Quake stigma starts to dissipate in Baguio
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—On July 16, 25 years ago, the Hyatt Terraces Baguio became the tragic portrait of the devastation wrought by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake that hit the summer capital and the cities of Dagupan and Cabanatuan.
Every newspaper, magazine and television account about the earthquake used to be accompanied by a photograph or footage of Hyatt’s 12 floors that crumbled like an accordion.
In May, however, a businessman announced he was in talks to develop the Hyatt property on South Drive here.
Businessman Robert John Sobrepeña of the Fil-Estate Group of Companies announced at a news conference that the former Hyatt compound was one of several Baguio properties he had been asked to develop the moment his firm, Camp John Hay Development Corp., leaves Camp John Hay.
The announcement, however, was received with skepticism here.
But a renewed interest in the property has removed the final stigma of the earthquake that has been lingering in Baguio, said Mayor Mauricio Domogan on Monday.
Hyatt was on everyone’s mind each year because of the annual retelling of the miracle of Pedrito Dy’s survival, after being buried under twisted steel and concrete for 14 days.
When Hyatt’s employees reunited in 2007 at the property’s empty lot, they prayed for the 30 employees and 50 guests who died in the collapsed luxury hotel.
Recently, there has been interest to buy or develop the 200,000-square meter property, which has been fenced off for years, said Nestor Fernandez, the property’s caretaker.
A former Hyatt security guard, Fernandez said the property had been offered for P600 million to potential buyers, some of whom were prominent firms, including a mall giant.
The Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco), which owns an adjoining lot, is offering a piece of its property in a joint venture deal if the Hyatt lot owner is interested, said Gerardo Verzosa, Beneco general manager.
Verzosa said he made the proposal because Beneco is developing an access road that the Hyatt lot may share.
Domogan said skepticism about the property arises because of fears that the area has become “unbuildable” due to the fate that befell the former Hyatt hotel.
“But it has since been established that the [collapsed hotel] itself was not designed to withstand [a 7.7-magnitude quake] and modern technology already allows engineers to calculate how best to construct on areas vulnerable to an earthquake,” he said.
For the most part, Baguio has weaned itself away from these fears since the city was rebuilt a second time from a devastation, Domogan said.
The government first rebuilt Baguio after it was flattened by American bombers at the end of World War II to liberate the city from the control of the Japanese Imperial Army.
Shortly after the quake, residents advocated a policy that would keep buildings here at four stories high.
Today, some schools, hotels and condominiums have been allowed to rise as high as 12 stories in select sections of Baguio.
The proposed Baguio City Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) has set an average ceiling of six stories for buildings in most parts of the city but it grants exemptions for structures that will invest heavily in earthquake-resistant measures.
The CLUP said Baguio “is periodically visited by earthquakes.”
“[Earthquakes] induced many of the present slides. Most of these mass movements occur in unstable slopes while some can be attributed to ground shaking and surface faulting and nonuniform movement of rock blocks along lines of weaknesses,” it said.
“The July 16, 1990, earthquake resulted in an overabundance of landslides that caused numerous deaths and massive destruction of properties,” it added
The proposed CLUP acknowledged the “high risk” nature of the city’s terrain, as the community addresses problems of squatting and migration.
“There is a very limited vacant land that is available in the city for further development,” it said.
Recent mapping conducted by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, showed that there are at least 25 sinkholes mapped across Baguio.
It blamed the demand for housing for “uncontrolled land development, such as excavations, and settlement along unstable slopes,” which lead to erosion and landslides.
“Housing has also expanded towards protected areas, encroaching on watersheds and forest reservations, with the forest cover currently in a state of rapid decline thus threatening the city’s water sources, natural landscape and beauty,” the proposed CLUP said.–Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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