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 Cariños, 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.