Issue of June 17, 2018

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The death of two people as a result of the soil erosion at the construction site of a condominium project in Baguio during incessant rains last week brought back memories of the July 16, 1990 earthquake where among the reasons cited by geologists for the collapse of several buildings then was the lack or even absence of engineering intervention measures that would ensure that “high-rise” buildings are sturdy and on stable grounds.

After the earthquake, building height in Baguio was limited to four stories for quite sometime then it was revised to 19.5 meters or six stories. But overtime, we have slowly seen hotels and condominium units with heights going beyond the prescribed limit. The reason? A soil test attesting that the ground could withstand the weight of the building, along with other requirements such as an Environmental Compliance Certificate, Environmental Impact Assessment, and clearances from regulatory government agencies such as the local government unit and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board were deemed sufficient to ensure that buildings constructed beyond the 19.5-meter limit for commercial structures are safe.

Going beyond the height limit has required contractors to do massive earthmoving activities that have caused soil erosions and poses serious threats to lives and properties.

This “regulatory measure” has proven disastrous for a medium-sized and a city with a mountainous terrain like Baguio.

Not only are we continuing to lose our trees but also our skyline because buildings and billboards are beginning to block our view of a magnificent city.

Ironic that at a time when the city government have passed or even strengthened zoning ordinances and the land use plan, we experience unprecedented construction at practically every nook and cranny of the city with a lot of geohazard areas. Go to the barangays and witness how the construction boom has expanded in these areas. With the lack of space, high-rise structures are built to house the increasing number of the family and even tenants.

The construction boom in Baguio can be attributed to the unabated urban migration, the continuous exodus of people from the rural areas seeking better opportunities in Baguio. Migrants end up as “cliffhangers,” building homes in precarious landscapes classified as geo-hazard areas.

In a city with a population density of more than 4,000 per square kilometer, which is 17 times higher than the national average, concerned agencies must have a holistic approach to address urban migration woes by spreading opportunities to the outlying towns of Benguet. Ideally, the standard number of people for an urban area is only 1,000 residents per sq. km.

Because of the unabated migration and massive developments taking place in city, the proposal for a moratorium in the construction of high-rise buildings has been revived.

We find the proposal timely and more relevant today. The proposal deserves serious consideration, especially since the Mega Pines Development project is not the only issue that showed that massive construction has serious repercussions on the environment and public safety in general.

We take you back to recent events where the city government had to step in because of the erosion at Gibraltar, South Drive, Bakakeng, and lately, the Salud Mitra incident. Although the incident is still under investigation, it is apparent that the massive digging, exacerbated by the continuous downpour, has contributed to the loosening of the soil.

We hope that the investigation will be able to determine the culpability, if any, of the contractor, the HLURB, and even the Department of Labor and Employment, which only issued the work stoppage order, following the death of two of the contractor’s employees.

With the construction projects mushrooming everywhere in Baguio, holistic actions to regulating them should no longer be on a “per agency” basis, but should be addressed collectively by all concerned offices, including the host barangays.



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