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Cement Pours into Baguio
by Maurice Malanes

It does not only rain cement in this recently acclaimed “cleanest and greenest” city in the country, it pours concrete on Baguio City.

Before its concreting, Session Road was a foot-thick overlay of asphalt which some engineers said could still be serviceable for at least eight to 10 more years. Session Road’s asphalt flooring was totally scraped off replaced with poured cement, and finally inaugurated April 10 by Vice President Joseph Estrada. The face-lifting project was worth P10 million, public works district engineer Arcadio Regacho disclosed.

Along Magsaysay Avenue towards Abanao are four pedestrian overpasses which some provincial folk call rangtay or bridges. Almost P20 M, said Regacho, was spent for these.

When rapped for building a concrete Harrison Road higher than the existing sidewalk, public works engineers recently made a solution—elevating the sidewalk by the simple expedient of pouring more cement.

Near Melvin Jones grandstand, a million-peso idle structure supposedly intended as an information center was recently demolished. Being built in its placed is a more functional concrete structure—a public toilet, a public midden shed.

Malcolm Square was also redone and renamed People’s Park with an amphitheater facing a concrete-floored audience space. The P2.5 M for the People’s Park project came mainly from countryside development funds of Senators Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Heherson Alvarez. Just immediately outside Baguio City’s downtown area are three welcome arches, all worth P3 M, or P1 M per arch.

The infrastructure works concentrated in the downtown area have become the campaign banner cry for vaunted performance of incumbent congressman Bernardo Vergara and mayor Mauricio Domogan.

Vergara’s spokesman Noly Balatero touted that the physical infrastructure changes in the city “attest more to the lobbying expertise and aggressive representation” of the congressman.

The same infrastructure projects, however, have become the subject of attack by opposition candidates. Opposition congressional bet Honorato Aquino for the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) had been pointing out to “overdevelopment” of the downtown area only as concrete evidence of how countryside development funds (CDF) were being misspent.

Aquino maintained that the CDF must be used for the countryside and barangays development where it is most needed. Local funds, he contended, “can take care of the infrastructure needs of the downtown area.”

“No CDF should be spent on another pedestrian overpass as long as there are still school children being turned down for lack of classrooms,” says an LDP statement.

Both Regacho and Balatero justified the downtown infrastructure works, by arguing that CDF being national funds cannot be “realigned” to the barangays.
Funds for national roads like Session Road, for example, cannot be used for barangay roads, they said, adding this would be tantamount to technical malversation.

Jess Paredes, another opposition congressional bet of the Liberal party, also vented the general allegation that the multi-million projects were “graft-ridden.”
Balatero denied the allegation, however, and said all projects were pre- and post-audited by the Commission on Audit. He also challenged detractors to go to the implementing agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways “to verify it for themselves.”

Private engineers, who requested not to be named, said, however, that infrastructure works are among the big sources of funds of many politicians not only in this city but almost anywhere in the country.

For one’s effort in lobbying and securing funds for a public works contract, a politician was usually given some percentages cuts or padulas commission by the contractor, these sources said. The practice had become known as SOP or “Standard Operating Procedure” among contractors. The bigger the project, the
bigger the “under the table” SOP or percentage, these sources added.

According to district engineer Regacho, some P125 M in 1994 alone have been availed of by the city for various infrastructure projects. The sum came from the cala-mity and regular fund of President Fidel Ramos, foreign aid grant, CDF, and congressional initiatives, which refer to funds sourced from various agencies, and from the CDF of other legislators through the lobbying initiatives and efforts of a congressman.

Other key projects being bannered by the incumbents included the access roads leading to Baguio. Naguilian Road’s renovation which started October 1992 was finally completed last February. The project cost was a whopping P600 M sourced from Japanese Overseas Economic Development Fund (CEDF).
Still another was the Rosario-Pugo road worth P250 M and finished in three months’ time in 1992.

Another P1.2 billion in Japanese CEDF was on standby disbursement for the modernization of the Marcos Highway, said Balatero. Funds were also being sourced for the repair of Kennon Road, he added.

The Vegara-Domogan camp announced recently a plan to build a P100-M flyover road along Magsaysay Avenue linking Baguio City and La Trinidad town.
Although it came later than the overpasses and welcome arches, a city library will soon find its own home in a multi-purpose building which shall also house a local branch of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The project will rise in the library’s original site in Burnham Park, said mayor Domogan.

Beyond the visible downtown infrastructure projects lies more crucial needs such as more classrooms for the Baguio City National High School (BCNHS) and more beds and facilities for the Baguio General Hospital.

Last school year, it was recalled, the BCNHS administrators turned down some enrolling students for lack of classrooms, mostly transferees from private schools who could not afford their school’s hiked tuition fees.

“Packing as many as 75 students in a single classroom makes learning and teaching difficult, thus affecting education’s quality,” a teacher complained.

** First published on April 30, 1995

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:: Growing up in early Baguio
:: Early recollections
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:: 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
:: Baguio’s Many People
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:: A native–born scans: The Future of 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
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