June 22, 2024

Mayor Benjamin Magalong warned that the city government will file charges against occupants of the Buyog watershed who violated previous agreements to refrain from further constructions and expansions in an effort to protect what is left of the endangered forest reserve.

The mayor said they are now counter-checking the status of the structures within the watershed by comparing the present digital map with the previous survey done on the area.

This will enable the city and partner agencies to determine if there were new structures and if there were expansions and improvements introduced by the occupants and take action against the violators.

The mayor said there were suspicions that even the fence was moved to accommodate expansions but this was belied by City Building Official Johnny Degay.

Degay told the mayor that there was no movement of the fence but as per report from Baguio City Police Office personnel who have been monitoring the area, there were constructions or improvements that had crept up near the fence or the easement previously set.

He said investigations are ongoing to identify the culprits.

The Forest Protection Unit of the Environment Management Division (EMD) of the City Environment and Parks Management Office is also regularly monitoring and assisting in the inventory of present structures inside the watershed protected area.

The team is conducting a series of comprehensive meetings with the barangays involved as well scrutiny of the watershed lay-out.

Buyog, a 20-hectare forest reservation as per Proclamation 93, is one of the four major sources of water in the city aside from Sto. Tomas, Busol and Camp 8.  It supplies water to the Buyog area including Camdas, Dizon, Pinget and Quirino Hill barangays.

A large portion of the watershed is now inhabited by residents of Pinget, Quirino Hill and other barangays straddled by the forest reserve.

Efforts to abate squatting at the reservation peaked in the 1990s when illegal structures were demolished by authorities but the intruders kept on returning, prompting the Baguio Regreening Movement and the Baguio-Benguet Medical Society with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Baguio Water District to spearhead the fencing of the unoccupied portion to ward off further intrusion and prevent expansion of the shanties.

In 2016, the city government, DENR and BWD entered a memorandum of agreement with the occupants to protect and preserve what remains of the forest reservation as a requisite to the planned disposition for housing purposes of the occupied areas.

As per the MOA, the DENR-Cordillera will conduct a survey of the actual occupied areas of the watershed and upon identification of the inhabited portion, the occupants will not expand into the unoccupied areas and will undertake measures to help protect the watershed from intrusion by squatters.

The MOA also mandated the occupants to maintain their structures for residential purposes and will undertake an annual tree-planting program to reforest what remains of the watershed.

The City Buildings and Architecture Office will design a water-tight waste water disposal system, which will be adopted by the residents to protect the watershed from contamination.

The city government, DENR and the BWD then posed no objection to the segregation of the occupied areas from the coverage of Proclamation 93 but stressed the protection of the remaining unoccupied portion is paramount. – Aileen P. Refuerzo