Puerto Princesa City

Puerto Princesa urban dwellers struggle with rising temperatures

Gerardo C. Reyes Jr.

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Puerto Princesa urban dwellers struggle with rising temperatures

Alejandro Edoria

Weather conditions and immoderations driven by climate change compel the Puerto Princesa City government to re-design its greening efforts

PALAWAN, Philippines – Ritchel Caabay, a 38-year-old mother of four, lives in a rented house at Employees Village in the urban barangay of Santa Monica, nine kilometers from Puerto Princesa’s central business district. 

Her house is just a few hundred meters from the city hall of Puerto Princesa and existing green spaces, but during the daytime, she finds it difficult to overcome the extreme heat inside her home. 

She hails from an upland rural barangay in Roxas, Palawan, 176 kilometers from Puerto Princesa. But a few years ago, they relocated to Puerto Princesa where she and her husband found work. 

Since they are renting a poorly designed semi-concrete house with GI sheet roofing without ceilings, and a lack of ventilations, she said they feel that they are inside an oven. 

This is also the same situation with 50-year-old widow Mary Jane Olatan who lives with her children in a small space provided by her employer. She said they need at least four to five electric fans to get relieved from extreme heat inside their living space.

In April 2023, Puerto Princesa recorded a scorching 43 degrees Celsius heat index that caused an alarm to local authorities and citizens. 

Weather extremes affect low-income communities the most. The reasons include poor housing and the lack of access to safe and comfortable green public spaces. This makes climate readiness a pressing concern for governments, local planners, and health authorities not only in this city, but also in other urbanized towns and cities in the country. 

Weather conditions and immoderations driven by climate change have compelled the Puerto Princesa City government to re-design its greening efforts and shift its focus to addressing the diminishing green spaces in the city’s urban area to mitigate rising temperatures and urban heat island (UHI) effects. 

The city government emphasized the need to deal with the diminishing green spaces in urban areas by planting more trees within the center. 

Scientists associate rising temperatures with UHI which occurs when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement and buildings that retain heat. 

Unregulated conversion of green spaces like forests, grasslands, and parks to residential subdivisions causes increasingly high temperatures in the cities. 

Puerto Princesa officials reiterated their commitment to aggressively pursue an Urban Forestry Program with a specific emphasis on the re-greening of schools and open spaces within urban centers.

City Environment and Natural Resources Officer Carlo Gomez said planting more trees in the city sets a good example that citizens can emulate and demonstrates a new way of addressing climate change. 

He said the students suffer from heat since many classrooms are not air-conditioned. Planting trees and providing shade helps bring down the temperature on their campuses. 

He said they have included schools in the city’s greening efforts to help counter the UHI effect and mitigate climate change. 

Based on his observations, most areas within the city that register high temperatures are housing subdivisions with limited trees or vegetation.

Since 1991, Puerto Princesa City holds its biggest annual tree planting event every last Saturday of June each year during the Feast of the Forest, also known as Pista Y Ang Cagueban (PYAC). 

The is actively participated by various sectors, including the government, civil society, academe, religious, youth and students, and barangays, among others, and traditionally held in watershed and upland areas. Since 2023, they shifted their focus to the urban areas. 

Based on official records of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office, groups participating in the PYAC have so far planted 2.6 million trees from 1991 to 2022 in 16 sites within the city’s upland barangays. Of the total trees planted, roughly 70% to 80% is estimated to have grown.

Gomez, a lawyer, said one of the crucial local policies that help in greening the city’s urban areas is the proposed landscape ordinance that will require builders, contractors, or developers to plant trees in their open spaces.

“This will provide mandate and compulsory compliance to land developers like Camella, Santa Lucia or Robinsons. As of now, there is no local ordinance that requires them to plant trees,” he said.

He said they are also pushing for the creation of a city housing council to address urban heat issues to improve the housing designs for city socialized housing beneficiaries. He said they want to require each lot owner to plant at least one tree within every 150-square meter of property. 

“Isa sa mga e address sa Urban Forestry Program titingnan yung environmental health ng ating mga (city housing) recipients kasi kung papansinin mo sa liit ng area nila, sila ang nag register ng matataas na urban heat. Kawawa,” Gomez said.

(One of the areas that the Urban Forestry Program aims to address is the environmental health of the city housing recipients because as we have observed them, with their limited area, they register the hottest. Pitiful.)

He said a council that would look into urban heat issues would help improve the conditions of the beneficiaries and ensure that each housing unit has at least one tree that would benefit them and the people in the community.

Mike Escote, a barangay councilor in the urban village of Sicsican, and who is also an official of the city’s homeowners association federation, welcomed the proposal. – Rappler.com

Gerardo C. Reyes Jr. is a community journalist of Palawan Daily News and is an Aries Rufo journalism fellow of Rappler for 2023-2024.

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