Dacawi: On saving Baguio’s remaining pine forests, open spaces

(We reopen this updated piece from way back that treats on a financially quixotic idea of preserving Baguio’s remaining pine forests and open spaces. It’s about the tree stand beside the Baguio Convention Center that the city would like to preserve in the light of threats I might be sold and destroyed by commercial enterprise/– RD.)

ABOUT this time several years back, Shoemart confirmed before the city council it was bent on building a condominium-cum-commercial complex on that patch of pine beside the Baguio Convention Center.

Thanks to opposition of city officials and residents, that plan of the giant mall to erect a four-building on the pine patch had since been shelved.

The prevailing sentiment then – and now – was to save and preserve the patch of green. That Baguio feeling was aired through children’s letters for then President Arroyo to have the Government Service Insurance System cancel its deal for SM to convert the patch into an 18-story building complex. GSIS, by virtue of an order by then President Marcos, had owned the patch as part of the Baguio Convention Center complex the system built for the world chess championship series between Anatoly Karpov and challenger Viktor Korchnoi.

Marching to the patch, the kids strung on the trees notices set in tarpaulin expressing the Baguio sentiment for tree preservation. The news then was that the SM condotel would be called “Baguio Air Residences.”

That label would have been an irony of sorts had the project proceeded with the cutting of the thousand or so pine trees that were earlier balled and replanted on the lot President Marcos had sliced off from the Burnham Park national government title.

The news then was that SM would cut only 313 of the over 900 green and brown sentinels for Baguio’s environment, and that SM would transfer some and spare the rest, in consultation with its consultancy agency based in Manila.

Having grown up with pine trees, I know the Benguet variety is one of the most sensitive species. It can be balled when it’s sapling or pole-size, but not when it’s over 30 years old as those beside the Convention Center were when SM made its plan.

The sensitiveness of pine was seen in the case of Camp John Hay. When earth-moving was done to level sites for residential houses of the rich inside the former military rest and recreation center, the trunk base of some mature pines were covered by soil. The soil cover, measuring only a foot or two, choked the mature pine, killing them softly, slowly, surely and silently. That’s how sensitive our pine, whose fading scent we now pine for – resident and visitor alike.

We can’t do anything about Camp John Hay, it being national government property. In the same token, we couldn’t stop SM from recently cutting down, in the darkness of night, 60 pine trees within its property at Luneta Hill, to give way to its Sky Park Project. SM apparently knows now mature pine can’t survive if balled and replanted. That’s why they had to be cut.

Back to the mini-patch of green beside the Convention Center, GSIS yielded to mayor Domogan’s request that it be acquired by the city on a land-swap agreement. That deal came on the heels of the city buying the Convention Center itself, a structure the GSIS built at its own expense.

Although now informally acquired by the city, the patch of pine may yet be subject to changes in city policy in the future. Chances are that Shoemart’s vision and mission for a condotel development of the area would be revived in future city administrations, not necessarily by Shoemart but by other giant enterprises. Its lure for business enterprise grows stronger as demand for Baguio’s land increases.

Perhaps it would be sound governance policy to eventually annotate on the city’s title the condition that the said patch of green shall forever remain as such and never ever to be subjected to infrastructure and human development other than what it now stands for – as the symbol of the city of pines that was, or is.

Now that we’re at it, my citizen’s platform is for the city to exercise its power of eminent domain over the remaining forested private lands of Baguio even as it is now struggling to undo a national government agency’s generosity in awarding as private property some of Baguio’s long-established pine forests and parks.

By virtue of its power of eminent domain, the city can expropriate and preserve remaining private pine stands and forest lands before these are bought and developed by giant subdivision developers and investors from Metro-Manila, they who destroy and cash in on the remaining lure of Baguio yet blame us for its destruction.

Expropriation for preservation of prairies, swamps rock formations and forests is precisely what makes nature conservancy groups effective in developed countries like the United States.

Now that we’re at it, the city can also expropriate other privately owned pine stands, open spaces and lots and save them from the incessant in-road of subdivisions and commercial structures. It may be too late in the day, but it might be sound to expropriate that lot at the corner of Session Road and Lower Mabini St. and develop it as an open space, a mini-park where senior citizens like me can read the weeklies on Sunday mornings.

An open space can serve as a refreshing counterpoint to a busy main street whose quaint, two-floor cafes are being replaced by towering buildings whose owners never considered to include off-street parking space.

Together with the restoration of pedestrian sidewalks of a city where it is still wholesome to walk, this is my citizen’s platform.

(e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments.)


No stories found.

Just in

No stories found.

Branded Content

No stories found.
SunStar Publishing Inc.