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Baguio City thumbs down limiting tourist arrivals


Baguio will not be limiting the number of tourists who visit the city famous for its cold weather and pine trees, Mayor Benjamin Magalong said Tuesday.

Magalong emphasized this point even as he acknowledged that the ideal number of vehicles for a city of its land area is 15,000 to 17,000—a figure way below the 63,000 vehicles registered there.

Furthermore, the City of Pines welcomed another 27,000 vehicles during the Christmas season, adding to the pressing problem of congestion.

"Hindi mo mali-limit eh. There is no way na mali-limit mo," Magalong said of visitor arrivals at the sidelines of the forum on Promotion of Low Carbon Urban Transport Systems hosted by the Department of Transportation and the United Nations Development Program on Tuesday.

"Unang una, anim ang ingress (highways) ng Baguio City. We are not like Boracay and other island areas where you can control entry,” Magalong said.

“Secondly, we are a gateway to other Cordillera provinces and adjacent municipalities. Paano natin haharangin ang turista? Hindi mo na madi-distinguish kung saan pupunta ang mga iyan. It would be very impractical,” Magalong added.

He added that one of the keys to decongesting the city would be to have a reliable mass transport system so people would not need to bring their cars to Baguio.

“The important thing here is to develop a good, reliable mass transport system para iyong mga tao, huwag na magdala ng sariling sasakayan at sumakay na lang sa bus. Kaya kami nag-submit ng proposals sa DOTR and UNDP para they can help us,” Magalong said.

Loakan Airport revival

Magalong cited several projects in the pipeline: the construction of three integrated transport terminals; road widening on both sides and 10 meters from the edge of the road; the construction of sidewalks at the cost of P200 million to encourage walking; the construction of eight "green architecture" parking buildings; implementing a no-garage, no-franchise policy for public utility vehicles; opening Loakan Airport; and, most importantly, developing an affordable scheme for the government’s Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) modernization program.

“So far, there is no attractive scheme for the PUV modernization. The drivers are very concerned on financial viability and their capacity to pay,” Magalong said.

Magalong also said that reopening Loakan Airport is widely supported by the public and airline companies alike and as such, the city government is already working on refurbishing it

“We are already clearing the buffer zone of informal settlers who built around 100 structures there. We also need to upgrade the facilities. Saka ginagawa kasing shortcut ito; crossing. Malapit na matapos iyong diversion road para hindi na gawing shortcut,” Magalong said.

“Mr. Ramon Ang [has also] signified intention to participate in the bidding process already, pero wala pang formal proposal since we are still in talks with the [Department of Transportation]. Ang importante, ma-open ito kasi maraming turista na suportado ito. When tourists from Davao City or Cebu ask me how to get to Baguio, they get discouraged when they learn that they still have to travel by land from the Manila airport,” Magalong added.

Ang is the president of San Miguel Corporation, which has stakes in beverages, food, packaging, fuel and oil, power and infrastructure. SMC is looking to develop at least two infrastructure projects in the city: the airport's rehabilitation and the building of an elevated highway.

Magalong also said that the city has already reached out to the DOTr to allow the local government to manage Loakan Airport via a memorandum of agreement. Under this scheme, it is the Baguio City government that would find a third party to operate and manage the airport.

"PAL Express is also very enthusiastic, and there are two other lesser known airline companies offering chartered flights who are in favor of this. We are hoping that by second quarter of the year, ma-open na ito," Magalong said.

“Sa airport capacity, I am not in authority to say since that is technical, but the planes to be used here would be an 80-seater aircraft…iyong mga Q-400 Bombardier,” he added.

Loakan Airport has not been operational for around a decade now due to safety issues since the location of the airport makes it landing planes difficult, especially when there is an ongoing weather disturbance. — BM, GMA News