NEXT week, around 193 countries including the Philippines, will pay tribute to Mother Earth by celebrating “Earth Day”. It is an event that is observed annually on April 22. It is a day that promotes environmental awareness and calls for the protection of our planet.
Exactly 31 years ago today, musicians, photographers, and artists I regard as the true environmentalists in this age put up tents and brewed Benguet coffee on top of Mount Pulag. That was three months before the magnitude 7.8 earthquake of 1990 hit us.
The view of wide-open space and lazy rambling on the highest mountain peak in Luzon, and warming up later around a campfire that takes over a fading sunset drives a weary camper to dream of his hometown or city that is about to lose its natural beauty.
Then like a misfortune that nobody wanted, natural disaster struck. The big earthquake on July 16, 1990, killed around 1,209 people in Baguio, 17 in Dagupan, 32 in La Union, and 363 in Cabanatuan. It flattened 30 buildings, including condominiums, business establishments, houses and apartments, and EPZA factories near Loakan Airport.
The killer earthquake toppled the University of Baguio and FRB Hotel, the Hyatt Terraces Plaza, Nevada Hotel, Skyline Condominium, Baguio Park Hotel, and the massive Hilltop Hotel above the public market.
It shut down electric power, water, and communication lines. Kennon, Marcos, Naguillan, and access roads to Baguio and the Cordillera were closed by landslides. The Baguio-Bokod-Kabayan road was erased from the map, completely isolating the city and Benguet Province from the rest of the world.
Then at breakfast on October 15, 2013, in Bohol and Cebu, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck instantly killing around 107 people, injuring 276 residents, buried homes, school buildings, public markets, and destroyed centuries-old Spanish colonial churches.
Prior to the EQs, a deadly calamity occurred in 1976 in Southern Mindanao where more than 8,000 people were killed by a tsunami that was triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake. When Mother Earth shakes, thousands die.
Are there warnings that the damages and thousands of deaths caused by earthquakes want to tell us? Does the coronavirus pandemic want us to do something? Questions revisit us in the wake of smaller temblors we have been experiencing lately amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, after going through all those natural calamities, people with their short memory, regardless of their standing in the community, continue to develop. The poor squat on public and private lands while the rich and powerful construct housing subdivisions and high-rise buildings.
Local government executives meanwhile, build flyovers and overpasses experimenting to make a cultural city into a Metro Manila or a New York in the Cordillera. To a point where wrong moves cannot be corrected, they may allow the construction of a seven-storey supermarket regardless of the ugly consequences.
The Baguio market for one has a character of its own that is founded on culture, simplicity, values and principles that are very different to the types shown by big businessmen, mall owners, election campaign managers and brokers whose primary goals are money.
They will push their mall market development and other infrastructure projects regardless of unfortunate consequences such as additional tons of garbage, inevitable lack of water supply, unceasing traffic build-up and pollution. Of course, increased criminality and social illnesses cannot be discounted.
Housing subdivisions, high-rise buildings and Townsite Sales Applications (TSAs) meanwhile, directly impact on the environment as the natural green vegetation of trees and green spaces are scraped to give way to roads.
But while these elements lead to population growth that produces more solid waste, similar or even worse than the uncollected basura that caused a massive trash slide on August 27, 2011, at Irisan that destroyed houses along Asin Road and killed at least six persons, these are what make realty developers happy.
As for high-rise hotels and condominiums, these structures attract transient travelers who contribute to more garbage as well as sewer waste that clog the city’s sewer system. Added to the unwanted development, skyrise buildings alter the low skyline of a character city and permanently block a priceless golden sunset.
What about the Baguio market? There are choices real Baguio folks can pick. Oppose the multi-billion peso proposal and present an acceptable and simpler market plan that can house the present stakeholders who can sell the essentials that market-goers need, instead of allowing a wealthy outsider-mall operator to manage our affairs.
Promote and support the idea that for a small city like Baguio, a seven-storey market building with a big parking lot for hundreds of cars is not the appropriate plan. It is enough that we saw how the massive 10-storey Baguio Hilltop Hotel crumbled in the 1990 EQ.
Surely, many of us also feel that it is enough that they (not us) allowed a big mall with hundreds of parking spaces to be built atop Session Road. I am suspicious the parking lot is the money-making feature of the mall, although it has not solved parking woes as hundreds of cars are still parked around it.
I can imagine that just like the mall on the hill if we allow the big building with a big parking lot, it will only attract more cars. When parking is full, it will cause heavy traffic as the volume of cars outside will build up.
In the third quarter of the quarantine last year, the black crow that quacks as it lands in the backyard for worms has returned. The birds were back too. That meant the trees, the green canopy, and air which are part of their domain were cleaner.
It was due to the big drop in air pollution across Luzon. Levels of toxic pollutants went down because traffic remained off the roads attributed to the lockdown on March 15, 2020. The Earth’s Ozone layer started healing itself – a blessing in disguise of a pandemic.