At 30, BRM serves as Baguio’s conscience for env’t protection

Environment Featured News Profile

BAGUIO CITY – For three decades, the Baguio Re-greening Movement (BRM) served as Baguio’s conscience murmuring on the ears of officials. Sometimes they shout and complain to encourage everyone to help preserve and protect the environment.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Cordillera assistant Regional Director Augusto Lagon said BRM is the “peoples’ voice. 

“We have a big peoples voice in the city, that continues to tell us to always move and be on our foot to fasttrack our programs,” Lagon said, adding that BRM is the eye and the hand that touches all institutions to participate.

Lagon added that “the more that we go forward, the more that the voice should be louder and the more that everybody should participate. The more that BRM should work ahead, lifetime dapat yung voice. It is the pace that sustains us all.”

Conceptualized by former Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO)-Baguio chief Oscar Hamada and former Baguio-Benguet Catholic Bishop Ernesto Salgado, BRM was organized on July 20, 1988 – with the primary goal of re-greening the city. It brought together the city government, the DENR, Baguio Water District (BWD), media, business sector, private firms, environmental advocates and others in one group.

“BRM is equivalent to so many things when it comes to environment management in Baguio. It is equivalent to having established a sustainable integrated water management program, for having had the first water code in Southeast Asia that localized the clean water act, responsible for the clean air ordinance and for crafting CEPMO’s bible which is the city environment code,” said Cordelia Lacsamana of the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO).

BRM chairman Atty. Erdolfo Balajadia said, “this is proof that many wants to do something to protect and preserve the city’s environment,” which sustains the group.

“From re-greening, ngayon nakikialam na tayo sa lahat about environment (the BRM is now involved in everything about the environment,” Balajadia said.

In its 30 years of existence, Balajadia said, the most notable and tangible accomplishment of the group is the crafting and passage of Ordinance 18-2016, or the “Environment Code of the city of Baguio,” which now serves as the bible of the city government in managing the environment.

BRM’s presence in the city

“If there is no BRM that shouts and pleads we could have lost Busol, Buyog and Sto. Tomas watershed. If we keep on ignoring the call of the people to help us protect and rehabilitate our environment, there will be a time we would not want to live here anymore because it is already hot, no sufficient water and clean air for everyone,” Balajadia said.

The presence of BRM in the city was merely at the background, pushing and urging officials and offices to perform their duties, it has no police power or any kind of power except a voice that serves as “conscience.”

Balajadia who also served as a city councilor, enabling the BRM to push for the passage of the city’s environment code.

Testimonies

Lacsamana said that through the environment code that took decades to complete, the city government had numerous efforts, which were pushed by the public through BRM. Among these is the “Salaknib ti Waig (save the river) to save Balili River that has various tributaries in Baguio and drains in La Union.

Forestry nurseries to grow pine and fruit-bearing tree seedling for the re-greening program.

“We had to recast the entire re-greening program of the city. Its so easy to plant, everybody have been planting but we are now putting emphasis on post planting care and our partners are very receptive because it guarantees a very high survival rate of trees planted,” Lacsamana explained.

“Couples cannot get a marriage license without planting a tree. House and building owners cannot get their occupancy permit without a tree planting certificate,” which is required under the environment code.

“We have been drawing strength from them [BRM] for all those years that we have tried to establish an environment department and continue to operate one.” CEPMO is 10 years old but when it was starting, the BRM was the force behind all the initiatives.

Dr. Carlos Arida of the Provincial ENRO-Benguet said that the BRM’s programs, especially for the protection of the Busol watershed, is very laudable with the entire city reaping the benefits of its protection.

La Trinidad Municipal ENRO Arthur Pedro said the group had been helping preserve even the Benguet side of Busol watershed. “If they are not there, the watershed could have been replaced already with houses and other developments and without trees, our water supply will decline.”

Protecting Baguio’s main watershed

BRM was the force that pushes for the continued protection of Busol, Baguio’s main source of potable water, which was declared as a watershed in 1922.

CENRO-Baguio chief Rainier Balbuena said that their office, PENRO-Benguet and the DENR regional office are currently completing the “Watershed characterization” of Busol.

“The vulnerability assessment is ongoing. It will be completed with the submission of the integrated watershed management plan (IWMP).” It will also Identify the forest occupants within the 336 hectares proclamation where 224 hectares is in La Trinidad, Benguet while the Baguio side covers 122 hectares, he said.

Over a decade ago, BRM initiated the fencing of the Busol watershed to protect it from illegal settlers. In July, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the fencing, which the city government and the BRM are thankful for.

Moving forward

Radyo Pilipinas-Baguio has been giving a slot for the “Talakayan sa Baguio environment code” aired live every Thursday to inform the public about the protection of the environment efforts of the BRM.

Station Manager Andre Amadeo said the program was conceptualized by the station as its contribution in aiding efforts geared towards environmental protection and preservation.

Balajadia said “we are talking of the environment which is life. Ang gusto namin tulungan niyo po kami. Kung meron kayong naiisip na remedyo at para matulungan ang ating environment ‘wag kayong mag atubili na makipagtulungan sa BRM,” adding that the BRM will continue to exist while there are issues about the environment and while the Baguio people are helping. PNA