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Sustainability and the roads to Baguio

September 2011
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News about the garbage in Baguio City and the slide that caused the death of many in that city brought back memories of my last visit. That was back in June 2009 when we were conducting consultation workshops for the formulation of the national environmentally sustainable transport strategy. We stayed and held the workshop at a hotel that was a short walk away from the Good Shepherd Convent. The convent, of course, is famous for the strawberry jams and other delicacies bearing the convent’s name. Also nearby was the Mines View Park that used to give a breathtaking view of mountains covered with pine trees. Those among my older friends who were able to experience this many years ago attest to the pleasing scent of pine in the cool breeze that is also a characteristic of this city. Nowadays, the view is mainly of mountains covered with shanties and looking downwards you would have a good view of a lot of roofs and, surprise, even a couple of structures that look like graves! If you’re unlucky enough, you would be taking in the scent of smoke coming from something that is being burned nearby.

Another thing that caught my attention in 2009 was the uncollected garbage along the streets and in front of many houses and other buildings leading to the convent and the park. Residents explained to us that Baguio already had a garbage problem and that waste management and disposal has been an issue in the city for quite some time. Previous to this visit, I had the chance to go to the city a few other times, even staying there for almost week in 2004 when we were conducting another study. At that time, I was not aware of the garbage problem probably because the problem has not yet manifested itself as it did in 2009. It is sad that the city has done little to address such issues considering the many indications of impending (if not ongoing) disaster due to their waste. It is also disappointing to see their leaders pointing fingers at others but seemingly refusing to take responsibility for the tragedy of the garbage slide.

On the way up to Baguio, we usually take Kennon Road, which is usually my choice when riding our own vehicle, rather than the more common Marcos Highway. The latter is a relatively easier route that was constructed as a safer alternative to the two more traditional routes via Kennon or Naguilian Roads. I usually choose Kennon because the drive provides great vistas including those you can view from observations points along the road. During bad weather, however, Kennon and Naguilian can be treacherous with both being relatively narrow as compared to the newer and upgraded Marcos Highway. There are many incidences of rockslides or landslides that have often made these roads impassable. In fact, Kennon Road is usually only for light vehicles and can be challenging to those who are unfamiliar with its combination of curves and slopes. Naguilian is no longer a choice among travelers from Metro Manila as it starts further from both Kennon and Marcos. Buses and trucks commonly use Marcos Highway, which has slope protection along critical sections and even a roof along one that makes it look like a tunnel section. It is also easier to negotiate this highway for most motorists though there is one long climbing section just before you get off the highway that has caused many radiators to overheat or brakes and clutches to malfunction.

The photo below was taken as we negotiated a populated area along Kennon Road in 2009. Note the two jeepneys in the photo that are loaded with passengers. It was a surprise that no passengers were hanging by the door of the jeepney like what we usually see in Metro Manila during the peak hours. Nevertheless, such an image suggests that the public transport supply is no longer sufficient for the passenger demand along this route. Perhaps their numbers are no longer enough or maybe there is a need for a public utility vehicle with a larger capacity? One thing is sure and that the practice of overloading is unsafe and is a fatal crash waiting to happen given the geometry of Kennon Road. While this seems acceptable to many (I couldn’t even count how many people were sitting on the roofs of the jeepneys we passed.), this is not something that should be encouraged, and careful examination of services is necessary for both the local government (in this case Baguio) and the national agency in-charge (LTFRB).

More on Baguio and jeepneys on future posts.

 


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