*my column in the July 10, 2011 issue of Cordillera Today
According to Robert R. Reed in his book, The City of Pines, the biggest piece of level land in the area of what was then the proposed townsite of Baguio, was called “Minac,” which Architect and City Planner Daniel Burnham reserved for a huge public park, and everything else needed to realize the Americans’ dream of a hill station in Benguet will be built around it.
Today, we call it Melvin Jones, and through the years, it has served the city in so many ways – as parade grounds, a venue for performances, exhibits, sporting events, particularly football, and at times for miraculous healing as promised by self-proclaimed modern-day prophets and crusaders. But there’s one other purpose it has served that matters the most – a place where the people of Baguio can go to breathe, relax, heave a sigh, protected from the ravages of rapid urbanization by towering trees and colorful blossoms – just as Daniel Bunrham envisioned it to be. That’s what parks are for, a place where we can be under the sun, or the rain, the feel of earth beneath our feet and the scent of green in the air.
Today, most of us would agree that the most common sight there are young men and women, boys and girls, muddied from head to cleats, chasing a ball around the field. Some say it has always served as a football field in the past. And in his speech last weekend at the opening of a football tournament, Ramon Dacawi, respected journalist and known football advocate, couldn’t help but wax romantic about how the grounds have gone back to being a football field, among its original intentions, he said.
But the good feeling was immediately shattered by the pronouncements of the guest of honor who followed Mr. Dacawi at the podium. I hope he wasn’t serious, or that it was just one of those things politicians say for the sake of having something to say and not something that’s really going to happen, or already happening – our honorable congressman promised to “develop” Melvin Jones, and by develop he meant going beyond lighting up the place at night, here’s what we got from what he said:
Melvin Jones will first be dug up to build an underground parking lot, top that with concrete (“tatambakan natin ng semento”), then plant grass and lots of trees over it, the latter said as if its icing to a very suspicious cake. That’s really scary, and sounded like a totally unsound plan. I can’t imagine a football game being played on a “rooftop.” And how much weight will that rooftop have to carry since a lot of earth would need to be dumped on it to be able to support trees and other foliage.
Well, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone,” as the song says. Are we really going to allow them to pave paradise to put up a parking lot?
For the nth time, again I ask, why does “development” always have to be about building something and pouring cement on everything? Why can’t it also be about preserving and protecting something that is already serving a noble purpose, such as our parks? I know the Central Business District has a parking problem right now, but do we really have to desecrate the Melvin Jones grounds to help alleviate that problem? We do need infrastructures, but in a city like Baguio, such projects should be done with utmost care and in harmony with and with minimal or no impact at all on the city’s natural environment.
I beg of our “honourable” government officials, come on, give Baguio a break, give us a break. Leave Minac and the rest of our parks alone for really, they’re the only reminders of how beautiful this city once was.