Boracay now, Baguio next?

THE PRESIDENT ‘s outraged outbursts over Boracay in recent days must have gladdened the hearts of environmentalists, even as his words of utter dismay sowed fear among the concerned usual suspects. Yes, Boracay has turned from the world’s topnotch tourist destination into a global cesspool nobody, much more Filipinos, can ever be proud of.

The fact is, for years now, Boracay has been deteriorating so badly that when President RRD finally let out the usual expletives, no one was surprised. Its degradation has been going on for nearly two decades now, with everyone — the local officials, the businessmen, the tourists — sharing a level of irresponsibility without peer. Aghast perhaps over what has become an international shame, the President minced no words in expressing monumental disgust. In six months, out of the island the erring private resort owners — and they are quite a huge number, they who have done everything in wanton violation of environmental protective regulations. Perhaps, even DENR Sec Roy Cimatu may have to go if his department fails to exact compliance with the wastewater standards direly needed in the island.

And what are these? Foremost of course is the installation of sewerage and drainage facilities that the local government has to put in place. Second, sewer and drainage lines must be connected to the waste generators, the business establishments that have been sprouting merrily in the last two decades. Interconnection will ensure that wastewater is properly disposed of, not just flushed out into the sea. A tough task to accomplish in six months? Not really, if some sense had been put into the head and heart of everyone concerned to get the supreme simple act going.

And while we’re mindful of Boracay, which is geographically a distant place for us, it’s about time that we look at Baguio too, lest the President’s attention turn into our pride of place. A few years back, Baguio was part of a tandem (along with Boracay) of prime tourist destinations that need urgent national attention. Baguio’s inclusion in that list didn’t surprise anyone at all, given the rapid urbanization that has taken place, a kind of modernization that has brought in the usual maladies that come along, the vanishing pines trees caught up in concretization, the air quality deterioration all around, the informal settlements made to perch on forest public lands, to cite a few.

To say the least, Baguio’s environmental resources have not grown any lusher in the last five years or more. Pines trees continued to be cut down — seemingly from a complex network of connivance and deceit, both national and local, wherever a human settlement gets to, well, settle down, whether a high-rise townhouse or condo type project.

Waterways continued to be clogged up by all sorts of wastes, simply because people had been merrily dumping everything on creeks and river tributaries. Solid waste continued to pile up from indiscriminate generation, tons of which growing in magnitude as a result of increased waste-generating activities.

The good news is we don’t see garbage shamelessly littering our roads. The bad news is the waste we produce gets to be transported and dumped elsewhere, at about P100 million, on the average, a year in the last twelve years. A permanent solution to our garbage woes has long been an elusive thing, escaping a final pint-point determination by the best minds in the business.

Like the rest of us, we’re hopeful year after year that Baguio’s environment would merit the highest priority from both government and the private sector. Simply stated, it’s all about caring and sharing, between and among our own residents and the visitors we graciously host anytime of the year. It’s all about the precious environment that Baguio used to have in all its uniqueness, the very natural resource that has made Baguio an ideal mountain haven created from the forested land it was found more than a century ago. It is this primary asset that we all need to preserve, nurture, care for, and manage well for generations next to enjoy and bequeath to equally caring heirs.

Let’s not wait for a Presidential ire to come our way. Let’s not wait for Baguio to lose out in the only race that counts: survive or perish.


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