Perdition or Progress?

TWO MONTHS into a Presidentially ordered rehabilitation, Boracay seems to be headed into that direction, albeit a belated action that was long overdue, given the island’s rapid deterioration in just two decades. Surely, were it not for the PRRD’s outraged outbursts — that the island resort has become a global cesspool — nothing would have been done to save Boracay from man’s own folly. Its continued degradation would have gone on merrily, business would have gone on without remorse, life in the island would have continued undisturbed by the relentless abuse. After all, no one except the bleeding hearts of environmentalists, was complaining, or grieving over Boracay’s defacement.

And while we’re mindful — and exuberantly hopeful of Boracay’s rehabilitation — we’re equally concerned over Baguio’s future, given how PRRD’s scrutinizing attention can easily go northward from the Palace horizon. Baguio has always been a favorite tourist destination, and all it takes is for just a few well-meant observations to make him go look our way. And why not? If Boracay has become a cesspool in a matter of years, Baguio’s environmental life may not really be far behind. Perhaps, not a cesspool, but a wasteland.

Remember how a few years back, Baguio was part of a tandem (along with Boracay) of prime tourist destinations that harnessed urgent national attention? Baguio’s inclusion in that list didn’t surprise anyone at all, given the rapid, almost mindless, urbanization that has taken place, a kind of modernization that has brought in the usual maladies that come along — the vanishing pines trees felled down by concretization, the air quality deterioration all around, the informal settlements made to perch on forest public lands, no matter how perilous and in harm’s way anytime at all.

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 in almost mindless frenzy, 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, a condo type project, or for informal settling, whose structures abut mountain sides where thick forest cover used to situate.

Our own waterways have remained clogged up by all sorts of wastes, simply because people had been irresponsibly dumping everything on creeks and river tributaries, the snaking Balili River a case in point. Solid waste generation grows by tonnage each day as a result of increased waste-generating activities. The good news is we don’t see garbage shamelessly littering our roads and parks. The bad news is the waste we produce gets to be transported and dumped elsewhere, at about P100 million a year on the average, in the last twelve years. Segregation as the touchstone of proper waste disposal should begin at source, where waste is generated. This does not seem to be done, as evidenced from the garbage collected at source.

Over the years, our city has been grappling with our trash, with not much progress evolving from all the trash talk we’ve been hearing. No permanent solution to our garbage woes has yet evolved from our decades’ old affliction, even as several remedial measures have been used, obviously to no avail and at so much government expense.

Apparently, the comprehensive solution of having an integrated waste management plant — a sanitary landfill for our biodegradable waste, a waste-to-energy facility for conversion — would seem to be a pipe dream that escapes a final pint-point determination by the best minds in the business. You and I and surely the rest of us have long been wishing year after year that waste management gets the head’s up attention from everyone in harmony with one another. Given the enormous budgetary resources expended year after year, it just doesn’t make sense why the vaunted long-term solution hasn’t gotten any significant progress.

Bewildering it has been for our leaders to engage our citizenry over issues like a parking building at Burnham Park, as if the need for such encompasses everything else in our city, to the neglect of the long-pressing need for a final solution to our waste woes. Sure, road congestion is a problem, but solving it need not require putting up a multi-level parking structure right in the heart of the only lung that makes the city breathe freely. Sure, traffic is a daily burden to go through, but shouldn’t an honest-to-goodness traffic management (as against mismanagement) be a daily, even hourly endeavor based on basic policy determinants? As a case in point, shouldn’t Kennon Road ascending passage merit higher priority than those descending? Apparently not so, in the mind of traffic enforcers. Many times, kilometric lines of ascending vehicles wait for their turn, from their tail-end at Camp 7 all the way to the Military Cut-Off junction. On running engines, those on ascent spew out more toxic fumes into the air, worsening pollution in the area.

At day’s end, we need to reiterate what we have in Baguio that deserves allout attention at all times. Not just everytime an environmental event is upon us. Not just anytime it catches our fancy, or lest PRRD begins to look northward and gets to let out the usual diatribes against the abusers of environment. It’s all about caring and sharing, between and among our own residents and the visitors we graciously host anytime of the year. We have a precious environment that Baguio has been known for in all its uniqueness, the very natural resource that has made Baguio an ideal mountain haven created from the forested land it was founded 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. It is something that we need to inculcate as an article of faith in serving the city, in running our life, in entrusting our future in those we choose as our saviors.

Let’s not wait for PRRD to be told how we’re making Baguio a wasteland of unseized opportunities, of lopsided chosen priorities, and be shut down ala Boracay for badly needed respite, recovery, rehabilitation. At this time, we are in the only race that counts: survive or perish. Let’s all settle down and walk the talk, accepting that the road to progress — that mighty word that exculpates all our follies — can lead Baguio to irreversible perdition.

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