.

The ideal ratio of one cop to population is 1:500, which means the ideal police force for BCPO is 1,000 cops.

Drug menace remains a peace and order concern

Magalong also bewails the fact that the illegal drug menace remains as much a concern when he became city mayor in June as it was way back when he was the regional director of the Police Regional Office-Cordillera from 2013 to 2015.

In July alone, 24 individuals were arrested by the BCPO, of which 14 were arrested in a series of anti-illegal drug operations from July 22 to 26. Many of the arrested individuals were not previously listed in the drug watch list and some were collared in supposed “drug-cleared” barangays.

This prompted Magalong, during the Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council in July, to call on the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to report the true state of illegal drugs, not only in Baguio but also the rest of the Cordillera to ensure that policymakers can come out with a “whole of nation” approach in combating the proliferation of illegal drugs in the highlands.

In an interview, Magalong said that it appears as good news that only 15 out of 128 city barangays are drug-affected, but such figure does not seem to reflect the true state of the city's drug situation.

“Are they morally convinced that only this number of barangays are drug-affected while majority are already drug-cleared? We need the real numbers,” Magalong said.

“With filtered data and information comes wrong analysis and wrong decisions or solutions to the problems,” Magalong warned, as he iterated his call for an honest portrayal of the true state of the illegal drug menace in the city.

To effectively combat illegal drugs, Magalong has proposed to increase to P5 million the budget of the City’s Anti-Drug Abuse Council from its usual annual budget of P1 million for many years. He said that when he was with the Quezon City Police District almost 10 years ago, the annual funding of the city anti-drug abuse council was P30M.

Lack of operational funds hampers police and anti-narcotics operatives from implementing anti-illegal drug operations, according to the PNP.

But lack of funding has not hampered the BCPO in waging its war against drugs, as Co reported that 94 individuals were arrested in 73 anti-illegal drug operations and served warrants from January to July this year.

The January-July 2019 operations resulted in the seizure of close to 110 grams of shabu and over 41 kilos of marijuana, all worth P5.5M.

The seven-month accomplishment has already surpassed the anti-illegal drugs accomplishment target of the BCPO during the same period last year where the local police arrested 46 suspects and seized P186,000 worth of shabu and marijuana in 32 operations.

Even with greater challenges ahead, Baguio residents have high hopes that the promising peace and order situation in this mountain resort will be sustained or be improved in the next three years and beyond if Magalong’s vast experience in police and military service can be well-applied in a civilian leadership.
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:: Baguio traffic situation, updates, and suggestion
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:: Baguio – the origin of a geographical name
:: Baguio: Where every piece of land is valuable
:: Looking forward to a sustainable & responsible tourism for Baguio
:: A dream Baguio public market in the making
:: Realizing initiatives for Baguio City’s grand rehabilitation
:: The need to innovate towards a disaster – resilient Baguio
:: Sustaining Baguio City as educational capital of the north
:: Local governance in the time of social media
:: Baguio to recognize four outstanding citizens for 2019
:: Baguio, as a ‘high–tech’ city, vies for efficient, fast services

Philippine National Police – Police Regional Office – CAR
R.A Gapuz Review Center

Baguio Central University
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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
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SM City Baguio
Social Security System
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Albergo Hotel and Residences
Baguio Center Mall
Baguio Water District
C & Triple A Supermart
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Ganza & Solibao Restaurants
GMS Technology
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John Hay Management Corporation
Mayor Romeo K. Salda
MMS Development Training Center Corporatino
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