February 2, 2023

With pine trees in Baguio City at the “brink of extinction due to some advances in urban deve-lopment and to the rapid growth of population in the city,” another proposed ordinance to arrest its dwindling number is moving forward at the city council.

The proposal, which shall be known as the “Moratorium on Tree-Cutting in the City of Baguio 2020,” has been approved on second reading and for publication during the council’s June 20 session.

Councilors Levy Lloyd Orcales, Joel Alangsab, and Arthur Allad-iw co-authored the proposed ordinance.

A public consultation on the proposed measure will soon be scheduled.

The proposal aims to arrest the degradation and wanton destruction of the city’s forest resources and therefore making it a policy for the city government to allow the city’s environment to recover and to heal itself by tempora-rily prohibiting the cutting of trees within the city.

The proposed moratorium exempts trees that are considered “dead” or post danger to a person’s life, safety, and property and to the community.

The proponents suggest for the moratorium to stay in effect for at least five consecutive years from the date of effectivity of the ordinance, once passed, with an option to extend the same by action of the city council.

They added the City Environment and Parks Management Office shall monitor the implementation of the ordinance and act on behalf of the city government in the apprehension and imposition of sanctions to public or private individuals or groups for its violation.

The sanction for the first and subsequent offenses is a fine of P5,000 and confiscation of the lumber, any tree-cutting equipment and an imprisonment not exceeding one year upon the court’s discretion.

The proponents said the latest inventory of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Cordillera and Cepmo showed that 2.5 million trees in the city are thriving in forests, reservations, watersheds, road right-of-ways, government lots, and private properties.

From the inventory, there are now only 492,974 Benguet pine trees or 19.5 percent of the total number of trees while remaining 80 percent are species of ornamental and exotic trees planted for aesthetics and regreening activities, namely alnus, eucalyptus, calliandra, African tulip, agoho, cypress, bottlebrush, coral tree, paper bark tree, Norfolk pine, maple, and balete.

They said there is no doubt Baguio’s identity is anchored on the existence of pine trees, being a City of Pines, but the Benguet pine tree that is endemic to the Cordillera is being lost to development and urban expansion.

“Studies disclose that a community needs at least 40 percent of its total land area covered by forests to maintain a healthy and stable ecosystem. However, Baguio City has already reached the point below this threshold. Its urban tree cover is only 28.28 percent equivalent to 1,643 hectares from its total land area of 5,749 hectares.

The city’s urban carrying capacity indicates that its current tree population is insufficient for over 350,000 residents and a daytime population that climbs to 700,000 with the influx of out-of-town workers, students, businessmen, and tourists.

In the recent study conducted, it is said that the city’s built-up areas has encroached into its forest covers,” the authors stated.

They said these revelations are causing alarm to the residents, quoting DENR Regional Executive Director Ralph Pablo who said the city has long reached its maximum carrying capacity and a moratorium would give it a respite from too much development.

“This drastic measure is needed to arrest overdevelopment and preserve the city’s remaining urban forest. It is imperative (to do this) consistent with the paramount duty of the State to protect the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology, in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” the proponents said.

They said the proposed tree-cutting moratorium would allow the city to breathe and recover its forest covers for the future generations and it is needed so that the pending Urban Forest Management Master Plan will not be rendered futile.

They said the master plan is currently being crafted by Cepmo in partnership with environment agencies and civic groups and is geared towards a 10-year roadmap for a strategic approach to preservation, management, and expansion of the city’s forests to create more walkable connections and multi-modal landscape that can offer many of the environmental, economic, social, and health benefits to Baguio people.

The moratorium would also allow the city government through the City Planning and Development Office to reassess the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and highlight the forests dominated by pine trees as a valued resource and lay down concrete plans and strategies for preserving these resources from destruction by inappropriate development.

The moratorium will also give opportunity for the city council to review the city’s rules governing building constructions.

It is not the first time a tree-cutting moratorium in the city has been proposed. In 2019 during his first few months in office, Mayor Benjamin Magalong proposed one-year moratoriums on new commercial buildings and cutting of trees in the city and forwarded a proposed executive order to the Office of the President, which the mayor said was approved “in principle”.

Former and come-backing Councilor Leandro Yangot Jr. also made a proposal during his previous term which sought to declare Baguio pine trees as a heritage property that must be preserved. – Hanna C. Lacsamana