GOVERNMENT entities and occupants of the built-up portions of the Buyog watershed have agreed to protect and preserve what remains of the forest reservation as a requisite to the planned disposition for housing purposes of the occupied areas.
Some 745 occupants of the United Pinget Homeowners Association will sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the City Government under Mayor Mauricio Domogan and City Council committee on lands chair Leandro Yangot Jr., the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Cordillera under Regional Executive Director Ralph Pablo, and Baguio Water District (BWD) under general manager Salvador Royeca.
The MOA stipulates the DENR-Cordillera will conduct a survey of the actual occupied areas of the watershed and upon identification of the inhabited portion, the occupants will not expand into the unoccupied areas and will undertake measures to help protect the watershed from intrusion by squatters.
The agreement also mandates the occupants to maintain their structures for residential purposes and in coordination with the City Government and the DENR will undertake an annual tree-planting program to reforest what remains of the watershed.
The City, through the City Buildings and Architecture Office, will design a water-tight waste water disposal system, which will be adopted by each residence to protect the watershed from contamination.
The City Government, DENR and the BWD posed no objection to the segregation of the occupied areas from the coverage of Proclamation 93, declaring Buyog as a forest reservation but stressed the protection of the remaining unoccupied portion is paramount.
Pablo endorsed the segregation, while Royeca also signified approval subject to four conditions: that no further intrusion of buildings should be allowed; that the existing breaches of openings in the existing fence should be closed to prevent entry of unauthorized persons; residents should be required to install sealed septic tanks; and residents should be informed they have a personal stake in preservation the watershed as it is their primary water source.
“These conditions are sought to be imposed as our inspection has revealed that without these conditions being put in place, we will risk the irreversible contamination of the water sources,” Royeca noted.
Royeca suggested a MOA “be executed to serve as the basis for our issuance of the requested endorsement.”
A large portion of the 20-hectare Buyog is inhabited by residents from Pinget, Quirino Hill and other barangays straddled by the forest reserve.
Pinget barangay officials sought the segregation of 113,193-square-meter area occupied by residents for housing as early as 2009.
Residents said they have occupied the area since the late 70s or long before the issuance of Proclamation 93 issued in 1992.
In 2014, Lower Quirino Hill residents sought the intercession of Yangot also for the exclusion of the inhabited portion from the reservation.
Efforts to abate squatting at the reservation peaked in the 1990s when illegal structures were demolished by authorities but the intruders kept on returning, prompting the Baguio Regreening Movement (BRM) under former Councilor Erdolfo Balajadia and the Baguio-Benguet Medical Society with the DENR and BWD to spearhead the fencing of the unoccupied portion to ward off further intrusion and prevent expansion of the shanties.
According to the BRM, of the 20-hectare reservation area, only about 10 hectares remained unoccupied.
Buyog is one of the four major sources of water in Baguio City aside from Sto. Tomas, Busol and Camp 8. It supplies water to the Buyog area including Camdas, Dizon, Pinget and Quirino Hill barangays. (Aileen Refuerzo)
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 28, 2016.