Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Save Baguio City

This is my column today.

Baguio City is celebrating its centennial this year.

It should be an opportune time to focus on the attractions, potentials, and the many problems of the supposed Summer Capital of the Philippines, a city which I am sure holds a special spot in the hearts of many Filipinos.

Baguio City is one of my favorite places in the country; right up there with Sagada, Vigan, Bohol, Davao, and Camiguin. I know it is not fair to make comparisons particularly since each place offers something unique and distinct. But for those who work and reside in Metro Manila, Baguio offers something that easily puts it notches above other vacation places—it’s relatively more accessible and, consequently, cheaper. If not for the monstrous traffic jams in key cities along the way such as Tarlac and Urdaneta, Baguio City would only be about three to four hours away from Metro Manila.

Unfortunately, Baguio City is no longer what it used to be. The Baguio City that I saw, smelled, and felt a couple of months back when I went up there to attend a national conference was a far cry from the Baguio City of my childhood, or even that of my college years. This I can say without hesitation: The city is fast deteriorating. It’s almost heartbreaking to see how the city has become victim to overdevelopment.

I don’t remember too many details of what Baguio City looked like when I first visited it as a child, but I distinctly remember fewer houses, lots and lots of pine trees everywhere, and the fact that people wore heavy clothing even at high noon. I have pictures of myself as a child frolicking in Baguio wrapped up like an Eskimo. I was even wearing mittens.

What make Baguio City memorable to me were the three summers spent at the Teachers Camp in Baguio City for various leadership training programs when I was in college. Back then, two annual national conferences were held back to back every year—the National Student Congress organized by the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Rizal National Youth Leadership Forum. I’m not going to embarrass myself here by revealing why those summers were special—suffice it to say that I was at that age when emotional entanglements meant much more than they ordinarily would.

But back then, Baguio smelled of pines, flowers were everywhere, and fog—not smog, enveloped the city most parts of the day. Furthermore, getting around the city was quite relaxing and invigorating. Traffic wasn’t so bad and there was less pollution. Baguio City was idyllic, soothing, enchanting.

Baguio City still has its attractions and its charms today, but one help notice the decay that’s gnawing at the core of the city. It used to be that one’s arrival in the city is heralded by the gush of nippy air, the sight of lush vegetation, and the ubiquitous pine trees and sunflowers everywhere. Today, the first thing that meets a visitor’s eyes and confirms the fact that you have indeed reached the city is the sight of unsightly squatter shanties dotting the sides of mountains where forests of pine trees used to be. There’s a lot of smog, traffic is horrible, and there are hardly any flowers around.

I’ve always wished that the city government did something to save the city from the massive destruction caused by the obvious lack of a strategic urban development plan and the political will to preserve the things that make Baguio City the erstwhile summer/vacation capital of the country. But I guess they are so busy thinking up quick-rich schemes they have no time to think about long-term consequences.

There are many more things that are contributing to the decay of Baguio City. I will not enumerate them here because most of them are contained in a petition that is going around urging the Philippine government to declare Baguio City as Special Heritage Zone in order to slow down, or at least rationalize, the overdevelopment that’s been happening there.

Below are parts of the petition that is going around the Internet now:

“We believe that the City of Baguio is culturally, environmentally and aesthetically unique and different from other cities in the Philippines. We believe that Baguio is the nerve center of our rich and diverse cultures: The Filipino culture in general, the highland Cordilleran culture, the lowland Ilocano culture, and the heritage culture brought about by the Americans during the early 20th Century.

We believe that in the past two decades, the City of Baguio has experienced a substantial degradation of its unique culture, environment and art. We believe that the approval of certain politicians with no respect for the aesthetics and the environment of Baguio to put up concrete structures such as malls, overpasses and flyovers only worsen Baguio City’s lamentable decay as a ‘City of Pines.’

We believe that this overdevelopment resulting in pollution has to stop.
We believe that due to its unique history and blend of cultures, Baguio can be to the Philippines as Barcelona is to Spain, Chiang Mai is to Thailand, and San Francisco is to the United States: A main center of arts, culture, philosophy, education, tourism, sustainable development and environmental awareness.

We believe, therefore, that the City of Baguio deserves to be declared a ‘Special Heritage Zone,’ so that the degradation brought about by overdevelopment can be minimized and gradually controlled. We believe that Baguio City’s heritage as a center of culture and environmental awareness is a valuable asset not just to the Philippines, but also to the world.

We now respectfully call on the residents of Baguio and the Filipino people to sign this humble petition, and for the local and national government concerned to implement and declare Special Heritage status on this unique mountain city as soon as possible, preferably before the Baguio Centennial in 2009, so no further destruction on its limited cultural, environmental and aesthetic resources may continue.”

In case you have not received the e-mail, an online version of the petition is available at http://www.petitiononline.com/baguio/petition.html. Please support the petition and let’s all help save Baguio City.

Photo borrowed from www.kriyayoga.com/philippines/baguio_city_philippines

1 comment:

Rathna said...

I have not heard of this Baguio City .Information shared are very new and interesting,if I get a chance I will forsure make a visit and enjoy the spirit of culture and heritage of this city.