By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
How easily the people of Baguio forget. Maybe they are not really from Baguio or care what happens to it for anyway they are leaving for the States, Canada or Japan.
In the earthquake of 1990, the 11- storey high condominium in Pacdal, the 17-storey Skyworld building in Session Road, the Hyatt Hotel, the 7-storey Baguio Park Hotel, the Nevada Hotel, and the massive Baguio Hilltop Hotel all fell like a child’s toy building blocks on the floor.
Also, right after that earthquake the carrying capacity of Baguio as a city was revealed, in terms of development, water supply and possible access through the mountainous terrain to other provinces. At that time Baguio had already reached its carrying capacity. So minimal development was recommended. Today, 18 years after, buildings, subdivisions, big houses and immigrants continue to cover more and more forest space and very fast.
City Hall has just revealed to the press the extent of the proposed joint venture development of the semi-privatized Government Service and Insurance System (GSIS) and SM Holdings. In the open space (and breathing space) between the University of the Philippines, the Court of Appeals building and the Convention Center is a very healthy garden of some 35 year old Benguet Pine trees and and some 1000 younger ones.
Before these pine trees were planted by the convention center project of then first lady Imelda Marcos, she took away the football and tennis grounds of the UP Baguio. At that time those were the favorite sports and the only games students of that institution would fight tooth-and-nail for (besides the anti-Marcos rallies they could muster). When the government announced it was building the convention center, appeals were made in behalf of the school, but that was the time of martial law. So the grounds were given for the so-called convention center… and now UP has an apology for a football ground.
The pine trees were about three to five feet tall when they were planted there in a rush. Many of which they had to dig out from their natural habitat to be planted there in time for the grand inauguration with the First Lady then. Now they are going to cut all of them down to give way to four 13-story high buildings to house a condotel (short for condominium and hotel), or simply put, housing facilities for the rich.
That area was where the Mountain Province High School, predecessor of the present Baguio City High School, used to stand. It is also part of the government center and a national reservation. It is part of government appropriated ancestral land of the Baguio Igorot. It also was part of the path of that railway of the Manila Rail Road (MRR) in 1917.
At this time of threats from global warming, pollution, crowd management, congested cities, traffic, growing need for public housing, carrying capacity, water source, garbage or waste disposal problems and need for green spaces, our city has to give priority to the health of the city as a whole. The conservation of the environment and easing the congestion at the central business area is a priority. Or not only the bottom of Session road would make Baguio City the most polluted air in the world but the whole central district.
After cutting all those old and beautiful pine trees atop Luneta Hill, and destroying the aquifer under the present SM structure, allow the pine tree stand at the convention center to grow and flourish. SM is already too rich and if GSIS does not need that land it must return to the City and to the Igorots of Baguio. It was not originally expropriated for private interests but for public use. In the end, for the people, Money is of no value. In the long run, the collective health and natural resource of the City is much more valuable.#