MY FATHER Marcelo was a laborer at the Baguio Health Department since the late ‘50s tasked to fumigate mosquito-infested areas under the Anti-Malaria Control Unit. At that time, the dreaded DDT was not yet banned by the World Health Organization and part of his task was to disinfect waste disposal areas using said chemical.
He usually returns home smelling alcohol explaining that the gin bearing the image of a demon and an archangel was his antidote to the chemicals that he may have inhaled while on duty. Before he retired, he was also assigned as the person in-charge of the upkeep of the Baguio Cemetery where my siblings and I earned extra money during weekends and vacations cleaning tombs and mausoleums.
After my father’s day-time work and during weekends and holidays, he made soft brooms and we helped his “sideline” by separating the tiger grass panicles from its stalks. His broom is unique because it uses a handle made of a creeping bamboo called “Bikal” which far stronger than the usual Tiger grass stalk. I also experienced selling soft brooms at the old Pantranco terminal and a piece of broom then only sells for three pesos each.
Aware that there is money in disposed thrash like bottles, plastic containers, sardine cans, carton boards and paper that are recyclable, my father started a junk shop business when I was in high school and our small enterprise actually allowed me and my five siblings to finish college except one who chose to discontinue his engineering course to help my father, drive and manage our two delivery trucks.
What I know is that my father resigned from government service mainly because his bid for a hazards allowance was not granted despite his constant exposure with DDT.
He then started a scrap buying station at the back of the Pilando building of Magsaysay Ave and in 1979, he put up a junkshop at Irisan Barangay near the open dumpsite.
There were only few residential houses then as the place used to be smelly with the constant smoke from the burning which accordingly was accidental and not introduced.
Thousands of tons of wastes were dumped, incinerated or left to decay making the whole place practically clouded by smoke likened to the smoky mountain of Payatas.
The people who recover and salvage recyclable items were often referred to by media as scavengers until we introduced the term ‘Eco-Aide’ when I was with the Alay sa Kalinisan that helped catapult the image of Baguio as among the cleanest and greenest highly urbanized city.
In 2011, a mountain of waste deposited into the area cascaded to a village below because of strong rains. Like a landslide, media referred to it as ‘trash-slide’ because of the volume of wastes that covered the hillside below all the way to the BenCab Museum along Asin Road of Tuba, Benguet.
With the move of the city government led by Mayor Benjie Magalong to transform the place into an Eco-Park that can someday be added as a tourism destination, it likewise coincide with my plan to develop our former scrap buying station into an ecological hub and artists village. With its modest 620 square meters of land area, I intend to put small but livable structures that represent ancient human dwellings like cave house, stone house, pueblo, Indian teepee, kalapaw or bamboo house including our type of barong-barong or shanty that I will build myself.
There is an existing and untouched rock formation in the area with a crystalline-like patina that I can further enhance as part of place’s activity area. The concept art hub is not really meant for dwelling purposes but it can serve as a site for art workshops, visiting artists and stopover place for educational tours. It is definitely unlike the Baguio Eco Park that we observe in the net having static and moving replicas of dinosaurs that even has biblical structures resembling the Holy Land.
If city officials are now recalibrating their master development plans to suit the present situation and conditions of Baguio, I also assessed and put into consideration the environment impact, carrying capacity and provisions for Incident Command System in my concept eco park. Because of Baguio’s experience of strong earthquake in 1990, I have attended several trainings on disaster risk reduction and ICS including airport emergency and mass casualty incident which made me aware of the need to have an open for disaster triage and evacuation area.
The former dumpsite houses a modern Environment Recycling System or ERS that recycles organic wastes into fertilizer was visited by the new mayor and I have committed to align my plan with that of Baguio in its bid to be a model for environmental protection. The elementary school that is right across our former junk shop can actually be a model for the three Rs because its office rooftop is a garden that show how pupils reuses, reduces and recycles.
The Alay sa Kalinisan without the famous witches of Baguio namely Cecile Afable, Leony San Agustin and Virginia de may have lost its influence to rally the residents for an environmental feat, Baguio I believe can still make waves and earn distinction supporting its Unesco Creative City status by having art hubs and eco parks.