Issue of March 19, 2017

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Just last year, Baguio officials were commended for putting their acts together and approved the Environment Code of Baguio, which has been the subject of long discussions and debates over the last 12 years amid strong pressures from concerned quarters for its passage to protect and preserve the city’s fragile environment.

But in record time, the barely three-month old Environment Code, which prohibits any treasure hunting activity in Baguio and the city council members’ attitude towards making their legislations effective were put to test by a request for them to consent to the continued hunt for the fabled Yamashita treasure within the premises of the Baguio Convention Center and the University of the Philippines Baguio.

If the Environment Code has weathered more than a decade to became a local policy, it took only months to be dodged by the request of a treasure hunter, who is armed with a Treasure Hunting and Disposition of Recovered Treasures Permit from the National Museum. What he merely sought was the body’s permission.

The council’s latest action on the request of the Baguio native treasure hunter sets a bad precedent for future parties interested at finding hidden treasures in the city.

It’s disgusting how the city council can readily set aside the laws it crafted and fail to consult other stakeholders that could have guided its members before they finally acted on the request.

It would have helped if members, aside from merely inviting the Baguio treasure hunter to shed light on his plans, also invited representatives from the National Museum and discussed with them the complication arising from the national government’s permit and the need for the city to stick to its regulations. It would have been better if they informed the National Museum of the city’s Environment Code, which explicitly bans treasure hunting.

It would have helped if they sought advice from other stakeholders like the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau on the possible impacts of the treasure hunter’s plans. If only the city council exerted efforts to consult other concerned agencies, they could have come up with a wiser decision, one that balances the economic aspect of the activity with the protection of Baguio’s already fragile environment.

With the council’s favorable action on the request of the treasure hunter, does this mean that groups or individuals who will show a permit from the National Museum to dig for gold in the city can just seek an exemption from the coverage of the Environment Code?

If this is the case, the councilors might as well amend the Code to remove the provision that bans treasure hunting rather than blatantly violating the law they themselves have crafted. Doing so, however sets another precedent.



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