December 6, 2023

As a resident of Baguio City, I take pride in the thought that the city where I stay is the Summer Capital of the Philippines. I think all other residents have the same sentiment. It had always been this way since as far as I can remember. Baguio folks feel proud that Baguio is one of the most loved and most visited places in the country. The reason is obvious – the cold weather. To experience the cold weather is a relaxing experience by itself.
We have no reason to deny our countrymen the chance to visit our city. We welcome them with open arms. In fact, our city came up with several activities to attract tourists from here and abroad. On January, we have the New Year; on February, we have the Panagbenga; from March until May, we have the summer holidays and the Holy Week; from June to August we have the rainy months when strawberries and other highland vegetables are aplenty; and from September to December, we have the Yuletide holiday.
Let them come. Their presence enhances our identity as a tourist destination. More people means more income. More income means more work for our people.
Through the years though, I think that we have overdone our hospitality. I think that with what we are doing to our city, we are overburdening our resources. In the process, we suffer.
Take for instance the past Christmas holidays. As early as Dec. 23 to 26, 2019, it was reported that there were at least 32,000 vehicles that came up to Baguio. With all those cars around, the already worsening traffic became horrendous. They called it “carmageddon.” With these cars came more than a million people. Just imagine how populous Baguio City became on those days. Everybody was locked on the road with nowhere to go. To say that the flow of traffic was a gridlock is an understatement. For more than five days, the roads of the city became a parking lot.
As of the latest statistics, the regular population of Baguio is straddling between 500,000 to 650,000 people. Already, the city is struggling to cope up with that number. The collection of garbage is a problem, the water supply is a problem – every barangay is rationed three times a week – and there is the perennial problem brought about by traffic. There are no parking spaces and the means of public transportation is ridiculous.
Imagine adding another million people at any single time to the burgeoning number of Baguio residents. Imagine tripling the number of people who will share in the resources of the city. Imagine putting another 32,000 vehicles on the road. What gives? An overcrowded city with nowhere to go. A Summer Capital where the fun of being here is diminished because of traffic and pollution. A vacation that is more stressful than relaxing.
Of course, the businessmen are laughing their way to the bank every time something of this magnitude happens. The hotel industry admitted that they were fully booked to the rafters. Restaurants had to shoo away customers because of insufficient tables to seat them all. Transient and boarding houses boomed. The event spurred the economy of the city. More money, more profit.
Yet, that is only one side of it. There is another side – the dark side. There was the water shortage to contend with, the volume of trash that was generated was too much to ignore, litter was everywhere and all places were overcrowded with people. Burnham Park, in particular, became a giant trash bin where people camping thereat disposed of their garbage with reckless abandon.
And yes, there was the traffic situation. It was hellish, to say the least. Marcos Highway was clogged as were all major thoroughfares in and around the city. It took three hours to negotiate the short route from Leonard Wood Loop to Upper Session Road.
We were happy alright because it was the Christmas season. However, we also suffered. We could not leave our homes to buy a modest Noche Buena because once we left our doors, we might not be able to go home anymore. We wanted to walk, but the distance is too far, not to mention the pollution generated by all those vehicles making their way to commercial districts. The places where we wanted to go were full of tourists and vacationers. We were deprived the chance to enjoy what our city can offer to us. We felt deprived and discriminated. Just when we had the time to go to Mines View to buy a few woodcarvings, to loll around the Mansion and have our picture taken, to have a family reunion at Burnham Park, to jog around John Hay, to buy fresh fruits at the market, we could not do so. There were too many cars, too many people, too few parking lots and no reprieve against the traffic woes that afflicted our streets.
Am I suggesting some form of regulation? I think to regulate the number of people coming to the city is unconstitutional. It violates the provision on the freedom to travel and move around. No, no, my fellow Baguio residents, we cannot bar those people from far-flung places from coming to our city. It is their right as it is their passion.
What I am advocating is that there should be a saner plan in place every time something like this happens. After all, we are already aware that people do come to the city during long holidays. The traffic bureau should stop implementing experimental traffic schemes during holiday seasons. It is only exacerbating the situation. Since we cannot tell visitors not to come here, let them be warned before hand of what they expect during the rush hours. Tell Baguio residents to be more patient. Let them suffer the consequences that the holiday season brings. Let them know that it is part and parcel of being a resident of one of the most beloved cities in the country.