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Bringing back the scent, charm of the old Baguio
by Ofelia Empian

SAVE OUR TREES — The remaining green patches in Baguio are threatened by unabated urban migration as the clearing or cutting of trees is inevitable to pave way for commercial and residential structures in Baguio. -- Harley Palangchao

Fond memories of old timers and travelers in this mountain resort would often involve the scent of pine trees wafting in the cool Baguio air.

But this experience has become a distant memory when pine trees are now slowly being replaced by huge, unsustainable structures in this so-called City of Pines.

Reasons for this include the expansion of communities – population boom and the modernization of Baguio in a bid to cater to tourists, students, and residences. Pine tree forests were slowly turned into building sites.

The old Kafagway was described as rolling grassland mostly dominated by mosses locally called ‘bag-iw,’ where Baguio’s name came from. It was not a thickly forested area, but a pastureland where the old Ibaloi families tend their carabaos.

It was through the effort of early American city administrators like Eusebius J. Halsema to reforest the Kafagway in the 1900s, in its bid to make Baguio a sanitarium that pine trees, along with other exotic tree species flourished.

This is according to newsman lawyer Joel Dizon, editor of then Baguio Gold Ore in his blog post “Baguio thru-d-lens”:

“That’s not to say that the city’s landscape in 1909 was desert like. As pasturelands go, Baguio was green as can be. Old timers even refer to the era from the ‘20s right up to World War II in 1942 as the ‘Green Years’,” he said.

“The greening of Baguio -- actually it’s regreening -- by the introduction of taller arboreal foliage was a deliberate effort, part of the execution of the city’s design by Daniel Burnham. This renowned Chicago architect envisioned the City Pond (later renamed Burnham Lake in his honor) as the centerpiece of Baguio’s townsite layout,” Dizon added.

According to the initial inventory of City Environment and Parks Management Office, there are 2,060 trees around and within Burnham Park as of 2015.

Of these, 372 are Benguet pine trees, African tulip with 215 trees, pink shower with 243, bottle brush with 293, alnus having 181, eucalyptus with 131, and agoho with 210 trees, among other tree varieties.

The trees are inventoried at the Picnic Grove, Children’s Playground and Orchidarium, football ground and Lake Drive, Burnham Lake, Rose Garden, and the Skating Rink area. Most of the pine trees are notably abundant at the skating rink with 161 trees.

The inventory of trees is still ongoing for the whole of Baguio City particularly in state-owned parks and watersheds.

Tree healing

Aside from human activities as threats to pine trees, authorities have to deal with another creature that causes harm, even death to pine trees – the pine beetles called Ips calligraphus (ips).

According to a research of the Benguet State University, ips is the most serious pests for pine trees in Asia, USA, Africa, and Latin America and thrives mostly in high-elevation areas like in Northern Luzon.

Since 2008, the death of about 500 local pine trees or 60 trees every year has been attributed to beetle infestation and disease infection, the researchers stated.

Ips burrows through portions of tree trunks and branches when laying eggs. The pine pest create tunnels in trunks to barks which disrupt the supply of fluid or water from the roots going to different parts of the tree. This in turn, dries out the trunk, which would lead to the tree’s death.

John Hay Management Corporation partnered with BSU to combat the growing beetle infestation of pine trees within the John hay reservation, through sanitation and tree surgeries. These include clearing out of infested pine trees using insecticide solutions deviced by researchers and removal of tree barks or infected tree cavities then employing tree surgery.

But for trees that are beyond surgery, they are recommended for felling in order not to infect other trees around them.

Aside from pine trees, other tree varieties in the city’s parks underwent tree surgeries along Burnham Park and the central business district in order to save ailing trees.

Starting in 2006, Cepmo has conducted tree surgeries to around 33 various tree species said Forest Technician Cristito Sandoval. The activity is being conducted annually during summer, he said.

No surgeries were done to a pine tree yet, he said adding that pine trees are sensitive.

“Once infected, the best remedy is to remove the infested tree in order not to affect other trees,” he said.

Tree surgeries are expensive as well, said Forester John Padua. A tree surgery may cost about P5,000 to P8,000 per tree that has 50 cm. diameter, he said.

But while tree surgeries are found to be a way to save pine trees and the battle against ips being studied and given priority, a more imminent threat has cast Baguio pine trees’ fate in limbo.

CARE FOR NATURE — Two elementary pupils who belong to the indigent families in Baguio join other residents and government personnel in planting pine tree seedlings at the Busol Watershed over the weekend in support of the Climate Change mitigation campaign being undertaken by the DENR and its partner agencies like the Eco-Walk Project and the Philippine Information Agency. -- Harley Palangchao

Tree hugging movement

The year 2012 will always be a memorable time for Baguio folk, a time when everyone cared about the protection of a clump of pine trees up in Luneta Hill within the lot owned by one of the biggest mall chains in the country.

Petitioners particularly the Save 182 movement, composed of civil society organizations and individuals, fought their way up to the Supreme Court against the planned earthballing of trees to give way for a parking area.

But the Court of Appeals Special Ninth Division issued a ruling on Dec. 12, 2014 upholding the Dec. 3, 2012 decision of the Regional Trial Court for lack of convincing evidence that SM’s environmental permits are tainted with irregularities and the cutting of 182 trees would pose danger to the local environment and the city’s heritage.

As soon as the verdict came out, many trees were fallen. Locals were outraged. The City of Pines was the headline in primetime national news. 

Prior to the tree cutting issue on SM to give way for the ‘sky park,’ there was an earlier protest action done to preserve 967 trees in the pine stand within the Baguio Convention Center and near the Court of Appeals.

In 2008, there was a plan to develop the pine stand into a condotel complex under the joint venture between the Government Service Insurance System and the SM Development Corporation (SMDC).

It was planned to be named ‘Baguio Air Residences,’ wherein the developer then recommended for the cutting of 313 trees and earthballing and transplanting of 105 trees while preserving the 549 trees according to the news report by City Information Officer Aileen Refuerzo in 2008.

However, the plan was heavily met with protests by residents who came with their tarpaulins and placards opposing the proposed structure.

Backtrack in 2002, GSIS has bought a Juan Luna painting for a staggering amount of P46 million in an auction of Christies in Hong Kong. Luna’s ‘Parisian Life’ (c. 1892) was bought because it was considered a government property and a national heritage according to then GSIS’ heads.

“In the same token, Baguio is national heritage. This is also National Heritage Month and GSIS does help insure national heritage. Unlike when it bought the painting, GSIS need not shell out a single centavo to save that pine patch. I’m certain GSIS members would embrace such move and end up showing their children and grandchildren the trees they helped save whenever they’re up here,” said veteran journalist and current Baguio Correspondents and Broadcaster’s Club president Ramon Dacawi in a 2008 column.

Eight years after, the city government is negotiating with the GSIS for the latter to buy out the area for preservation. As of late, there was no response from GSIS.

According to the data from Cenro-Baguio, out of the total land area of the city with 5,733.11 hectares, the remaining forestland is 1,572.48 hectares or 27 percent of the total land area. The bulk still goes to alienable and disposable lands that comprise 73 percent or 4,160.63 hectares.

Foresters under Cepmo said it is harder to protect pine trees that are within private sites evident to the many other cutting of age-old pine trees along Bokawkan Road, Bakakeng, Camp 7, and Marcos Highway, among many others. The fallen trees pave way for more condominiums, commercial spaces, schools and subdivisions.

Though with the case of John Hay Reservation, it has its own foresters that takes care of its iconic pine tree forests which composes 53 percent of Baguio’s forested areas stated John Hay Management Corp.

When Camp John Hay Development Corporation took over in 1996, there were 120,656 pine trees within the 247 hectare leased area. They planted additional 144,715 trees as reforestation or replacement, according to CJHDevCo.

Aside from pine trees, they also planted 64,453 arabica coffee trees in their site.

But with government-owned lots, Cepmo said they have put in place programs for the protection of the city’s pine tree and other tree varieties.

Tree propagation

One of the continuing tree planting programs in the locality since the early ‘90s is the “Eco Walk” started by one of Baguio’s veteran journalists Ramon Dacawi. The program started with a class from Rizal Elementary School where they planted trees at Busol Watershed.

What started as a community-based volunteer-driven tree planting activity mainly done by children has expanded from the city to other areas in the country that learned from the event.

Now many local organizations regularly volunteer to plant and maintain areas at the Busol Watershed.

Tree planting activities are also programmed in the various departments of City Hall and particularly done at South Drive, Busol and Buyog watersheds.

Acknowledging that pine trees in the city are decreasing, Cepmo head Colleen Lacsamana said pine trees are their priority in tree planting.

She cited that in Camp Peppot at Burnham Park years ago, the area is filled with pine trees but now the exotic specie African tulip trees have overtaken the growth of Benguet pine trees.

“Before they were planting ornamental trees because they were beautiful but those who planted didn’t know it’s effect until later, we found that African Tulips have entwining roots so the pine trees that used to be in between them are choked,” she said.

Lacsamana said in Burnham Park they have identified exotic trees that will undergo cutting due to their invasive characteristics causing detriment to other plants around them.

“In areas where they have big number of population, then we will have sanitation cutting and replace it with pine trees,” she said.

BSU College of Forestry Dean Kenneth Laruan said many of the introduced exotic tree species in our locality have slowly overtaken the growth of indigenous tree species.

Laruan said many developers prefer using exotic trees when it comes to beautification while the Department of Environment and Natural Resources prefer exotic species for rehabilitation programs due to their fast growing characteristics.

“We can always use Benguet pine trees, it is what is lacking in Baguio, there is no more smell of pine trees,” Laruan said.

Though he said, there are still no in-depth researches on the propagation of indigenous species of trees.

“The propagation of indigenous species needs further care,” he said adding these species can be very helpful to local biodiversity.

Perhaps pine trees are teaching us the value of caring and sharing. Due to the sensitive nature of pine trees, it is harder to grow them, thus it needs effort and responsibility to grow them unlike other exotic species.

“Pine trees are so sensitive, it is their characteristic; once they are disturbed, they die,” Forester Sandoval said.

Maybe we have been selfish and insensitive of our surroundings that we have forgotten to share a space with other living creatures around us. In our bid to build structures that will cater for the comfort of people, we took away the space meant for trees to grow.

That’s why pictures of the old Baguio are appealing and making rounds in social media. Those who were blessed enough to have experienced those in the picture (American model cars lining up less polluted Session Road in the ‘70s, Burnham Park filled with assortment of beautiful flowers, Camp John Hay picnic grounds with the thick pine forest at the background, etc.) can only recall good memories they’ve had back then. This present generation can only imagine what was.

Sadly, the smell of the old Baguio – the pine tree scent wafting in the cool air – is now a thing in the past. Only sincere tree planting efforts would usher in the growth of more pine tree patches for the future.

Quoting the words of Ramon Dacawi: “Saving the forest would mean saving a part of Baguio’s past and future.”
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:: The legacy of Mauricio G. Domogan: From Barefoot Child to Father of Baguio
:: Hurdling garbage woes as attainable goal for Baguio
:: REV–BLOOM: Redefining a tourism story of RP’s Summer Capital
:: View from the sidelines:
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:: The Duterte peace & order agenda: The road to achieving ‘crime–free’ Baguio
:: Rebuilding Baguio communities through urban agriculture
:: Revisiting Baguio’s traffic and transportation system for the future

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