Issue of October 7, 2018
Mt. Province

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Does Baguio City need rehabilitation?

Sometime in April, Boracay was closed for rehabilitation.

The President issued a proclamation directing the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and all allied agencies to take necessary steps to restore the island to its original pristine condition.

It was found out that some of the big establishments operating there did not have sufficient, if not proper, sewerage systems. Some were dumping their waste directly into the beach thereby polluting the ocean like a “cesspool.” Others occupied the mangroves and coral reefs with reckless abandon, suffocating marine life to dying level.

The President said “enough is enough” and with an iron will, barred the entry of tourists in one of the most visited places in the world.

Today, Boracay is ready to welcome its throng of guests. After six months of rehabilitation, it is about to open with renewed vigor and a refreshed environment. Business and recreation will be back to normal, although this time, it will be more guarded. The six months that it went into hiatus will hardly be missed. The place is now better, more sustainable, and less polluted. Its rehabilitation was a massive success.

After the success of Boracay, the DENR, upon the prodding of the President, is looking for other heritage sites that have been degraded by reason of human activities to rehabilitate. Foremost on its list is Baguio City. Yes, it was announced sometime last month that plans are being made to rehabilitate the mountain resort, in the same way that Boracay was. The problem is how to go about it. How do you rehabilitate a chartered city that is the heart of the civilization in Northern Luzon? How do you set aside the bustling commercial activities to restore the place to what it looked like before?

You see, it is so much easier to rehabilitate Boracay than Baguio City because the former is a small island with a limited population, whereas, the latter forms part of a large province that is linked by mountains and ridges making it the melting pot of all peoples from the Mountain Provinces, Benguet, Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Ilocos. The only way to enter Boracay is by boat while there are three routes – Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, and Naguilian Road, leading to and from Baguio City. To shut down the City of Pines from tourists and outsiders is, therefore, near to impossible. To implement measures to isolate the city from its usual activities is improbable.

Sure, Baguio City is in need of immediate rehabilitation, despite the adamant denial of our mayor that there is no need to. For those who have seen Baguio City before the 1990’s, the changes that happened through the years are as obvious as it is alarming. To cite a few examples:

(1) The sweet smell of the pine trees that wafts inside the nostrils in the light of day is no longer there. In its stead is the smell of diesel; (2) The calming sight of the hillsides that were painted with yellow sunflowers have been invaded by informal settlers; (3) The afternoon fog that descends upon us like a blessing from heaven is now a smog that smears our lungs like a curse from hell; (4) The quiet neighborhood that allows us to have a satisfying rest at nights have become a thing of the past. What we see are commercial buildings and nightclubs displaying neon lights and playing rap music to the beat of the noise. The zoning regulations are no longer followed; and (5) The garbage has become a perennial problem, like a gnat that refuses to go away.

Back then, everybody knew everybody. At six in the evening, upon the blare of the siren, everybody stopped for a minute or two to say a little prayer to the Lord. No money? No problem. Neighbors and friends were more than willing to give food and a helping hand to all. That was how close, how generous and how religious Baguio people were. I’d like to believe that they still are, but, their priorities have been blurred by the fast pace that dictates on their lives lest they will be left behind. The character of our people changed in much the same way that our environment changed, for the worst.

Frankly speaking, the problems that beset Baguio City are more complex than the problems that Boracay faced. Boracay only had to contend with improper sewage and over-extended structures. Baguio City has to contend with squatting, garbage, over-development, pollution, traffic, population, and yes, too much politics!

Do we need rehabilitation? Definitely, yes. Can it be implemented and attained? Definitely, no.

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