FORMER President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) reacted to my column on “Baguio Degradation & DPWH Issues” (MTimes May 31, 2014). His letter dated June 02, 2014 was delivered to the house Thursday last week and he “cordially invited” me to his office “for coffee to clarify the item” that I wrote.
The background is that the administration of President Corazon C. Aquino was unable to address the ugly deterioration of Baguio in the late 1980s. There was the golden opportunity for the national government to control the unbridled development after the great earthquake of July 1990 that devastated Baguio. However, the government of then President Aquino miserably failed to seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do it.
The Aquino Administration had two years (1990-1992) to come out with new development guidelines in a master plan before its term ended, but sadly failed to do so because of its sheer ineptitude or incompetence.
Former President Ramos took exception to what I wrote that “the succeeding administration of President Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998) likewise failed to control the random growth and haphazard developments in Baguio.” FVR explained what he did was not just for the city of Baguio, but for what he called “Metro Baguio” that includes the municipalities of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan and Tuba, also referred to as “BLIST.”
I actually already excused former President Ramos for not being able to attend to the problems of Baguio since he, as Chief Executive, had other more important things to do being “occupied with the rehabilitation of Central Luzon after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June 1991.” Moreover, I added that “probably what was worse was the herculean problem of the Power Crisis in Luzon that his predecessor (Cory) left behind.”
However, FVR emphasized that he did not forget the burgeoning problems of Baguio during his presidency. He told me that he was acutely aware of the degradation of the country’s summer capital since he had been going there in the past decades to notice its deterioration. The former president saw the problems because as Secretary of Defense, he was the concurrent Chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).
After the great earthquake that devastated Baguio in July 1990, then NDCC Chairman & Defense Secretary Ramos saw the need to “depopulate Baguio,” especially with the number of students. There are now an estimated 100,000 students, which is roughly about one-fourth or 25 per cent of the population of 400,000 inhabitants.
However, the former President said that it would be “unconstitutional” to restrict the movement of people by not allowing them to transfer to Baguio as students or employees. Perhaps incentives could have been given to the contiguous towns like La Trinidad, the capital of Benguet province, as well as the municipalities of Tuba, Itogon and Sablan in terms public infrastructure, transportation, housing, health and educational facilities.
FVR cited the impressive public works projects done during his term as president, such as the first flyover located at the intersection of Ramon Magsaysay Ave. and Bokawhan Road leading to La Trinidad, the provincial capital, just four kilometers away. This junction was the scene of heavy congestion in the mid-1990s. To further lessen the traffic problem, a monorail was even planned 20 years ago to complement the flyover.
A major road project built during the Ramos administration that has helped ease the traffic congestion is the Pico-Lamtang Road that allows motor vehicles coming from La Union province via Naguilan Road to proceed directly to La Trinidad bypassing Baguio City. This bypass road better known as “Longlong” (a sitio in Barangay Puguis) connects the Benguet-Baguio Road (Naguilan Rd.) to the vast and scenic Trinidad Valley.
The “Long-Long Road” is a beautiful road not known to many. In 2009, I discovered it to escape the traffic at Bokawhan Road going to La Trinidad due to a DPWH project. I heard of it earlier in 2001 when we went to Tam-awan Artist Village where we saw the provincial buses being rerouted there due to some public infra project at Naguilan Road.
(The Long-Long Benguet Road, a continuation of the Lt Tacay Road in Quezon Hill, also connects to Pico-Lamtang Road at Sitio Longlong, Brgy. Puguis that goes down to Buyagan Road that connects to Halsema Highway.)
A significant development in Baguio during the Ramos presidency was the privatization of Camp John Hay in November 1991. This allowed access to myriad Filipinos to the once exclusive American recreational facility and was redeveloped for tourism. John Hay today is a major destination in Baguio where the pine forest has been protected since the American colonial era.
An achievement that FVR is proud of is the improvement of Teachers Camp and making available the lodging of government employees on vacation in Baguio. The National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) also established a training facility inside the Teachers Camp. Hence, there are now two additional facilities there on top of the existing structures belonging to the Department of Education (DepEd)
Indeed, President Fidel V. Ramos always has the interest of Baguio at heart. I recall the meeting that we had with the First Lady on New Year’s Day of 1993 on our “Greening of Metro Manila” project. He asked me if our group, the Environmental Network Center, Inc. (ENCI), could help Baguio. I told the president that we had (we still have) urban planners, environmental engineers and landscape architects who were ready to help and improve the situation.
In hindsight, I regret pursuing the Metro Manila project to enhance its environment. Perhaps our group and I should have worked on Baguio and environs instead – and perchance we could have MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE!