The environmental news from the Baguio area gets worse and worse. Indeed, that highland area is under siege. Depredations against Nature are multiplying. They are not confined to the urban area of Baguio City but are now invading its environs, Tuba, Itogon, La Trinidad, Sablan.
It is again population density untrammeled by environmental concerns, land use rules and the prospect of the future that the next generations will inherit. Government agencies in charge are passive or worse.
In the city, the free patent claims (public land claimed by private individuals for private titles) which has been pegged at a minimum of 500 square meters are now being reduced by the DENR (it is their call) down to as low as 150 to 200 square meters which means that an original 500 square meter lot which would be for an individual family can now accommodate two or three separate titles which will take in two or three families and result in bringing up population density in a city whose carrying capacity has been stretched beyond its limits.
Worse, the DENR proposes the same reduction for Baguio’s surrounding areas i.e. Itogon, Sablan, etc. which compared to Baguio are relatively less densely populated. So, an avalanche of claims to be cut up in these smaller sizes will surely come with its consequences in population density as well as less-than-ideal open space or greenery (if any). It will be concrete, concrete and more concrete.
This favors land speculation because claimants (who supposedly are landless and therefore free patents will accommodate them) will not only get land at below market prices but in turn get enough to sell part of their allotment and make money if lots can be cut up and separately titled.
A look at the claimants will find a proliferation of public officials, particularly on the barangay level, who are managing barangay affairs and keeping a sharp eye for opportunities to make a profit at the expense of environmental restrictions. They are the ones who know where the open space is and regardless of whether it is patentable or not, they claim it.
Government regulatory agencies like DENR do not quite protect the open spaces. This does not seem to be in the spirit of the patent law and certainly DENR is ignoring that spirt and giving in to public pressure to dilute the law as well as ignore environmental standards .
The City Mayor claims his hands are tied as the DENR calls the shots on land use in the city. I think he should take a firmer stand.
Meanwhile, John Hay Management claims a beetle infestation has attacked their trees and caused casualties in high numbers of dead trees that must now be cut down. I can believe it.
Dr. Horacio San Valentin of the DENR based in Los Baños and an expert in pinus keysia (the pine tree’s scientific name) says the beetles attack trees that are vulnerable from stress, poor handling and other humanly caused depredations. The idea is to keep them stress-free and out of too much human activity like fires, construction works, destruction of roots and alien plants that contravene it. It may be too late for that area with what it has gone through since it was privatized. The good news is that at least one developer there is making an effort to protect, preserve and understand the pine trees. Preventive medicine keeps plants, animals and humans healthy.
The latest outrage discovered by ABS-CBN Baguio and available on YouTube is that a road has been cut through the Baguio watershed in the Tuba area which has meant wanton tree cutting, serious erosion and contamination of three springs that are part of the Baguio water district. Congressman Nicasio Aliping’s name has been brought up. The road is intended to lead to a resort. The congressman claims it is his brother’s resort and that he is in the US at the moment and he, the congressman, does not know his brother’s number or cannot contact him. On the surface, this is a very ambiguous answer that raises suspicion. We expect the congressman, newly-elected at that, to give a more believable explanation of this blatant environmental destruction.
Everyone knows that roads built in forests will ultimately ruin the forests. We have a total logging ban which means no road-building in forests, no construction there and no commerce. Moreover, this is Baguio’s watershed. How did the law and all these concerns get ignored? It is said that the planned resort has no environmental compliance certificate. Is there a tree-cutting permit? And if these two critical items are present, on what basis were they given? We are prepared to hear the worst. But after hearing it we want some retribution from DENR, the local government and whoever else is mandated to protect the environment.