Saturday, May 25, 2013

Seeing green, finally

Mayor Mauricio Domogan’s declaration that he wants a local Environment Code passed before the entry of the new-elected city council on June 30 is a far cry from his “I cannot do anything” stand on the Luneta Hill issue involving the city’s already biggest mall’s unwavering desire to remove one of the very few remaining green covers in the central business district for an expansion project. And regardless of one’s political leanings, we must welcome and support the mayor’s efforts to fast-track the passage of this code. It’s about time.

The proposed ordinance is supposed to be “all-encompassing” and will cover a wide range of issues, let’s begin with one: land management and classification. I am hoping that this provision will result in the clearing up of grey areas in our existing zoning ordinances. For example, owing to its size and clientele, SM City Baguio is undeniably a regional mall, which should merit a C3 classification. Luneta Hill is a C1 area. But City Planning and Development Office OIC Evelyn Cayat was able to convince the court that heard the environmental case filed against SM, by zigzagging through the loopholes of the existing zoning ordinance, that a project involving a 4-storey commercial complex and a 5-storey parking building that will be added to the already imposing structure on Luneta Hill is allowed in a C1 area. She even pointed out that the Baguio Country Club is the only entity classified as a C3 structure. We don’t need an urban planning expert to know which between SM City Baguio and the Baguio Country Club generate much more pedestrian and vehicular traffic, which requires more power to operate and which impacts the city’s environment more.

Another very important component of the proposed ordinance is the “preservation of parks and heritage sites, urban greenery and architecture.” This should hopefully put an end to the rampant wasteful multi-million-peso concretization of our public parks. Erecting concrete buildings cementing much of a botanical and a rose garden is senseless. Not to mention tasteless. Gardens need earth space and greenery, not hallow blocks. The preservation, and more importantly the enhancement of urban greenery is essential to our quality of life. It is in fact, a right enshrined in our constitution: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”

I am quite apprehensive though about the provision that would involve the non-issuance of building permits to construction projects without rain-harvesting facilities. With the rapid urbanization that Baguio is currently undergoing, having all those imposing hotels, condominiums, commercial buildings and others have their own rainwater harvesting facility might impact on the city’s water table. The mayor laments that much of rainwater the Baguio receives gets washed out to the sea due to our lack of rainwater-harvesting infrastructure. Trees, forests and watersheds are the best rainwater harvesting facilities, having more of these will keep most of the water within our midst and available to the residents of Baguio – particularly to ordinary households that cannot build four thousand cubic-meter water reservoirs that SM City Baguio plans to have in their expansion project. In this area, it’s about time the Baguio Water District step up and start justifying the generous salaries that their executive have allotted for themselves.

Bottomline: the proposed Environmental Code is an urgent matter that must be taken up and passed at the soonest possible time. And hopefully in consultation with the people – after the Jadewell, SM, Uniwide, Protech issues and others, we now know that it’s not wise to keep this within the walls of the city’s executive and legislative offices.

And this could also be an opportunity for our councilors who acted like SM City Baguio’s counsels during the public hearings conducted on the expansion project to redeem themselves and show us that they do have a heart and in it is the welfare of our people today and this city’s future generation.

1 comment:

Padmapani Perez said...

I can see why such a pronouncement is to be welcomed with cheers and hopefulness.

But while an Environmental Code for Baguio is urgently needed, passing one by June 30 seems a bit rushed. Is there going to be sincere consultation and healthy debate on the content and power of such an important legislation? As you pointed out there is so much to be taken into consideration! So much that needs input from the everyday experiences and observations of the people of Baguio, the knowledge of ecologists, environmentalists, urban planners with training in deep green thinking. Is this Environmental Code going to have sound ecological principles and real teeth? Or is this just going to be another fine example of green-washing and lip service? A PR stunt to begin another term of more of the same?

Thank you for the heads up. This one I'd like to keep an eye on.