June 20, 2024

■  Jane B. Cadalig 

The city council has approved the inclusion of the Baguio Resilient City Tourism Project (BRCTP) in the first supplemental Annual Investment Plan (AIP) for 2024.

The BRCTP, which includes the rehabilitation of the Baguio Sewerage Treatment Plant (STP), will require the acquisition of a P2.6 billion loan from the Asian Development  (ADB) to be coursed through the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza).

Amidst the concerns raised by the council members about the ADB loan, the body has agreed to approve the inclusion of the BRCTP in the supplemental AIP, saying the rehabilitation of the city’s STP should be a priority.

The city council has deferred acting on the inclusion of the BRCTP in the 2024 supplemental AIP and requested the executive department to present further justification for the project.

Mayor Benjamin Magalong reiterated the need to rehabilitate the STP so the city will be spared from being fined by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the pollution of the Balili River to which Baguio is a major contributor.

City Environment and Parks Management Officer Rhenan Diwas said the P2.6B loan will cover, among components, improved wastewater and septage management and rehabilitation of sewer lines. Other components include capacity building

The P2.6B loan is payable in 29 years or until 2053.

In her presentation last week, City Budget Officer Leticia Clemente said the city government will spend P12.9B operating the city’s improved sanitation system from 2024 to 2053, which is also the year the city government is expected to finish paying the ADB loan.

The P12.9B funding requirement includes payment for the repairs and maintenance of the STP, which would amount to P1.63B; payment of the loan amortization which was pegged at P4.66B; septage services, P323.6M; and operating expenses, which would amount to P6.292B.

Clemente said the existing sewerage fees collected under the Environment Code are not enough to raise the cash requirements of the new STP, which is why they are proposing other strategies so the city government could raise the amount needed.

Among the proposals is the collection of P916 monthly sanitation fee from households connected to the Baguio Water District with the latter acting as the collecting agent for the city government.

Using the 41,740 residential customers of the BWD as the baseline, Clemente said P5,810,710 would have been collected by 2053, but she said this would still not be enough to cover the STP’s operational requirements.

Another proposal is to collect an environmental user’s fee of P100 from each tourist, with accommodation establishments serving as collecting agents.

With an average of 1.6 million tourists visiting the city every year, Clemente said the city could raise P280M every year or P12,402,000 by 2053 from environmental user’s fees.

Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda said that while she agrees there is a need to rehabilitate the STP, she expressed reservations about the loan and the projected amounts to be raised by the city government.

She said the projected sanitation fee and the environmental user’s fee collections are not guaranteed since there are no ordinances yet to implement these.

Councilor Peter Fianza said there’s a need to study the propriety of the city government allowing private entities to collect fees on its behalf.