Baguio moves to avert urban decay with stricter permits

BAGUIO has started implementing stricter screening rules for business and building permits to address the mountain city’s problems brought about by rapid urbanization over the last three decades.

“We have to know the state of our city now so we can plan forward,” City Planning and Development Coordinator Donna R. Tabangin said in a streamed briefing posted on Saturday in response to complaints over delays in permit applications.

Ms. Tabangin said the city, one of the most popular tourist destinations in northern Philippines, has been “in the red” in terms of solid waste, forest cover, road network, and water supply, among other aspects of urban management.

She was citing a 2019 study by the National Economic and Development Authority, which warned that Baguio City is headed for “irreversible urban decay” by 2043 if no steps are taken to mitigate the problems.

“Urban decay means the city will give up on us, the city cannot sustain our activities,” Ms. Tabangin said. 

“Without corrections, we will reach that irreversible urban decay by 2043… or even earlier, we don’t know how nature will get back at us.”

Based on a recent audit conducted by the local government, there are 51,000 buildings of different sizes in the city with a land area of 57.5 square kilometers.

The urban planning official said 80% or about 40,000 of these structures were constructed without a building permit from the local government.

In late February, Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong announced that the city government is assessing the capacity ceiling that it will impose on daily visitor arrivals as coronavirus restrictions are lifted as well as a long-term policy.   

“To determine the threshold for tourists, we are now monitoring and looking at how far we can go in terms of the number of tourists to be allowed vis-a-vis the traffic situation, crowd movement and capacity and our ability to still implement physical distancing and other protocols,” he said.

The city government said the tourist capacity evaluation will also serve as “springboard for more concrete actions to achieve sustainable tourism where other negative effects of over-tourism like destruction of the environment, culture and quality of life of the people are also addressed.”

Baguio, dubbed as the summer capital of the Philippines, had a population of 366,358 as of the 2020 government census, up 45% from the 2000 headcount. — Marifi S. Jara