An eco-park of 4,500 sq.m. Thing is, much of Mount Sto. Tomas, a 7,415 ft. extinct volcano on the Tuba (Benguet) side of the Benguet-Baguio City border, is a forest reserve.
Purportedly the eco-park within the eco-park is for private use. Unfortunately for Mr. Nicasio Aliping Jr., the City’s Congressman, and owner of the 4,500 sq.m. lot, but fortunately for the City, the DENR has reiterated that the forest reserve is not alienable and disposable (A&D) land.
The reservation, since after the earthquake in 1990, has seen increased levels of degradation. From miles away, I noticed that the mountainside facing Loakan area, for instance, has since become considerably bald. These days, what has raised locals’ blood pressures is, even the Congressman, the highest City official, and an IP at that, has joined in. The Baguio City Water District (BWD) has promptly sued him. The DENR followed.
Who is the Congressman that prioritizes private thrills on a zipline over clean water for his City and people? Bulldozing without the necessary permits (and accompanying mitigation plan) a large tract of protected land causing critical water sources downstream to be polluted is political suicide. Indeed, the zipline a.k.a eco-park has just caused him the end of his political career.
For the City, the Congressman’s case mirrors the contentious water and land-related issues hounding it, that of point water source pollution, unmitigated land development, land grabbing, unresolved claims of IPs, and general lack of a firm hand on implementation of water, and land and property laws (that individuals and firms feed on).
The pending cases in the courts, of which many are decades old, are symptomatic of the Filipino’s deep-seated fear and guilt over saying ‘no’ to kapwa (fellow Filipinos who are not family or relatives but have special bond with e.g. individuals whom one voted for), kapamilya (family members who extend to all cousins, in-laws, etc.), and kaibigan (friends who extend to friends of friends of friends and probably nowadays, Facebook likers). Blood and community affinity are stronger than the Nation, a vague far-away concept to the common tao (average Filipino). Family and community rules trump the Constitution any time, which the common tao has not read. The rule of this game: lahat ng bagay ay nadadaan sa maayos na usapan (a good talk resolves everything). Let the legal cases rot. As if these could naturally.
Once in a blue moon the community goes off-course. One discovers that hindi pala lahat ng bagay ay nadadaan sa maboteng usapan (a drink (with the authorities) does not resolve everything). If the Congressman listens into the public reaction, he’d hear that what City natives really meant by their protest is, to paraphrase Kipling, for him to talk with crowds but keep his virtue, walk with Kings and not lose the common touch. Walk the matuwid na daan (straight path) when others won’t.