July 23, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana   

City government officials have explained the reason why the city is embarking on the Baguio Resilient City Tourism Project, a project that aims to overhaul the city’s sewage system and treatment plant.

The project, which was approved by the City Development Council, aims to sustain the sanitation services of the city by improving its resources since the city is not compliant with national water quality standards.

It involves upgrading and expansion of the city’s sewerage system by the City Environment and Parks Management Office which has been endorsed by the city council for possible funding and endorsed as well to the National Economic Development Authority.

City Budget Officer, Atty. Leticia Clemente, who presented the aspects of the project on June 20 at the CDRRM Office, said the project requires getting external fund sources since the city does not have enough funds for the purpose.

The project is tied up with the Department of Tourism through the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza) for the grant as funding source and with the Baguio Water District for the collection of the proposed corresponding sanitation fees from residents and the appropriate agency for the proposed imposition of environmental fees on tourists.

The total project cost is $50.53 million or more or less P2 billion. With the lack of city funds, Clemente said the city has explored alternative sources of funds for the project.

Based on studies, she said the best way is for the city to partner with the Asian Development Bank and DOT-Tieza in taking out a loan which the city will pay from 2032 to 2053, with a nine-year grace period before the first re-payment.

Mayor Benjamin Magalong said the project, which is aligned to the city’s priority development agenda, aims to address the pollution of rivers that have headwaters in Baguio caused by human activities in the city to the lowland areas traversed by these water systems.

He said the city is also polluting the ocean because waters flowing downstream are polluted due to irresponsible activities by Baguio residents.

“It is a gross violation, a mortal sin for many of our residents to open the outlets of their septic tanks every time there is heavy rain and have it flow to the rivers. If there is anything that can sustain us it is the environment, so we have to protect it,” Magalong said.

He said for polluting the Balili and Bued Rivers, the city was supposed to pay penalties worth around P72 million a year for each river at P6M a month or P144M a year for both rivers.

He said there is a need to fix the city’s sewage system, which would entail funds, and government agencies which usually provide grants for local government projects do not have enough to help the city clean its water system.

“That is why we have to embark on this project. We cannot take out loans from the banks since interests alone would be expensive,” he said.

He said this is the reason why the city wants the public to know and hear their thoughts about the project.

“We are very transparent, we don’t want you to be blindsided. You need to know the figures, what we have to pay, what is the cost on your part (as residents). But this is all about maintaining, protecting, and conserving our environment so that the youth now can still enjoy years from now a clean environment in the city; and to protect the image and reputation of Baguio,” Magalong said, adding the rivers are the city’s responsibility and cleaning it is its moral obligation.

One resident voiced a concern about the efficiency of collection of fees from the residents, to which Clemente said will require the assistance of barangays like what is being done in the collection of garbage fees. A new ordinance will have to be passed to replace the existing schedule of fees.

Clemente also acknowledged the concern of the tourism sector on collection of environment of fees from tourists, which will be difficult to collect from day tourists.

She said they are strategizing how to collect from day tourists since the city has many entry points and are also studying the need to tie up with barangays and tourist associations to address this.

Also being studied are concerns such as on collection of sanitation fee from households connected with the BWD and those that are not, which Clemente said would require inventory and further collaboration with barangays and concerned departments, among other concerns raised during the consultation.

She said consultations on the project will continue to listen to public reactions and consider suggestions in coming up with its implementing rules and guidelines.