BAGUIO City has always been a haven for me. It seems that despite the hassle of a long drive to and from, spending at least 24 hours in the City of Pines recharges me enough for a week. It’s neither the touristy places you visit, nor the shopping for barrel men and unusual whatevers. But it’s kicking back, relaxing, taking in the cool weather and watching the world go by.
Some friends say I’m nuts since Tagaytay is just literally minutes away from where I live and can do the same thing. But Baguio is different. Somehow, the recharging is different and more effective. Maybe because it’s also very personal, for myself and even my family.
Lately more attention has been given Baguio City, partly because word gets around faster nowadays with the Internet and Social Media. It seems that there is a wider awareness now of what’s going on in Baguio is showing the alarming rate by which the city is being veered from its original charm to a full blown urban center.
I guess it began when my paternal grandfather was very young his parents passed away. They were traders in Cavite, so his eldest sister packed up their remaining belongings and gathered the siblings (I forget how many exactly) into an ox-drawn carriage and headed to the opportunities of the north. They were headed for Bagiuo, supposedly via the old trail through Naguilian, La Union.
Baguio was the Summer Capital, the haven built by the Colonial Americans to serve as the seat of government and commerce during the unbearable hot summer months. Basically everything – executive, legislature, judiciary – moved there from March to May.
Baguio was also the seat of the American economic exploitation of the islands, the main point of extraction of gold, copper and other precious minerals needed to fuel their colonial economy.
But according to my father’s chronicles, as his ancestors reached the crossroads in Bauang, La Union, the ox died. Thus, there the family settled. But Baguio was always in the heart, and many eventually made it up the mountains and made the city their home.
Like any urban center in the country, Baguio now faces challenges to its life – it’s sustainability as what it was originally envisioned to be: as respite from the urban sprawl of the lowlands.
On one extreme, there are those who want to bring Baguio to a much earlier time in its life: no high rises, much less concrete and less vehicle density. On the other extreme, there are those who just say “you can’t stop progress,” bringing in such laizzes-faire economics and attitude, allowing it to flourish, fall and hopefully self correct with the minimum of government interference.
So much has happened since the days when the American colonizers commissioned Daniel Burnham to lay out the city. More opportunities, more people, less gold, export processing, farming, more people, more schools, tourism gimmicks, more people, consumer economy, more retailers, more people, big capital, malls…
Yes, you cannot stop progress, but you can strike a happy balance with it. Take for example malls. You can’t and in fact shouldn’t stop capital from coming in – and only the big developers like SM, Ayala, Robinsons etc have the much needed capital – but you can make sure that you create rules by which they will operate. These range from environmental sustainability, health, safety and even their designs and plans.
The challenge too is in making sure that sustainable practices go down to the household and individual levels. You look at the city mountainsides and see the unruly gathering of houses and shanties. Think of the dangers to all of the unmanaged and unabated structures. Think of the mounting garbage problem. Think of all the problems of uncontrolled urban decay.
Perhaps zones can be clearly defined for various kinds of developments and structures. Perhaps no vehicle areas can be mapped out. Perhaps a sustainable pine tree replacement program can be put in place, institutionally and in the household areas. Perhaps more traditional or sustainable developments can be made outside the city center… so many possibilities with new technology and methods.
Yes, a caring citizenry can call out for change and even go about its action plans such as tree plantings, filing cases and such. But I must understand their frustration, having to constantly fight fires left and right, beating yourself black and blue while the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care.
The key, at this point is government. I’m not talking about the Manila centric national administration. I’m talking about local government – the city and provincial executives and legislature. They must have a good sense of the right direction, a strategic plan of where BaguioCity must stand if it is to survive, and all action must flow from that. It all starts from them – their hearts and minds – before any effective and sustainable solution can be found.
And thus, the major effort of all who claim to love Baguio – the activists, the businesses, the residents and even the tourists – must be for change in its government, governance and leadership.
Baguio cannot afford to have leaders who create a concrete pine tree in the middle of town, neither can it afford leaders who will cave in to the rants of a handful noisy extremists to the detriment of livelihood nurturing capital.
A clear, sustainable plan and a lot of tough love in implementing – that’s what Baguio City needs in its government. And it’s up its citizenry to make sure that this is in place and ably supported. You can’t just sit back and relax and watch them do all the work. If not, then the city just goes into this vicious cycle: a downward spiral which will end up somewhere awful.
Think of it this way, it’s like Baguio is being flushed down the toilet. Is there a way of stopping it? Yes there is, but you have to put your hand in.