Unlike Boracay, Baguio won’t be closed to tourists during rehab period

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The City of Pines won't be closed to tourists as it undergoes environmental rehabilitation, Cabinet officials assured Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong in a meeting on Friday morning, January 10.

The mayor met with Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, and Environment Assistant Secretary Jesus Enrico Moises Salazar at the Mansion House, where they discussed how to strike a balance between tourism and sustainable development in the city.

Salazar acknowledged that it would be impossible to close Baguio – as the national government did to Boracay island in Aklan in 2019 – since Baguio is the gateway to the Cordilleras.

He reiterated the commitment of the Deparment of Environement and Natural Resources (DENR) to improving the forest cover of Baguio. This includes the plan to stop cutting trees, particularly pine trees, for at least a year. (READ: DENR chief Cimatu fears Baguio 'may lose pine trees')

Salazar said that DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu (who was sent by President Rodrigo Duterte to help repatriate overseas Filipino workers from Iraq) ordered the inventory of the matured pine trees that remained in the city and needed to be protected. The inventory showed only 418,000 matured pine trees in the city, and the number should be increased.

Magalong said the city would be establishing tree farms and nurseries for this project. He also said they would draw up the regreening master plan from 2020 to 2030. (READ: Magalong wants 'aggressive' regreening of Baguio

Puyat said the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) has set aside P480 million for the rehabilitation of the Burnham Park, which is seen as the buffer zone for the central district.

A memorandum of agreement for the project was signed by Magalong and TIEZA Chief Operating Officer Pocholo Paragas and witnessed by secretaries Puyat and Año. (READ: Magalong prioritizes preservation of Baguio 'heirlooms'

Also for the environment, Magalong cited the city sewerage system, solid waste management, air quality, and the city cemetery expansion as other main areas of concern.

Assistant City Planning and Development Coordinator Antonette Anaban presented the city land use situation and updates, and highlighted as major problems the poor air quality, pollution of rivers, traffic congestion, diminishing forest cover, and informal settlers and illegal structures within the hazard and protected areas.

The following projects are lined up:

As anyone who climbed up to Baguio during the holidays would attest, traffic is also a major headache. Among the solutions presented at Mansion House were:

Magalong also highlighted his pet project, the smart city system, which addresses the security and safety, traffic management, no-contact apprehensions, smart lighting, environment monitoring, and calamity and disaster monitoring and response.

To alleviate the water problem of the mountain city, Baguio is pursuing the bulk water project, water retention, and water clarification facilities.

For tourism, other than the development of the Burnham Park, is the improvement of Mines View Park, Arboretum, Bayan Park, Botanical Garden, Government Service Insurance System Tree Park, Eco-Park and Wright Park, as well as the development of the Baguio City Market and the improvement of its heritage sites.

Other activities in the pipeline are the passage of legislative measures imposing environmental, congestion, traffic impact and other fees, strict enforcement of environmental laws, increase of fines for traffic violators, revision of designs of road islands, removal of waiting sheds from intersections, requiring commercial buildings to construct rain harvesting facilities and their own sewerage treatment plants for those with daily discharge of 12 cubic meters or more. – Rappler.com