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Environment exec urges govt to stop land sale in Baguio

Monday, 23 April, 2012 Written by Othel V. Campos

THE Environment Department on Monday urged the government to stop selling land in Baguio City and Boracay temporarily to stop their further degradation.

“The government can only promote public welfare on land that it owns,” Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said.

“Once sold to the private sector, we cannot dictate… we can only tell [the buyer] how to mitigate [the impact of development on the environment].”

Paje cited the case of the government-owned Camp John Hay in Baguio City, where his department has issued an order stopping the cutting of more than 1,000 trees for construction purposes.

“We can only implement decisions on government property,” Paje said.

“In Baguio, the biggest land owner is still the government, so we can still mitigate and make decisions that will promote public welfare.”

Paje said the government still owned Boracay based on a Supreme Court ruling, but that would lapse by 2016. Until then, the government would have the opportunity to “correct and plan for a more sustainable development of the island.”

He said President Benigno Aquino III ordered the Environment, Justice, Interior and Tourism Departments to study the carrying capacities of Baguio City and Boracay and to look into the cases of “over-building” in those areas.

Carrying capacity refers to how much load—population and infrastructure—an area can take over a given period without adversely affecting the environment. Environmentalists, for instance, have pointed out how the bat population in Boracay has dwindled because the bats are being disturbed.

Paje said the President’s order was to ensure that the issues confronting Baguio and Boracay would not be repeated in other tourism sites. He said the government had identified 78 such sites that were approved by the National Tourism Council.

Those sites include Panglao Island in Bohol, Coron Island in Palawan, and in the Puerto Princesa Underground River, which has been experiencing a dramatic increase in tourist arrivals since its proclamation as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

(Published in the Manila Standard Today newspaper on /2012/April/24)
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