Monday, November 24, 2014

In Baguio, happiness costs 37 million pesos (and the City Government says it can't afford it)

In the last few years, the skating rink has been functioning as practically anything except what it was originally intended for. Sure, one may still go there and skate around the rink, but first you pay a rink fee if you brought your own skates, and you would have to contend with the throngs of people walking around the rink who are there for the restaurant, the arcade games or the bumper cars. The rink has been fenced in with what looks like chicken wire that screams “this is private property.”

Former barangay captain Ferdy Bayasen spearheaded the petition, which gathered strong support both online and out in the streets of Baguio. See, aside from being a maverick of a public official (his barangay has a no-plastic bags policy and maintains its own composting facility), the guy is also an avid fitness buff and can regularly be seen sweating it out at the park in the mornings either jogging, doing zumba and aerobics offered practically for free by concerned citizens.

The petition has already been submitted to the mayor’s office, where they were told by no less than the chief executive himself that areas of the park really need to be privatized so the city government will have a source of funds for the upkeep of the park. Did you know that they spend 37 million pesos annually for the maintenance of the park?

37 million does sound a lot, but if you look at it from a non-trapo point of view you will realize that it is a small price to pay considering what Burnham Park offers the citizens of Baguio. It is the most accessible to both residents and tourists. Here, children get to breathe relatively clean air as the park still enjoys some tree cover. Here, they get to play, get closer to nature, socialize with other children, bond with their parents and loved ones. A day at the park does wonders to the well-being of people – one goes home feeling rejuvenated, renewed – unlike spending a day at the mall where one goes home feeling exhausted.

But these are benefits that cannot be counted by the City Treasurer’s office, and if it they can’t quantify it, then it has no use for them.

Aside from the skating rink, how about the benefits our citizens, our children, get from the Athletic Bowl, which the city government has been itching to privatize, or from the Melvin Jones grounds, which the mayor has been envisioning as a concrete parking facility.

How much does the city spend for their inefficient efforts to address our garbage crisis? How about the 120 million pesos spent on those virtually useless ERS machines? There’s another example of a misdirected, Band-Aid initiative. These millions they willingly spend, yet they rue the mere 37 million spent on Burnham Park. I wonder how much the mayor thinks the city should spend for the well-being of its citizens?

And really, 37 million pesos? It would be nice to have this amount audited because, frankly, I don’t see that much money being spent there. .

Besides, so what if that's how much it costs to maintain Bunrham Park? Because, really, how does one put a price on children's laughter, on people's happiness?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Banking on the BSP

Image lifted from Faura online

A year into the protest against SM’s plan to remove 182 trees on Luneta Hill, some of us in the protest movement received a call from Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas Luzon Regional Office personnel inviting us for a dialogue. They wanted our opinion and inputs if any on their planned construction of a branch inside the National Food Authority property in Loakan, Baguio City.

There are 300 pine trees in the proposed site that may be affected by the construction. They presented initial drawings and we expressed our respective opinions. Present then were some personalities involved in the protest against SM City Baguio’s expansion plan along with a representative of the Diocese of Baguio in the person of Fr. Manny Flores.

The common concern was of course how to minimize the impact of the project on the environment – from the time of the start of construction to the facility’s eventual operation. Suggestions were offered: walk the extra mile to first minimize the number of trees that would be affected, then another extra mile not to harm the trees that would be left untouched during the construction to the removal of the proposed basketball court that would add to the size of the area that would require concreting.

Fast forward to November 15, 2014, another meeting was called.

I, along with Engr. Nelson Alabanza and local environment advocate Gideon Omero trooped to the Baguio Country Club where BSP personnel led by Diwa C. Guinigundo, BSP Deputy Governor for
Monetary Stability Sector have prepared a presentation to various stakeholders which included Kag. Virgilio Bautista of the barangay concerned.

We welcomed the inclusion of some of our suggestions in the latest version of the proposed construction plan. There will still be trees that would be affected, approximately 20% of the 300 trees therein, but they’re still working on the plans to even lessen that number. The basketball court has been removed from the plan, and our latest suggestion was taken into consideration: instead of concreting a portion of the property for a parking lot, why not just use gravel instead so as not to affect the areas water absorption capacity too much and perhaps they can turn the remaining natural space into an ecological sanctuary that they can open to the community. And in their effort to plant more trees in all available spaces within the property, we also encouraged them to plant endemic species.

The BSP also committed to making both the construction and the operation of the facility as environment-friendly as possible. In the meantime, what would the benefits of having a BSP branch Baguio have? Help boost the local economy; ensure that the city meets its currency requirements including always having fresh clean bank notes (also a sanitary concern, really); make available a learning hub; offer better consumer protection and stronger ties between the city and the Banko Sentral, among others.

The plan presented isn’t final yet, but we already appreciate the effort they’re exerting in holding public consultations before going ahead with the project, unlike the SM expansion plan which was already scheduled to commence when it was made public. In the end, the BSP also committed to get the nod of the USGBC via a LEED certification to ensure that their proposed project is, indeed, sincerely as environment-friendly as possible. And we’re banking on the BSP to honor these commitments, and perhaps serve as a role model for future construction projects in the city.