Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baguio's top ten (first of two parts)

In a little over the month, the city will be recognizing the 100 Builders of Baguio, I can’t wait to see who made it to that list. From what I hear, there will be a list of 100 individuals and another for 100 institutions. I share my very own list of Baguio's top ten...
1. The Ibalois – the Cariño, Carantes, Camdas, Molintas, Suello and other nameless Igorots who nurtured this land for generations. When the Spaniards, and later the Americans, first saw what is now Baguio, they immediately fell in love with its beauty, and that’s perhaps because the first settlers here lived in harmony with their natural environment, took from the land and in return, protected, respected and cared for the land.
2. The Spanish Benguet Commission - in the 19th century, after noticing that the soldiers stationed in the mountains of Benguet seemed to enjoy better health than those stationed in the lowlands, the Spaniards, after establishing a military sanitarium in nearby La Trinidad, explored the idea of building a hill station in the area. They formed the Benguet Commission whose task was to investigate the environmental conditions in the province, and chanced upon a small ranchierria near the capital – Kafagway. A more healthful climate, ample water supplies, agricultural promise, fuel availability, recreational potential and communication linkages with the lowlands were among the attributes that the commission cited and recommended that if a hill station was to be built, it had to be built in Kafagway.
3. The American Schurmann Commission – news of the Spanish military sanitarium in La Trinidad spread, and when the Americans arrived in our country, they formed their own commission to investigate rumours circulating in the country’s capital about this beautiful haven up in the mountains of Benguet which brought miraculous cures to various illnesses. Headed by Dean. C. Worcester and Luke E. Wright, the commission confirmed the report of the Benguet Commission, and recommended the establishment of an American hill station in Baguio.
4. Daniel Burnham – after establishing a sanitarium on top of a hill where bus stations and a mall now stand, and after finally opening the Benguet Road to land trasnportation, the Americans then needed the services of a city planner. The job was given to one Daniel H. Burnham, a renowned architect and city planner whose signature is on some of the world’s most beautiful and well-planned cities: San Francisco and Chicago, U.S., and Manila, Philippines (well, maybe Manila before the advent of pink fences and urinals). Looking at Burnham’s “Plan of Baguio,” one can’t help but wonder why our current city executives continue to insist on coming up with their very “brilliant” plan for the city, when Burnham’s plan is just there, waiting for a re-visit. While certain politicians are itching to ruin the beauty of the largest piece of level land in the city, Minac (now known as Burnham Park), with the erection of ugly concrete structures, Burnham reserved this prime piece of property to be enjoyed by the most number of people – a public park. Burnham was among the first persons to advocate the preservation of the now fast-disappearing pine forests in the city, and the first to warn against uncontrolled development of Baguio:
“The placing of formal architectural silhouettes upon the surrounding hills would make a hard skyline and go far toward destroying the charm of this beautiful landscape. On the other hand, to place buildings on the sloping hillsides where they would be seen against a solid background of green foliage is to give them the best possible setting without mutilating their surroundings.
“The preservation of the existing woods and other plantings should be minutely looked after, not only on the eminences immediately contiguous to Baguio proper, but also for the surrounding mountains; and the carrying out of these precautions should be one of the first steps in the development of the proposed town. Unless these early protective measures are taken, the misdirected initiative of energetic lumbermen will soon cause the destruction of this beautiful scenery.” – Daniel Burnham.
See? To our current and aspiring city administrators, forget about your grand ideas, just re-visit Burnham’s plan.
5. Cameron Forbes – the man tasked to implement Burnham’s “Plan of Baguio.” Forbes was a member of the U.S. Philippine Commission from 1904 to 1909 who eventually became the colony’s Governor-General, and was assigned as the administrator directly responsible for the development and promotion of Baguio, Forbes proceeded to make a number of visits to the Summer Capital and was responsible for putting together an affordable and efficient transportation system between Baguio and the lowlands. He put together a highly competent staff at the Bureau of Public Works to look after the Benguet Road (now Kennon Road), which then and now often suffered from landslides, to keep it safe and open to transportation. He also pressured the Manila Railroad Company to bring their tracks closer to Baguio; and urged the government to acquire two Stanley Steamliners which gave birth to the city’s first bus system, The Benguet Auto Line. He also attracted investors to the city to put up hotels, restaurants and other recreation facilities in the city, fueling the growth of Baguio, despite the government’s reluctance in allocating funds for the development of the city.
(to be continued)

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