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Baguio’s Many People
by Katrina Acupanda

Ideal ang Baguio para sa tourism, pero sa sobrang idealism ng mga tao tungkol sa lugar, tumataas ang populasyon, dumarami ang migrants mula highlands at lowlands na naghahanap ng job opportunities…Ang nangyayari, dumarami ang mga bums dahil sa maling assumption ng better living conditions,”—Tiki Garcia, former UP Baguio Student Council chair (published in the 2000 Baguio Day supplement issue of this paper)

My friend said this when he was a senior college student, all of 20 years old. Now he has a high-paying job in Manila, but he wants to settle here in Baguio soon. I teased him about his cynicism seven years ago, and remarked how realistic he was. We then laughed about how idealistic we are now that we’re in our late 20s – wanting to ditch “better-paying” jobs in Manila for a quaint life in Baguio.

We are both Metro Manilans, we attended college here then came back to Manila to work. But after holding several jobs that just didn’t suit us, we have since been talking about our intention to move and settle here—the place we have come to call our second home.

And why not? Baguio is a charming place, the weather is pleasant, people are nicer, the laid-back pace of life is alluring, the cost of living is relatively affordable, etc. Yes, Baguio can be an “ideal” place in the eyes of an outsider. But is the place still ideal for those living here? Is our optimism misplaced?

The city’s many people
Baguio was designed for a maximum of 30,000 inhabitants, now it has a daytime population of about 400,000. In 2005, the City Planning and Development Office projected the city’s populace to be at 292,977 by 2007, and 312,314 by 2010.

In 1904, the city’s population was composed of 811 Igorots and 30 Ilocanos (The Skyland of the Philippines, Laurence Wilson); now it is an amalgam of Cordillerans, Ilocanos, Pangasinenses, Tagalogs, Visayans, Mindanaoans, foreigners, etc. contained in more than 50,000 households. The youth (30 years old and below) comprise 68.7 percent of the population which has an annual growth of 2.31 percent.

In 2000, the Regional Commission on Population pegged that one-fifth of Benguet’s registered population of 1,365,412 was in Baguio. The city’s 57.49-square kilometer area now supports about 13 times more than its carrying capacity as more and more people are encroaching on lands that were meant to be preserved. The number of people per sq. km in Baguio is estimated at 6,000—the most congested in CAR; the standard number of people per sq. km is 1,000. The most populated barangays are Irisan, Asin, Fairview, Gibraltar, and Camp 7, while the densest concentrations are in Lower Dagsian, Kayang-Hilltop, and City Camp Central.

Carrying capacity
In a paper entitled “Population and Environment: of Doomsayers and Truth Tellers,” (PopCom compilation, 2006) geobiologist Teofilo Abrajano stated that ecologists define ‘carrying capacity’ as the “population of a given species that can be supported indefinitely in a defined habitat without permanently damaging the ecosystem upon which it is dependent.”

“The carrying capacity of the city in terms of the environment, physical constraints and social service demands, etc. has reached a critical point,” former city architect Joseph Alabanza wrote seven years ago.

“We are now having problems on water, air quality, and waste disposal because of overpopulation,” Commission on Population regional director Aurora Quiray said. “Add to this the [effects on] peace and order situation and the [question on] whether the government is still able to provide for basic services. The city’s hospitals, for example, do not only cater to those from the city.”

She commented that bulk of the population quandary stems from “professional squatters” or “informal settlers,”—people who build houses on public lands and lands that have original titled owners. Quiray bemoaned the fact that even the Busol watershed is squatted upon, “kaya lang, saan mo sila papupuntahin kapag pinaalis mo sila?”

“You cannot just remove them,” agrees Nely dela Cerna of the CPDO research and statistics division. “Although, there are now negotiations to reclaim these public areas.”

“Hindi mo na ma-evict [ang mga squatters] kasi nakakuha na rin sila eventually ng title,” Quiray said, adding that what is needed is political will. “Kailangan lang talaga may mag-implement [ng demolition] na matapang.”

“In-migration is something we cannot put a stop to,” said Cordelia Lacsamana, officer-in-charge of the City Environment and Parks Management Office. The good news is the city’s medium term development plan (2005-2010) includes goals to “reduce population growth at manageable levels, provide appropriate and quality employment opportunities for residents, and revitalize urban planning and design in the city.”

Lack of pros and lots of cons
Cultural diversity, progress, and increased manpower count as advantages of a big population. Quiray said, “It is an advantage if those who will migrate here are professionals, but again, it all depends on the city’s carrying capacity, and can the government provide for all these people?”

“The upward trend of population is compounding the disadvantages,” Lacsamana said. “But if these are tax-paying people, then it can be an advantage, because the city will have additional funds to address its growing needs.”

Even with a potential labor source of 65 percent, opportunities are scarce. Thus, the city’s MTDP cites the need for a City Employment Plan “with bias for the Baguio resident.”

Poverty in the countryside is said to be one of the reasons why in-migration to Baguio of some Cordillerans is high. But it seems that many of them meet the same fate here as there are 7,267 poor families in the city.

Water shortage and environmental degradation are other major effects of the rapid population growth. Lacsamana observed that resources are never enough in spite of the government’s best effort to expand basic services. Last year, she reported that 25 percent of the city’s population does not have access to potable water, health, peace and order, waste management, and housing are other concerns that need appropriate attention. In terms of space, Baguio’s size of population already puts too much pressure on the land making it prone to soil erosion; but a lot of people are still building homes in geo-hazard areas. “The arithmetic is simple, a growing population will be forced to live and work in higher-risk terrains and locations,” Abrajano said in his paper.

The need for BLIST
BLIST (Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, and Tuba) is a planning program aimed at decongesting Baguio City, and distributing tourism and other industries to its adjacent municipalities. It is expected to ease the city’s water, garbage, and pollution problems.

Councilor Isabelo Cosalan, head of the committee on urban planning, lands and housing, said, “Ultimately, this (BLIST) is the solution to our problem.” He said that there should be political will not only on the part of the city, but on the other municipalities as well. There has been an impression that Baguio will transfer its problems (e.g. waste management, overpopulation) to LIST as 59 percent of BLIST’s population is in the city.

“Hindi lang naman Baguio ang mag-bebenefit from it. It’s a matter of reaching out to these other municipalities,” Cosalan said. “The question is: ‘who is going to take charge?’”

“We should look at BLIST in the context of the bigger picture and not confine it in the city,” he said. There has been no meeting on the BLIST project recently but Cosalan said that negotiations will continue, and Lacsamana confirms that Baguio City mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. is interested in reviving the BLIST concept.

“There are resources that we need to manage together. We belong to the same airshed, if we don’t clean up at the highest point then polluted lahat iyan down to the lowest point,” Lacsamana said.

The city’s varied roles as tourism, trade, educational, and administrative center of CAR is complicating the government’s priorities. Promoting Baguio as an education and tourism center benefits the city, yes, but a local government should be prepared to provide the basic social services of its inhabitants, and would-be inhabitants.

What the people can do
“The government can’t do things alone,” Lacsamana said. “It can plan and give guidelines, and the least an individual can do is cooperate with the government and be responsible.”

Baguio is mostly made up of a young population—dynamic and flexible—so the hope for a better city is kept alive. Residents (locals and migrants alike) should be more conscientious given the city’s state. Since this is the situation now, people might as well work on what is on hand rather than just sit and bewail the city’s gradual decay. Progress and increase in population is okay as long as the people also take into consideration the welfare of the place they live in, for it is also them who will reap whatever their actions’ outcomes are.

Abrajano stated, “A government that opts not to seriously address the issue of a growing population is morally bound to protect this growing population from avoidable risks. Conversely, human habitation and economic activities are also enhancing the likelihood of environmental disasters. For example, deforestation and other human activities (housing development, mining) can dramatically impact flooding and land slide risks and groundwater extraction affects land subsidence and flooding risks.”

Ultimately, what becomes of this city will be the handiwork of its inhabitants.

Baguio’s lure is largely caused by an image borne of more than a hundred years’ fascinating existence. This is why until now, people visit this place, and some eventually decide to stay. Baguio has the reputation to turn a cynic into a believer; such is the place’s beguiling character that people just can’t help falling in love with the idea of it. The city’s residents do not necessarily have to realize this idea for visitors, what they are tasked to do as citizens is take care of the place they live in. It’s that simple.

“We have a long way to go in terms of advocacy and environmental conscience,” Lacsamana said. Then let us take the first few steps now. In another hundred years, what would the city’s future inhabitants have as a reminder of the city’s inhabitants at present? Maybe we should also ask: Will the city still exist one hundred years from now, or will it crumble under the weight of collective indifference? It’s up to Baguio’s many people, and that includes you.

**First published on September 1, 2007

Supplement Articles
:: Which Baguio Centennial?
:: Baguio Midland Courier Builder
:: The 4 Fs across
the times
:: Kennon’s own report on the famous zig–zag
:: What if Baguio settled for a railroad
:: A look into Baguio’s transport system
:: Baguio: A Citadel of Learning
:: Growing up in early Baguio
:: Early recollections
:: Baguio’ cool climate keeps tourism, economy vibrant
:: Development of Burnham Park is city’ concern
:: Remembering the lessons of the past for the future: The Baguio City Market
:: Look, young man, on this tree city, now
:: The Anatomy of Squatting in Summer Capital
:: Bring Baguio Home
:: The Cordillera Warriors
:: A native–born scans: The Future of Baguio
:: Cement Pours into Baguio
:: A futuristic master plan for Baguio
:: Should BMC start tweeting?
:: Behind the scenes: searching the Midland Archives
:: 62 years of important events in the city
:: My hometown
Baguio City




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