• Defacing Burnham Park

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    Ma. Isabel Ongpin

    RESIDENTS and friends of Baguio City are up in arms again. This is not news anymore as in the past decade they have become more and more militant from the outrages to the environment that the local government is either actively inflicting or passively tolerating on the environment of the City of Pines.

    The latest is the proposal that the city council and Mayor are actively pushing to erect two parking buildings on Burnham Park.

    This will attract to the park’s premises cars, vehicles, trucks and whatever else needs parking space in the city center with the attendant pollution which is already a factor in Baguio City’s air with its unrestricted public utility vehicles using diesel and not quite passing the anti-pollution tests. Burnham Park is always the default location for any weird idea that captures the city council and the Mayor. Would it not be rational to look for another site that does not compromise the park? Why not look for a suitable place even if the government has to pay for the land? Why are they cutting corners by taking away park land from the public?

    Not too long ago they actually contemplated selling off the track-and-field part of Burnham Park where city sports and national and regional meets are held to a Korean group, in effect privatizing a part of a public park. Fortunately, the idea was just too bizarre to be carried out and was dropped after a huge public outcry against it.

    In the present case, they ignore all kinds of factors that are part of Burnham Park. One that it is a public park that should be kept as such, meaning it has to have open space, greenery, trees, flowers, grass as it was originally designed and constructed. Unfortunately, it is not in that condition after structures were allowed such as stores, more cement than needed was poured on it (such as in the children’s playground), together with permits for commercial rides as well as a proliferation of vendors taking over the park. In fact, one part was already partitioned off to become a parking area.

    Baguio City has its share of problems. It has been allowed to develop beyond its carrying capacity. The local government has no qualms about giving permits for tree-cutting even if the environment department has the mandate. Its garbage problem is unsolved and it is massive. Its water problem remains equally unsolved. The proliferation of informal settlers in public lands is an established fact. In fact, another weird proposal is in the works – give property titles to the squatters who are on these public lands. Never mind that it is the national government that is the owner. And forget the rule of law in the process.

    With all these complicated problems going on, it is a situation that calls for expertise and innovative technology – in vision, in implementation of the vision, in problem-solving. Perhaps a master plan that is rational and takes into consideration the historical and environmental legacy of Baguio and a rational solution to its problems, or at least a mitigation which prevents further problems. Meanwhile, vested interests in the city are the pressure groups that are involving themselves in these matters with solutions that favor them, which is usually a road to perdition if they are followed. What is needed is expertise from a neutral party with no vested interests and the willingness of the city to implement what is right and necessary. This thrust should rule out vested interests, venality and inefficiency.

    This expertise is not available in the city council or the local government as it would probably not be available in any local government in the country or anywhere with the problems that are present in Baguio. So, why does not the local government actively search for consultants that can show them the way to solve these complicated problems? There are many local experts around with track records to match. Why is the local government on a DIY (do-it-yourself) path which is so self-serving, so obviously mistaken and so destructive of the environment?

    Among the environmental issues regarding the Burnham Park site for parking buildings is that it is over an aquiferwhich is vital to the water supply of Baguio. Due to the inability of the government to deliver water to the city, many water suppliers have undertaken the task of water delivery and they get the water from the Burnham Park aquifer. Digging into it would be a perilous endeavor because it would disturb the aquifer. This fact has been communicated to the local government but they give it short shrift, which only shows how mindless it is when it comes to addressing issues, solving problems, or conserving the environment for future generations.

    So, now Baguio City organizations like The Baguio We Want, the Baguio Heritage Foundation, Pinecone Movement, plus educational institutions like UP Baguio are taking a stand to stop the harebrained idea of putting up two parking buildings on Burnham Park.

    Will the local government led by its officials like the Mayor and the city council listen?

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