One doesn’t have to be an ecologist to note that something bad is happening to Baguio’s natural environment these days.
A tour around the city’s immediate confines is enough to give you the feeling that it won’t be long, it won’t take too long now, before the glory and the grandeur that Baguio has been basking in for many years now will all come to end.
Doomsday? No, sir! But the way things are going with the city’s general landscape, we may yet wake up one smoggy day to see something close to tragedy, something that may mean goodbye to all the things we love, all the things we cherish, all the things we uphold, all the things we dream in this highland paradise—beauty, peace, happiness, love, life.
The fact is, Baguio’s ecosystem is going to rot. It is deteriorating at a clip obviously faster than we make effort to re-evaluate and redirect our material values, attitudes, and beliefs.
Witness the rapid multiplication of buildings in the city proper. Viewed from a point like Dominican Hill, the steel-and-concrete jungle the edifices form conjures images of jam-packed rats and screaming baboons. All you get to see are rooftops elbowing one another for dear space. The constructions have crept in on every conceivable topography of the city, from dead creeks and gaping gullies to steep hills. Hardly can one find a virgin landform in Baguio today indeed. Even the literally dangerous, rocky, and precipitous cliffs have not been spared by the burgeoning human zoo.
One day, you would catch a glimpse of a wooded nook on one side of a valley. It is so tempting you decide to take another lingering look some other sunny day—and what do you find next but the whole thing scraped off in exchange for a tumbled down shack! Multiply this drama by as many babies there are born
in the city every year. What you get is a somewhat resigned if not desperate bahala na! or the like stuff that fill the coconut of Juan dela Cruz today.
There should be no question about people putting up houses in impossible ground or in erstwhile scenic places, for such malady is a symptom of a deeper disorder, they say. But somehow, in everybody’s frantic desire to build a home, the bigger and more important home that is Baguio becomes less and less of a home. Big are the chances that in a decade or so the people of Baguio will contend with graver problems of residential space, garbage disposal, juvenile delinquency, food production, pollution, and some such other problems afflicting unmanaged settlements.
And the pines, the trees that have made Baguio so different from all the cities in the country, they too are going, going, going, and will soon be gone. Yes, the pines which many seem to take for granted. Several programs and policies have been formulated, aimed towards their conservation, it is said. We have yet to see a foolproof one though, one that will really assure us the pine trees are here to stay till kingdom come, one really meant for their preservation.
Except for the stands along the road to Loakan Airport, we know of no other place within Baguio that sports pines in the pink of health. Not even in Pacdal, where government forest stewards are, and where most of the pine seedlings used in Benguet are raised. All the other trees found elsewhere are likely the last that we will be able to see. Our bone is, the majority of the standing pine trees in Baguio have no hope of seeing their seeds grow into big trees like them, to take their place in beautifying the city and ridding it of poisonous fumes from roaring engines—and all because the earth under them have become too harsh, too bad a soil to grow on, if they have not been turned into concrete pavements or highly polished lawns.
At Wright Park, where the soil is considerably in better shape than that of malnourished Burnham, we tried once to look for pine wildlings, to at least disprove our notion that park managers in the city don’t care to even think of the word regeneration, tree-wise, that is. Our effort was in vain. Or was it because the trees are sterile? Some are sickly, yes, but I think we saw them once heavy with cones. Then maybe the horses for rent in the area mistook the seedlings for grasses.
We see a glint of hope in the tree-planting decree, nevertheless. Knowing that people prefer to do other things though, we are tempted for now to make the proposition that it is all right not to plant trees (in Baguio, that is) so long as we let the standing ones multiply freely, and so long as we don’t destroy the few leftovers we see waging a desperate bid for survival in our over-materialist society.
But the pine trees are just a part of a bigger whole, of course. Though very vital, the trees (and the grasses and the flowers) are just one component of Baguio’s ecosystem. One other component perhaps the most important (from the viewpoint of man) but not necessarily indispensable (from the viewpoint of nature), is the social component. We deem it proper then that attention be given first to people before turning to the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. That is to say, Baguio should remain a home, sweet home for human beings. And this would be a more endearing proposition, we think.
** First published on February 19, 1978