IT SEEMS Baguio City is suffering from urban decay. Pine trees are disappearing and buildings are sprouting all over. There is a NEDA report though that says the city has not yet exceeded its carrying capacity. Some drastic measures however are needed to arrest overdevelopment and preserve its natural beauty.

In a bold move, newly-elected Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong asked Malacañang for an executive order that would freeze the processing and issuance of building and tree-cutting permits for a year. This will also allow his administration time to rehabilitate vital utilities like the sewers.

Baguio is famous for its Pine trees that is why it is called the City of Pines. But the Benguet Pine, endemic to the Cordillera Region, is being lost to development and urban expansion. Some are felled by diseases. Many pine tree clusters are sick or dying. The DENR, for example, had allowed the developer of Camp John Hay to cut more than 200 infested pine trees.

Cutting of Pine trees has always been a contentious issue in Baguio City. In spite of protests from environmental groups, developers somehow manage to get permits from the DENR. Recently, a landowner was sued by the city government for “intentionally killing” 45 fully grown Benguet Pine trees with the use of poisonous or toxic substance in one of the private lots at Legarda Road.

On building permits, Baguio has an ordinance limiting structures to eight stories only but there are reports that 52 buildings had exceeded this requirement. This is probably the reason why the mayor is requesting for a moratorium. The city government also wants to regulate basement parking. Some buildings have excavated deeper to build underground floors for parking or for additional store or office spaces.

Another problem arising from overdevelopment is solid waste management. The city’s Irisan dumpsite is supposedly closed. In 2012, the Court of Appeals granted a Writ of Kalikasan and a Writ of Continuing Mandamus against the city government to permanently close the area. The city spends at least P70 million annually to haul garbage to sanitary landfills to as far as Tarlac and Pangasinan provinces.

Overdevelopment has also put a strain on the city’s water resources. Rapid urbanization has not only increased the number of residents but has also resulted in the proliferation of private deep wells. The proliferation of wells and the degradation of the watershed contribute to the depletion of groundwater.

Then there’s traffic. A 3-month study conducted by the Cordillera office of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB-CAR) on the volume of motor vehicles coming in and out of the city showed there is an average of over 36,000 motor vehicles plying the major roads of the city daily. Today, it’s very difficult to find parking spaces in the city’s tourist spots.

With heavy traffic comes air pollution. In the 2018 WHO report which gathered data from 2,977 cities in 103 countries, eight (8) cities in the Philippines were on the list with Baguio as the most polluted among them.

If President Rodrigo Duterte was able to close Boracay to save it, there’s a big chance that he will also grant the request for moratorium of Mayor Magalong.