Asian Judges Network on mountain ecosystems

I repeat myself on this topic:  Growth and development in Baguio City, a mountain city, and the rest of the Cordillera Administrative Region should be pursued under a sustainable mountain ecosystem framework.

The discussions in the 2nd Asian Judges Symposium on Environment: Natural Capital and the Rule of Law on 3 December 2013 at Asian Development Bank HQ in Manila highlight issues affecting mountain cities in South Asia. Especially interesting is the role of the court in sustaining mountain environments (listen to the sixth presentation, of Dr. Ananda M. Bhattarai, of the Court of Appeals in Nepal). We can learn from these.

In the Q&A session, a member of the audience asked the panel about traditional mountain people’s laws vs modern laws. The panelists provided enlightening insights. Of note is Archana of IUCN India’s mention of the importance of having laws applicable to mountain regions.


For World Environment Day (June 5): the role of urban forests and parks

I came across another significant study of Burnham Park.

Carbon Stock Assessment of Trees in Burnham Park, Baguio City, Philippines: A Tool for Urban Environmental Management is a masteral thesis written in 2009 by Roscinto Ian C. Lumbres. The study utilized Geographic Information System (GIS) to look into the potential of Burnham Park, estimated 34.46 hectares in area, to mitigate carbon. GIS products of the study include: locations of the identified trees using Global Positioning System (GPS); digitized tops and site maps; 3-D topographic map; and of course the database.

Burnham Park, Baguio City, Philippines

The findings of the study:

  1. There were a total of 52 species of trees and 3,414 living trees in the Park;
  2. There were discovered two (2) threatened species, namely the smooth narra (Forma Indicus), kalantiao
    (Pterocarpus Indicus Toona), and one (1) vulnerable specie, the tree fern (Ajathea Contaminans) found in the Park’s high moisture area;
  3. Total carbon stored in the Park was estimated at 2,522.24 tons;
  4. Total carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in the Park was estimated at 9,256.61 tons;
  5. Estimated total biomass aboveground was 4,970.86 ton, and 634.11 ton belowground (roots);
  6. Among all the Park’s natural resources, waters of the man-made lake held the highest carbon stocks at 581.23 tons which was 23.04% of total carbon stored in the Park (verifying the importance of water bodies in climate change mitigation);
  7. The tree specie with the highest carbon stocks and CO2 stored was the agoho (Camarina Equisetifalia) with 777.70 tons (carbon) and 2854.17 tons (CO2);
  8. The highest carbon stocks & stored carbon dioxide were found in the following tree species:
    • Agoho
    • Eucalyptus
    • Paperbark trees (Melalerica Quinqueneria) which were planted by the Americans during WWII
    • Benguet Pine (Diaco Keriga) at 3.7 ton/hectare/year. The pines were young but would hold the highest carbon stocks in the future or when mature.

In addition, the study cited these value-added roles of urban forests/trees:

  1. 100-feet width of trees absorb an estimated 6 to 8 decibels of sound intensity (Perone);
  2. One acre or 0.4 hectare of trees absorb 6 tons of CO2 and produce 4 tons of oxygen supply of annual needs of 18 residents or participants (US Department of Defense);
  3. On their net cooling effect: young trees produce 10-room-sized air-conditioners operating 20 hours a day;
  4. Every ton of carbon stored in a forest biomass corresponds to 3.67 tons of CO2 sequestered and removed from the atmosphere (US Department of Defense 2002).
  5. Real estate agents and buyers assign 10% to 23% of total value to trees on the property. Enhanced property value means increased and assessed values and ultimately tax base.

Recommendations put forward by the study:

  1. Parts of Athletic Bowl and Rose Garden (two of the 12 clusters in the Park with little carbon and CO2 absorbing vegetation) to be planted with the tree species that have high-absorbing carbon and CO2 capacity;
  2. Mapping of the Park’s vegetation and carbon stocks and maintenance of database;
  3. Maintenance of annual resource inventory (tree diversity assessment) and database;
  4. Proper maintenance and management of floral species;
  5. Considering that the Park is part of the City’s ecotourism destination, labels on trees as well as educational billboards to highlight the importance of the Park and it’s role in climate change mitigation for the City should be put in place to build awareness among tourists and locals alike.

For me, the question arising from the study is, what if the carbon and CO2 absorbed by and stored in the Park’s vegetation (including in the waters of the man-made lake) are released because City Hall or residents decide to tear down the Park or neglect it? That’s a total of 11,778.85 tons (2009 figure), enough to make the downtown Baguio a veritable heat island. And that’s what residents and tourists are experiencing these days. It’s as if there are two distinct weather in the City. In the CBD, weather is hotter and precipitation is erratic relative to the suburbs. The obvious reason: there are now concentrated at the CBD area more vehicles of which many are carbon inefficient and smoke belchers (where is LTO?) but with the same number of trees as that (or is it, less than) in 2009. The Philippine Master Plan of Forestry requires that there be one (1) tree per 4 persons. How far has the City ventured away from that goal?

As well, in this year’s Panagbenga (Flower Festival), the Park particularly the area lined with aging Paperbark trees was turned into a circus of sorts. Stores peddling cheap plastic wares that last for just a day (translation: waste). Grilling stops everywhere and so the uncontained smoke (translation: carbon) from barbecued meats. Worst of all, the din of out-of-tune karaoke singing 24/7. If the trees could move, I bet they would’ve given the butts of these mindless people a good swatting. I understand that we want to make money but there is also such a thing as responsible business. Otherwise, go chase away the MBA students and professors out of their classrooms and certificates. Making money by becoming a nuisance to others and the environment is tyranny, for rich or poor alike. Such businesses should not have been given permits in the first place.

With Executive Order 625 (2008) which effectively puts the responsibility and management of Burnham Park on the City government, there should be no reason why City Hall cannot pursue the Park’s maintenance, protection, and growth. And, oh, let’s not call maintenance of the Park as ‘beautification’ because that’s not why we’re planting and taking care of trees. As clarified by the Lumbres’ study, take out or neglect the trees and the equivalent is slow death to present and future residents.

It’s not just about reducing carbon footprint: On the changing temperature in Baguio City Part 2

In Part 1, I mentioned of the imperative to modernize agriculture in the country.  One investment that Local Government Units should make is in the use of Geographical Information System (GIS) as a tool to analyze patterns and trends on the land.

A research I was in for a national agency a few years back was impeded by the lack of up-to-date land use and land cover data. For instance, the lack of ready shape files and updated maps in agriculture. Thankfully, another agency has produced a more recent (2010) land cover map. But I wondered, if national agencies did not have the right data and information readily, what do you then call the policies they’ve made, the reports? Although, for the country, the lack of land use policies as well as climate change adaptation measures especially at the local level is more the case.

The land use change that has happened along Mountain Trail/Halsema Highway which is mentioned in Part 1 is classified either as parcelization or fragmentation of forest land*.

The featured video differentiates one from the other as well as implications of each on land management.  It also shows the utilization of GIS in resource planning and management.

Local Government Unit officials, as urban managers, need information in order to effectively and efficiently manage the City’s growth and development and ultimately facilitate quality of life for it’s citizens.  Land use data is key to the analysis of the urbanization processes and problems.  These days, it is impossible to produce such data without the aid of modern tools i.e. GIS and remote sensing technologies.  The City needs leaders and managers who see the need to make these a priority investment and integrate their use in city planning and management.

At the regional level i.e. LGUs in the Cordillera Administrative Region it is imperative that land use plans integrate local climate change mitigation measures such as reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide mentioned in Part 1).  Targets to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate should not remain at the global and national levels but rather should be operationalized in localities.  Climate change mitigation and adaptation should not and must not be just all words and rah-rahs.  Cities and municipalities should explicitly include in their land use and development plans GHG emission targets (hence corresponding financing requirements to achieve these).


*latest forestry statistics (2003) for the country shows only 24% (or, 7.2M ha.) of total land area is forested compared to 70% (or, 21M ha.) in 1900.  I don’t even want to go into the state of the remaining “forest” in Baguio City today.  Even I, a non-forester, can tell that the trees (along Loakan Road) are dying a torturously slow death.  As repeatedly mentioned in this blog, it’s not that we have an inordinate love affair with trees; rather, preservation of the City’s trees and foliage translates into our own preservation as well as that of our children and many others after us.

It’s not just about reducing carbon footprint: On the changing temperature in Baguio City

I haven’t since 2002 gone back on the Mountain Trail or have ever ventured beyond Mankayan in Benguet Province until November last year. When I did, up to Bontoc in Mountain Province I had an insight into the concern for Baguio City’s rising temperature.

The decreasing number of pines is oft-cited by regular tourists as well as locals as the culprit in the City’s changing temperature hence the annual planting of trees as a standard CSR practice.  The role of trees or foliage in climate and temperature regulation cannot be discounted, of course, but from what I’ve seen along the Mountain Trail a significant portion of the problem is likely caused by nitrous oxide emissions.

Almost entire mountain sides on the Mountain Trail starting in La Trinidad and it’s urban farms up toward Bauko (see map) have been carved out and converted into terraces of vegetables grown for the commercial market.  (This brings me to another issue:  whose property are those mountain ranges? Don’t fucking tell it’s ancestral!)

Nitrous oxide (N20) is a greenhouse gas.  It is emitted through the soil from the use of synthetic fertilizers (other sources include transportation and industry (fossil fuel combustion)).

Consider this:  According to US EPA, nitrous oxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years before being removed by a sink or destroyed through chemical reactions. Translation:  The atmospheric and climatic effects of fertilizers that were used 100 years ago are still being felt by today’s generation!  Further, the impact of 1 pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times that of 1 pound of carbon dioxide.

How many kilograms of fertilizers and pesticides are poured into those mountains of farms, every day, 365 days in a year?  As a result, how many pounds of N20 are emitted into the air, every day, 365 days a year?  Total number of years the gas stays up and eats into the atmosphere?  Moreover, effects of indiscriminate fertilizer use on the atmosphere is distributed regionally and globally through the biogeochemical cycles. Mountain cities are especially vulnerable because of their location .

What can be done to mitigate the effects?  At this stage of our civilization, total eradication of fertilizer use is impossible if not detrimental.  What’s needed is a continuing study of doable and effective alternatives in order to achieve good balance between food security and sustainable growth and development. This implies investment in and institutionalization of capacity development, R&D, M&E, and communications systems for agriculture specific to the province and region. In other words, modernization of local agricultural systems. Ultimately, information and support need to reach farmers and landowners who are the final decision-makers.

On the state of affairs at Camp John Hay Part II

Virtues don’t come through simply thinking about them.  You have to exercise them.

– Aristotle

The mandates of the Constitution and other laws, the Philippines’ for that matter, are basically those virtues that ought to govern the land.  In turn, citizens, whether they be civilians or public officials, become virtuous by exercising these virtues. Otherwise, lawlessness and chaos prevail.

This unfortunately is the case at Camp John Hay in as far as the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) as led by it’s Chair is concerned.  From day one of it’s Build-Operate-Transfer contract with the winning private developer, CJH DevCo, BCDA has not let up it’s harassment of the developer.  Even when the case between them has been finally decided in the latter part of 2014 via the PDRCI, the BCDA had to be the first to instigate a crossfire by putting up signages that read “BCDA Wins” and more recently pay for whole page ads “informing” the general public that it has among others won a notice of eviction against “CJH DevCo and all persons claiming rights under them”.  Not content with just the notice, BCDA included in the ad, in teeny font, the names of private individuals owning property in the Camp as well as third party entities such as the Camp John Hay Golf Club which it mentioned has 1100 members etc.  It has also publicly urged third party-locators in the Camp to go after DevCo who it said owed them financially.

What’s wrong with this scenario?

  • Overall, a government agency, BCDA in this case, is obviously acting the bully.  The Camp is like the Spratlys and the BCDA has been acting like China.  How could the Philippine Government take the higher ground with the Chinese Government when within the country it is itself demonstrating the very behavior and actions it berates the Chinese Government for?  The contract between BCDA and CJH DevCo was signed in the context of PPP specifically the B-O-T scheme.  It was not something that the developer wrestled or wangled out of BCDA and as such the treatment it had and continues to receive from BCDA in as far as Camp development is concerned is unwarranted and clearly against public policy.


  • Property rights.  The actions of BCDA in it’s “take over” of the Camp mirror the state of this country’s property rights which is that these continue to be left open to undesired elements, meaning there’s persistent failure to enforce laws and policies protecting property rights holders, be they small or large owners.  Private property rights are human rights in that individuals have the exclusive right to the rent (services) of the property, to determine it’s use, and to security of proprietorship.  Property rights is a component of the Rule of Law category in the Index of Economic Freedom.  This year, Philippines scored 30.0 (repressed, and is it any consolation that it’s the same as that with Mongolia’s) on the component, unchanged since 2004.

Moreover, Presidential Proclamation 420 series 1994 Section 2 on the Governing Body of the John Hay Special Economic Zone states

Pursuant to Section 15 of Republic Act No. 7227, the Bases Conversion and Development Authority is hereby established as the governing body of the John Hay Special Economic Zone and, as such, authorized to determine the utilization and disposition of the lands comprising it, subject to private rights, if any, and in consultation and coordination with the City Government of Baguio after consultation with its inhabitants…

So when the legislator and enforcer of the law go around posting on private properties notices of eviction without compelling and clear justification and due process, it’s like my god has the country embraced Communism?  Yes, a democratic government has the right of eminent domain but this provision is laid down in the context of conflicts between private and more compelling public use of a piece of land (e.g. expansion of roads) and this comes with just compensation to the owner.  Is there a plan to build a public property on the Camp’s private lots that received eviction notices?  If so, what is this public property which so warrants eviction of the private property rights holders’ and possibly bulldozing of their properties?  I doubt that BCDA has such a plan.  In fact, BCDA has begun putting out ads for public bidding of Camp property that will be developed into lucrative businesses and residences to be managed by BCDA’s JHMC. This brings me to the second point.

  • Management and development of estates.  The Philippine Government was right to bid out the Camp under the PPP (B-O-T scheme) arrangement, because it has been established ages ago, via the study of economics, that government is inefficient in managing certain goods and services.  This is especially so for Philippines.  Let’s start with a simple infrastructure, the waiting shed.  It’s government/public property, but look at the state of waiting sheds all over the country.  They’re vandalized, dirty, paint peeling off, near condemned.  Another, the public market.  I won’t go into that here as the infrastructure’s been written about on this blog several times.  Yet another, the public park.  I won’t also mention that here as Burnham Park in Baguio City has been mentioned a lot of times on this blog and on the other (thecolorofred) and it’s not a rosy picture.  And still another, DOT’s resorts all over the country that have been neglected over the years.  My belief is that when somebody can’t be trusted with a small thing s/he can’t ever be with a bigger thing.

Camp John Hay is the last remaining forest within Baguio City hence it’s development should proceed with care so to speak.  It’s development should take into account the impacts to the wider community of Baguio City and it’s future generations.  DevCo has a development masterplan for the Camp which was approved by the government and so far environmental integrity has been maintained.  Recently, it has been circulating that BCDA will bid out a commercial infrastructure along the Camp’s Sheridan Drive.  Is this even in the approved master plan of the Camp?  If not, the Camp is thus subject to government’s lack of respect for continuity and failure to keep it’s promise/contract provisions.  The point here is, the Philippine Government has the unfortunate track record of doing things on tracts of land (e.g. Baguio City Hall’s plan to redevelop Melvin Jones into a parking area?!?!) that don’t necessarily go through the due process of planning, design, and approval.

Government, because it is fed by people’s taxes, doesn’t or takes much longer before it feels the pinch hence is not compelled to act urgently on reforms.  On the other hand, economics (price) will eventually put to right businesses that initially refuse to heed environmental management because such behavior ends up negatively impacting on their bottomline.

So if not BCDA/JHMC to develop the Camp then who?  Now apparently it won’t be DevCo but then again if not DevCo, who?  Another private developer?  Who, on BCDA’s books, is the rightful developer?  The books will say it is DevCo.  And so this merry go ’round of a story goes back to the first bullet statement above.

– to be continued –

What will be left?

It can’t anymore be denied that this side of the Mount Santo Tomas range is being overtaken by development, irrational by the sight of it.  Before we can finish uttering “A Buick Chop Jolted My Sexy Frozen Wives” and if folks at City Hall continue to sit on the land use plan, this area will end up exactly like that shitty side of the mountain range one sees from Marcos Highway when going up the City.  City Hall’s inaction has effectively taken away the opportunity for future generations to know and enjoy the environmental conditions in the City that past generations did and to some extent the present does.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services, again

How much is naturally filtered fresh air? How much is naturally filtered clean water? How much is cooled air and natural flood control as provided by mature forest cover? Planners, whether in government or the private sector, seem to forget that nature’s diverse ecosystems are their allies in service provision.

The way land is used impact on biodiversity and ecosystems hence the imperative for local government units to incorporate assessments and valuation of such into the land use planning process so that instead of looking up at the sky there’s now these evidential bases for land use decisions. Besides, valuation of ecosystem services is a mandate in the Philippines (EO 46) lodged with the DENR, NEDA, and NSCB. These three agencies need to collaborate with LGUs as to integration of the Philippine Economic-Environmental and Natural Resources Accounting (PEENRA) into the LGU development planning process.

On the cutting down of pine trees to accommodate SM City’s Sky Park

So, the 182 trees on the SM property in Baguio City were already cut down. It’s the mall’s property after all. I wrote about the issue in a post here a couple of years ago or so and my views haven’t changed. The local coalition against the earth-balling and cutting down of the pine trees on the SM property should have sued the City Government not SM City, because while the apparent reason may look like corporate power vs the City’s heritage of pines and their contribution to sustaining the City into the future, the real case has to do with the absence of a land use plan and the ensuing zoning code as mandated in the LGU Code. SM City won it’s case only because the lawyer of the coalition failed to provide a better argument for his client. The lesson therefore is get a wise and smart lawyer.

But back to the City’s lack of a land use plan and zoning code. Without appropriate controls on the uses of land, the outcome on the City’s landscape has been haphazard development on virtually any green space in the CBD and the suburbs. The lack of zoning laws has exposed residential areas and subdivisions even to nuisance from night clubs and bars, chemicals from factories, tall buildings that block out the sun from bungalow type houses, irrational growth of commercial shops, public transport routes cutting through subdivisions, to cite a few intrusive effects. Still, Child Friendly Barangay Awards are handed out like lollipops to young children.

The City Government’s continuing irresponsibility in this matter is like a cancer cell slowly eating away at the City’s landscape and residents’ physical, mental, and emotional health.

On the other hand, with appropriate land use regulations and zoning laws, development and settlement patterns are shaped in a responsible way. The Sky Park wouldn’t have been approved in the first place, or supposing SM City insisted on the project, applying for a change in the zoning would involve consultation with Baguio residents who would’ve voted down SM’s proposal and none of the dramatics and heartaches over Save 182 need have occurred.


Rizal and Equitable Development Part II

The furor over Torre de Manila getting in the view of a national and cultural interest also highlights the issue of growth control, or in local governance parlance , land use planning, and the actual implementation of land use plans. Relative to devolved DENR processes, environmental impact assessments of development projects as well and utilization of development fees in the mitigation of project impacts.  With the ongoing Senate investigation on Vice President Jejomar Binay and his project the Makati City Hall 2, the issue of where money from real estate developers went as alleged by former Vice Mayor Mercado is now widely known.

Local Government Units (LGUs) are mandated via Executive Order 72 series 1993 to prepare 10-year Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs) and the accompanying Zoning Ordinances which are ultimately approved by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB).

CLUP preparation process, via HLURB Guidebook

But, years after 1993, 87% of LGUs are operating with approved CLUPs. Of the total 1,610 LGUs, close to half are still preparing or updating their plans. One wonders: what do these LGUs base their decisions on as to land use and development?  What do local Zoning Boards base their decisions on as for instance whether or not to upzone or restrict zoning?  What does the national government base it’s decision on as to the release of IRAs and how are rate performances including LGU competitiveness rating measured when these crucial and basic local plans are lacking?

The transactional business model and corruption

This article on The Urbanophile reminds me of the question nature or nurture? asked of a child who “suddenly” commits a violent act. Thoughts on corruption follows a similar line of thought. One explanation centers on local economics as the author makes a case for how globalization changes the composition of business firms the effect being a reorientation of doing business which in turn opens the system to corrupt practices.

With banking and utility deregulation, we saw large numbers of hometown banks merged out of existence. Industry after industry has been subjected to national or international level roll-ups as changes in the economy and regulatory environment gave increasing returns to scale.

Why is it that “real estate interests” dominate in a local economy like Cleveland? Because, to a great extent, they are among the only ones left. Consider the local industries that have not been as subject to roll-ups. Principal among these are real estate development, construction, and law (though we are starting to see rollups in these industries too).

Where then is the source of transactions these firms can turn to in order to sustain their business? The public sector, of course.

I would hypothesize that many local transactionally oriented services companies have seen the public sector take on a greater share of billings than in the past. With the old school bankers and industrialists mostly out of the picture, the leadership in our communities consists increasingly of the political class and a business community dominated by transactional interests.

When you look at the composition of this group, it should come as no surprise that the publicly subsidized real estate development is the preferred civic strategy. Politicians get to cut ribbons. Cranes always look good on the skyline. Local architects, engineers, developers, and construction companies love it. And there is plenty of legal work to go around.

This is not to say these people are necessarily acting nefariously. And nor were old school bankers and industrialists always acting purely altruistically. But there’s a very different world view between people steeped in operational businesses and those in transactionally oriented one.

– Aaron M. Renn, The City As a Decline Machine, or How the Loss of Hometown Banks Paved the Way For Corruption

What’s happening in Cleveland is happening in Philippine cities here, the difference being that the impacts and effects of transactional interests cut deeper here given that the physical and socio-political environment in which these occur is third world-ish.  Disregard of people and their say in what affects them is observable from all fronts, even in business.