April 17, 2024

The 1900s may historically be considered as the era when the rancheria called Kafagway was slowly transformed into a trade center.

Earliest inhabitants of Benguet were able to prevent the Spanish from exploring the province in the 1500s to 1600s but when Commandante Guillermo Galvey established his commandancia in La Trinidad in 1846 and moved the presidencia to Kafagway, a ranch with about 20 houses, the Spaniards later established churches, schools and trails, which hastened trade in the area.

It was this setup that Americans saw in the 1900s. In 1904, urban planner Daniel Burnham arrived in what was known as Baguio and began planning a “garden city.” That time, Baguio was beginning to be known as an alternative destination from the humidity of the lowlands.

World War II however destroyed early forms of development, but not long after, Baguio rose from the ruins. The gold rush in neighboring towns hastened the establishment of churches, schools, banks, postal and transport system, and several commercial establishments. This became a magnet for immigrants, notwithstanding the lull Baguio experienced during the 1990 earthquake and the meningococcemia scare in 2004.

HIGHLY-URBANIZED CITY — An aerial view of this part of Baguio shows that most lands are already occupied by residential and commercial structures, as everyone in the city wants to have a piece of land in this highly-urbanized city. — Harley Palangchao

While economy prospered, effects of a growing population were slowly felt. In fact, as early as the 1960s, the city council passed several measures ranging from regulating traffic and reserving several lots for future government needs.

Back then, they saw that several decades from their time, population will grow exponentially.

As of 2010, the National Statistics Office said Baguio’s population stands at 318,676. For every square kilometer, there are more than 5,000 people. By 2015, population is estimated to reach 334,562. With a 2.36 percent annual growth rate, 16,750 people were added to the more than 301,000 population in 2007. The National Statistical Coordination Board said this will double in 30 years.

As population steadily grew, so do the use of resources such as water.


In 2009, former councilor Perlita Rondez proposed a one-year moratorium in the construction of new buildings. She said this will give breathing space for Baguio. At the time, commercial buildings began to rise in areas where previously, a height limit was imposed.

Her proposal remained archived. But recently, the Baguio Water District suggested a similar proposition – for the city government to pass a resolution declaring a moratorium on the development of new subdivision projects, until such time that a viable water supply is found.

“Development has to slow down in Baguio,” BWD Gen. Manager Salvador Royeca told the city council in its June 9,  2014 session. He said hotels and subdivisions require an additional demand for water.

With demand greater than supply, Royeca said the city government should employ measures to regulate development.

BWD data showed total water consumption for 2012 was 8,614,038 cubic meters. Judging from the four-year data collated by the City Planning and Development Office, water consumption showed a steady increase from 2008 to 2012. From 8,059,245 cubic meters in 2008, half a million cubic meters was added to water consumption.

The data also showed that while residential consumers are biggest consumers of water, commercial establishments classified as “commercial B” showed a significant contribution in water consumption, albeit the data showed fluctuating figures.

From 1,518,165 cubic meters in 2008, consumption declined in 2009, 2010, and 2011 and rose again in 2012 at 1,463,445 cubic meters although still lower than the 2008 data.

Data from the City Buildings and Architecture Office (CBAO) showed from 2009 to the first quarter of 2012, there were 1,798 building permits issued for residential, commercial, and institutional structures.

PRESERVED FOREST COVER — Residents and tourists alike enjoy strolling at the remaining forested section of Camp John Hay reservation, which was also subjected to major developments the past two decades. — Harley Palangchao


Because of a rapidly increasing population, informal settlers have encroached on watersheds. Currently, the city’s watersheds comprise around 240 hectares of Baguio’s total land area. Busol Watershed happens to be the biggest but along with Forbes Park 1, Forbes Park 2, Forbes Park 3, and Lucnab, land claimants abound in the area.

Topography is also a challenge to the BWD. Because of low water pressure, water couldnot be distributed especially in steep areas. Several barangays depend on deepwells, natural spring sources, and private water delivery companies.

The BWD also has a high systems loss pegged at 39 percent.

How to conserve abundant rainwater in Baguio is also a challenge not only to the BWD, but also to city officials.

The average rainfall in Baguio is between 900 to 1,000mm. According to a study of the World Wildlife Fund, rains become runoff water and flows freely in rivers.

Royeca said a highly-concrete environment has contributed to waste of water. He said this water flows out instead of being absorbed by aquifers.

The low recharge rate of aquifers also contributes to water shortage, Royeca added.

Temporary solution

CBAO Officer-in-Charge now department head Johnny Degay said the BWD’s proposition will not entirely solve water shortage.

Degay said nothing in the National Building Code prevents a property owner from wanting to develop their property as long as regulations are complied with.

“Not unless the building owner is an environmentalist, then they may choose to use “Earth-friendly” materials or use gravel in the vacant space around their property to allow water to seep in.” However, Degay said this is not an obligation on the part of the owner.

“Current regulations are on zoning only,” Degay said.

So far, the Local Zoning Board on Adjustments and Appeals now requires building owners who intend to build a structure that is more than three stories high to install a rainwater harvester. But he said rainwater collected in buildings is not enough to sustain the water demand for the structure. He said in the end, BWD has to find a source which can give a steady source of water.

As expected, realtors oppose a moratorium.

Chamber of Real Estate Builders Association president Edwin Zamora said the BWD’s proposal is counter-productive.

He said along with progress, comes development. He said naturally, service providers like the BWD has to provide the demand.

Zamora said installation of rainwater harvesting facility is not feasible in commercial establishments as the water collected is for short-term use only. He said not all developers could afford the system employed by SM Baguio, which is to recycle water for its toilets.

Zamora said the BWD should hasten the bulk water supply project so it could cope with the demand.

Councilor Elmer Datuin, chair of the city council committee on tourism, also said the BWDs proposal curtails commerce. “We cannot stop them from conducting commercial undertakings,” he said.

Datuin said the BWD should take its cue from the President’s 2014 State of the Nation Address, when he said dams are a more reliable source of water rather than aquifers. The President was referring to the repair of the Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon and the repair of lines of Angat Dam.

“We all know that as our population grows and as our economy continues on its upward trajectory, the country will need a greater water supply in the coming years. According to some studies, there may be a shortage of water in Metro Manila by 2021. We will not wait for a drought: The solutions that experts have studied assiduously, we have already approved – the Kaliwa Dam Project in Quezon and the repair of the lines of Angat Dam. These solutions are significantly better than sourcing water from aquifers, which are more easily penetrated by saltwater. On top of this, if we were to rely solely on aquifers, then we would only hasten the sinking of land, which would contribute to flooding.”

A water district development sector project under the Local Water Utilities Administration has also been developed to assist water districts all over the country improve their services.

Datuin said importation of water remains the best option for Baguio.

Long-term plan

The BWD knows that the long-term plan would indeed be to import water.

Four Manila-based companies have signified intention to conduct a feasibility study.

The BWSP has long been stalled after the winning company was disqualified from pursuing the project.

CLEARED FOR DEVELOPMENT — The cutting of more than 10 pine trees out of the 54 trees applied for special private land timber permit at Purok 3, Outlook Drive in Baguio has caused an uproar among concerned residents and groups with Mayor Benjamin Magalong expressing displeasure over the cutting of trees. Aside from the timber permit, the property owner has complied with all the requirements such as environmental compliance certificate issued in 2017, mayor’s clearance and barangay certificate, both issued in 2018. — Harley F. Palangchao


Hope is not lost, however, as the city government is about to approve the Comprehensive Land Use Plan authored by former city council committee on lands chair Isabelo Cosalan, Jr.

The CLUP added new classifications in zoning which are watershed and protected forest zone, utilities  zone, planned unit development zone, airport zone, roads zone, slaughterhouse zone, vacant forested areas zone and heritage sites.

For new structures, Section 23 of the CLUP laid down rules on landscape, heritage, architectural design, and reforestation.

For landscape the CLUP states:

All new buildings shall include rainwater harvester which will be used for flushing, watering plants and cleaning;

Housing plots fronting roads are required to plant at least three trees of low height at maturity and native or endemic plants to preserve biodiversity in the city;

Owners of buildings within the central business district that could not plant along the roadside are encouraged to green their rooftops to preserve ambient air quality;

Housing plots fronting roads that require fencing must have a uniform design with standards provided by the City Engineering Office;

Natural waterways shall be preserved;

And utility companies shall be required toinstall underground wires.

(This special report was published in the Baguio Day supplement of the Courier published on Aug. 31, 2014.)