Saving a city’s lure

>> Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ramon S. Dacawi

BAGUIO CITY -- About this time some eight years back, Shoemart confirmed before the city council it was bent on building a condominium-cum-commercial complex on that patch of pine beside the Baguio Convention Center .
Since then, SM’s plan to construct a multi-story, four-building structure has been shelved, thanks to the city’s official and resident opposition .
The prevailing sentiment then was also aired through   children’s letters for then President Arroyo to have the Government Service Insurance System, owner of the property by virtue of an order by then  President Marcos, cancel its deal for that commercial venture with SM. Set in tarpaulin for all to see, the letters, strung on the trees  by the kids themselves, were stolen a day after they were installed within the patch.
The news then was that the condotel would be called “Baguio Air Residences”, an irony of sorts had the project proceeded at the expense of the thousand or so pine trees balled and planted on the tiny patch of green that serves as  a buffer to the continuing urban sprawl.
The news then was that SM would cut only 313 of the over 900 green and brown sentinels for Baguio’s environment, that SM would transfer some and spare the rest, in consultation with its consultancy agency based in Manila.
Having grown up with pine trees, I know the Benguet variety is one of the most sensitive species. It can be balled when it’s sapling or pole-size, but not when it’s over 30 years old, like those at the man-made patch, which were balled and planted as a backdrop to the 1978 World Chess Championship series at the Baguio Convention Center that then President Marcos ordered GSIS to build for such purpose.
Take the case of Camp John Hay. When earth-moving  was done to level sites for residential houses of the rich, the trunk base of  some mature pines were covered by soil. The soil cover, measuring only a foot or two, choked the mature pine, killing them softly, slowly and silently. That’s how sensitive the Benguet pine is, its  fading scent  we now pine for – resident and visitor alike. .
We can’t do anything about Camp John Hay, it being national government property. About the mini-patch of green beside the Convention Center, GSIS yielded to Mayor Mauricio  Domogan’s request that it be acquired by the city on a land-swap agreement. That deal came on the heels of the city buying the Convention Center itself, a structure the GSIS built at its own expense.
Although now acquired through purchase by the city, the patch of pine may yet be subject to changes in city policy in the future. Chances are that Shoemart’s vision and mission for a condotel development of the area would be revived in future city administrations, not necessarily by Shoemart but by other giant enterprises. This will be likely, for its lure for business enterprise grows stronger as demand for Baguio’s land increases.
Perhaps it would be sound governance policy to eventually annotate on the city’s title the condition that the said patch of green shall forever remain as such and  never ever to be subjected to infrastructure and human development other than what it now stands for – as the symbol of the city of pines that it was.
Now that we’re at it, my citizen’s platform is for the city to exercise its power of eminent domain over the remaining forested private lands of Baguio. This is most urgent an action, as the city now struggles to undo a national government agency’s generosity in awarding as private property some of Baguio’s long-established pine forests and parks.
The city, if I may,  can and should adopt as policy the expropriation and preservation of private forest lands as pine stands, if only to remind us of the beauty that was Baguio. This radical approach to preservation is most urgent before all of what remains of these are bought and developed by giant subdivision developers and investors, they who are cashing in on the remaining lure of Baguio yet, ironically blame us for its destruction.
Now that we’re at it, the city can also expropriate other privately owned pine stands, open spaces and lots and save them from the incessant inroad of subdivisions and commercial structures.
It may be too late in the day, but it would have been sound to expropriate that corner of Session Road and Lower Mabini St. and develop it into an open space, a mini-park where senior citizens like me can read the weeklies while basking in the Sunday morning sun.
An open space can serve as a refreshing counterpoint to the concrete jungle that is Session Rd.

It would be also in keeping with the vision of the city’s founding fathers to recover and restore the sidewalks which were installed in keeping with the vanishing fact that it’s pleasant to walk in Baguio. Baguio, originally, was made for walking. This is a luxury of sorts that  you can hardly have in tropical Philippines.   ( for comments.)


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