Saturday, August 29, 2009


And so it all comes down to Tuesday, September 1, 2009.

Today, Session Road is slowly filling up with butterflies, and a mother wearing a shirt with that same butterfly leaves her son in Burnham Park for soccer practice while she rushes to join the throngs armed with tarpaulins, staple guns, squeegees and soapy water, to help the city to put the best face it could for its 100th birthday.

Never mind that there seem to be nothing much lined up for that day by the organization that was put together to make the celebration a meaningful and memorable one. If there’s one really good thing that this centennial fever brought about, it’s the sudden interest in what Baguio has become today and what can and must be done to bring back Baguio’s lost glory. Baguio’s old glory, of course, must not be confused with the Baguio of old. That’s been lost forever. Because bringing back the Baguio of old would mean kicking out everyone who are not CariƱos, Camdases, Caranteses, Suellos, Molintases, or direct descendants of Baguio’s “original” settlers, and that would perhaps mean ejecting more than 90% of the city’s current population. Or bringing down all those concrete structures whose builders totally ignored their creations’ effect on the city’s beautiful skylines, and that’s easily over half the structures we see in Baguio today.

Perhaps what can be done is figure out what the essence of that old glory was, and do all we can to recreate that within the realities of today’s Baguio. Whatever we do today, we can’t expect that to miraculously, instantaneously, easily transform our decaying city back to its old beauty. The only way we can achieve something like that is with cosmetics – dust up here and there, repaint this and that, and no, that won’t work. We would have to be patient, and accept the fact that within our lifetimes, this will be the Baguio that we’ll get.

But the thousands of pine seedlings that we would plant to day would mean thousands of full grown pine trees that would purify the air that our children and their children’s children would breathe in the future. If we’re going to build something, we should keep in mind that these structures would be heritage sites in a couple of generations.

We marvel at the sight of Mansion House, we are doing everything to preserve what’s left of the Diplomat Hotel, we are awed by the magnificence of the way Camp John Hay was laid out, the breathtaking views of Kennon Road… what would our children say about that concrete pine tree? Those flyovers? That short-time motel that’s being erected right across our City Hall? We inherited a beautiful hill full of trees and we erected a concrete mall on it. We inherited a beautiful public park and we want to put up buildings on it. We inherited clean air and we poisoned it. We inherited the best quality of life one can enjoy in this country, and we’re throwing all that away, all in the name of ________? Fill in the blank. Progress? That’s what our city officials say. This isn’t progress. We are regressing. We messed it up. We messed it up real bad. All we’ve done is obliterate what Baguio is really all about: beauty, and we are doing all we can to make Baguio what it is not.

But it’s not too late. Now’s the time to correct those mistakes. We have two choices: the first one is for us to simply do nothing and let Baguio decay right before our eyes, and not give a damn about what kind of city we’re passing on to our children. Or, the other choice is to grab this renewed sense of caring for Baguio and use that to make the people realize that we cannot accept what Baguio has become today, and rally the community to work together, and hard, to recapture the essence of Baguio so that a hundred years from now, Baguio’s bicentennial celebration would be real celebration of this generation’s legacy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Keeping warm on a cold, rainy night

First off, what is a gang? provides a few definitions, one of them is “a group of persons working together; squad; shift: a gang of laborers.”

Our gang of performing artists just had a successful premiere a few days earlier so last Saturday, we celebrated that with some food, drinks, music and lots of laughter. The night ended and we left our host’s house in Scout Barrio and were driving home at a little over past midnight towards Nevada Square when upon reaching that last curve before getting to Nevada Square I was quite surprised by the empty road that led to the rotunda at the end of Loakan Road – it was a Saturday night, and usually the very young clientele of the bars located at the square would be spilling over to the road. The sight of some groups actually having their alcohol fix right on the roadside was not uncommon.

“Tahimik a,” I uttered to my passengers in the car which included my wife, my son and a couple of friends. It was the calm before a storm for as soon as I said that, the silence was broken by the sound of glass breaking.

Another definition for “gang” that offers is “a group of youngsters or adolescents who associate closely, often exclusively, for social reasons, esp. such a group engaging in delinquent behavior.”

My son is at that age when he’s very impressionable – and what parent wouldn’t be worried when your child chooses gangsters as role models. One can’t help but start to worry seriously when you see doodles in your child’s notebook that look exactly like the images you see spray painted on vandalized gates (including ours) and concrete fences all over the city. You worry even more when you find out what particular gang those images belong to and what that particular gang’s raison d’etre is. We’ve had a lot of talks with our children telling them of the violence that’s usually associated with these groups. My son would try to make it appear that he understood what we were trying to tell him during these talks, but I could also feel that he didn’t fully believe the stories of young boys and girls ending up in hospitals, or worse, dead, as a result of mostly senseless rumbles between gangs, of one gangster getting killed by another simply because he or she belonged to a different gang. I could sense that he probably thought that to discourage him from getting into these gangs, we were making up these stories.

A lot has been said about the very serious problem of gang wars in the city, but we could see that whatever is supposedly being done by the authorities is not enough.

From a distance I could see several young boys spilling out onto the road throwing whatever they could get their hands on towards the direction of one of the establishments in the area. I immediately stepped on the breaks. All of us froze for a moment. More rocks, bottles, and boys with lead pipes, behind me the line of cars were getting longer, not one car dared to go through the war zone. And then gunshots were fired: it wasn’t clear where the gunshots were coming from, and since there were no policemen in sight, I hoped they were warning shots being fired by the security guards in the area to break up the rumble. And then the thought of stray bullets entered my mind, so I started turning the car around to get away from there as fast as I could. As we drove the other way in total silence, I looked at the rear view mirror and saw my son’s shocked face, his eyes filled with terror. I asked him if he was ok, he lied and said yes. I asked him what he thought of what we just witnessed, and he admitted that until then he never thought that the stories we told him were true and that those rumbles really do happen.

It was a cold night, a slight drizzle was starting when we got home. We made some hot chocolate to calm ourselves and brought out mattresses and camped out in the living room for the night. After finishing his cup and getting under the covers, my son hugged me and said, “this is so nice and warm. It’s nice to be home on a rainy night like this.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Baguio's top ten (continuation)

Top Ten (continuation)
(OUT IN THE OPEN - Cordillera Today, Aug. 9, 2009)

Eusebius Halsema – appointed mayor of Baguio City in 1920, it was under Halsema’s administration that Baguio seem to have gone into overdrive: the city was among the first to use the then cutting-edge technology sodium vapor lamps for its street lights; Halsema oversaw the improvement of the city’s roads – 11 kilometers of asphalted city streets, and the construction of 3 hydro-electric plants. The Loakan airport opened during his time fueling the further growth of the area’s booming mining industry. While mainland America went into depression, Baguio enjoyed a healthy economy, and yet, despite all the industrial and commercial activity in Baguio at the time, everything seemed to have been done without wreaking havoc on the environment. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here again: the city’s pioneering administrators created a modern city that is harmony with its natural environment – if only Baguio’s succeeding administrators followed their lead.

Given the option to evacuate during the second World War, Halsema chose to stay in the city he loved and worked hard for, and during the carpet bombing of the city during the liberation, Eusebius Halsema was among the thousands of casualties.

The Pioneers in the academe – there’s Fernando G. Bautista, now known as the founder of Baguio Tech. which later became the University of Baguio. Perhaps unknown to some, Tatay, as Fernando was called by almost everyone who knew him, was also instrumental in the setting up of Baguio Colleges, St. Louis University, the Baguio Patriotic School and the Baguio Military Academy. And then there’s also Benjamin Salvosa, one of the founders of Baguio Colleges Foundation, now known as the University of the Cordilleras. These two, who have now been honored with adjacent streets named after them (the streets flanking the Rizal Park), and all those who followed in their footsteps and set up academic institutions in the city, gave Baguio another reason to be famous for: as the Academic Capital of the North.

The Artists – debatable, perhaps, often unacknowledged, yes, but I must say the artists who have chosen Baguio as their home, together with those who were actually born and raised in the city, have helped give Baguio its very distinct character. From the time of Victor Oteyza to Santiago Bose to Bencab to all those young artists who continue to create masterpieces in and about Baguio. In the early 90’s, Baguio Arts Guild’s series of international arts festivals were among the most sought after and renowned arts event in the country drawing audiences and participants from all over country and the whole world. Our politicians may continue to ignore them, too bad, but dear honorables, it’s about time that you realize that arts and culture give our city its soul.

The tourists – Our city would not have gone this far if not for the steady flow of tourists who visit our beloved Baguio. From the first patients who braved the Naguillian trail in the early 1900’s to recuperate in the small sanitarium on top of a hill where a mall and bus stations now stand, to today’s visitors in SUVs and buses who patronize all that our city has to offer, or has left to offer, Baguio has always been, and still is, a tourism-driven economy. Let’s stop trying to make Baguio what it’s not, and instead reinforce what it is: a rest and recreation center, first and foremost, and everything else should be built around that concept.

And finally, the community – its people, who have, for ten decades, overcome hurdles thrown its way: from the pull out of support from the national government in the early 1900’s, to the second World War, to the devastating 1990 earthquake, Baguio’s people stood their ground, held on to their beloved city.

In the coming weeks, the city will be flooded with centennial related events. Before my column gets drowned out by the din of the festivities, I would like to greet our city and its people: a meaningful 100th charter day to Baguio and may the next hundred years see the rebirth of Baguio as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.