Baguio needs you.
This call is urgent. It is for anyone who has a heart for Baguio and believes he/she can help save the city for what it is – as the City of (dwindling) Pines.
It’s about the plan of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to sell that small but choice lot beside the Baguio Convention Center where pine trees, some which were balled and transferred there by Baguio rsidents, are growing, providing a refreshing patch of green to the city’ s urban landscape.
Years back, the GSIS got the lot free, assigned to it by a signature of then President Ferdinand Marcos. That enabled the GSIS to build what is now the Baguio Convention Center as site of the World Chess Championship series between title-holder Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi. Trailing all the way, Karpov did the impossible, winning 6-5 in the series despite complaining parapsychologists were used by his adversary to distract his game.
Recently, city officials and residents were alarmed by plans of the GSIS to sell the pine stand. Would-be buyer Shoemart, the mall chain, had planned to build four multi-story buildings called “Baguio Air Residences” and link it to the SM Mall where the burned Pines Hotel, a Baguio landmark then, used to be.
To save the trees and the open space they provide in a city fast overcrowding, city hall, through Mayor Mauricio Domogan offered to buy the Convention Center and the tree patch beside it that GSIS obtained without paying a centavo.
In earlier talks, GSIS agreed to sell the property totaling 33,606 square meters for P433,517,400. The city, Domogan recalled, made a counter-proposal of P340 million as per his letter dated March 20, 2018.
“Instead of maintaining its previous offer of P433,537,400, the GSIS has increased it to P682,201,800 per its latest letter dated 23 April 20018 which our office received today, and is hereby attached as annex “C”,” the mayor said in a letter asking President Rodrigo Duterte to help convince GSIS to sell at tbe lower price and help Baguio save the pine forest, aside from obtaining the Convention Center.
Residents led by teachers and students of the University of the Philippines near the Convention Center expressed residentss’ common worry over the destruction of the pine forest by a business enterprise.
Years back, when GSIS planned to sell the tree stand to SM, grade schoolers wrote individual letters to then President Gloria Arroyo, asking her to have GSIS save the tree stand by turning it over to the city.
Even Igorot expatriates, in a resolution during a forum of the Igorot Global Organization in Ifugao, adopted a resolution asking President Arroyo to spare the tree park for the sake of Baguio.
In a speech here, the President assured the pine forest would remain and be under the care of the city.
The recent posture of the GSIS leadership, however, restored the fear of residents that the pine stand would be lost should it be sold to a private enterprise at a price the city could not afford.
Explaining its stand, GSIS president and general manager Jesus Clint Aranas said GSIS is guided by Republic Act 8291’ which provides in part that it may not sell its acquired properties not lower than their current market value.
When it it bought “Parisian Life” , a painting by national artist Juan Luna, for P42 million in 2002, the GSIS argued, in the wake of criticisms, that it does not only insure members, that it also insures national heritage like the painting.
Using this line of argument, some Baguio residents argue that Baguio, like the Juan Luna painting, is also national heritage and that it should be preserved as a pine city.
“Without paying a single centavo, the GSIS obtained the lot by Presidential order. Having spent not a single centavo, it should accept the city’s purchase price that GSIS can have without,” a resident said. “After all, GSIS obtained the property without any capital.”
“After all, Baguio is not only for residents; it is for millons of Filipines all over the country, thousands of whom are GSIS members who, we’re sure, have fond memories of and attachments to and would feel good to have the tree park preserved as such.”/Ramon Dacawi.