Thursday, December 24, 2009


A lot of people have been clamoring for it, the capitalists won’t hear any of it. Ladies and gentlemen, the City of Baguio presents: the proposed pedestrianization of Session Road.

A few years ago, my wife and I journeyed to the country’s photography and videography hub in Quiapo, Manila – Hidalgo St., to purchase a piece of equipment. On our way there, anticipating the traffic, noise and air pollution in the area, we told ourselves to look for the camera we want as fast as we can and get out of there just as fast. After checking out several shops for options, we found what we wanted within an hour.

It was already lunchtime by then, and we decided to grab a bite before finally making the purchase. We walked a couple of blocks looking for a place to eat and found ourselves right below the LRT’s Carriedo station and while I remembered the place to be very congested, dirty and noisy, we were surprised and awed by the sight that greeted us – a nicely paved promenade, landscaped pocket gardens and towering potted plants, comfortable park benches and instead of carbon monoxide-spewing vehicles, we saw families taking walks, children running around playing, an old couple seated on a park bench reading the day’s paper, etc. We were confused for a while, we thought we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up anywhere but in the notoriously polluted Avenida. We easily found a place to eat and after having a hearty lunch of good Chinese food, we forgot about the camera for a moment and checked out the different establishments in the area.

By the time we remembered to purchase what we went there for, we have added several items to our original shopping list of one – sunglasses, a few shirts and pants, toys for the kids, a tool box full of tools, etc.

Fast forward four years later 250 kilometers up north – a proposal has been made to close the once lovely, pretty and cozy, but now notoriously congested, polluted and not-so-pretty Session Road to vehicular traffic. A lot of people are looking forward to it, majority of the businesses along the famous road are opposing it.

They have so many reasons for going against the plan, among them having to walk to their place of business instead of parking their car right infront of it, but it all of it fall under one consideration – less revenues. Let’s discuss that.

Four years ago, in Avenida, we were set to buy only what we went there for, but the beautiful and relaxing atmosphere made us stay longer than we planned to in the area and ended up buying way more than we have intended. Today, we try as much as we can to avoid staying long anywhere in Session Road for the heavy traffic there, which we only used to see once in a while during peak tourist seasons, is now an all-day, everyday occurrence, it’s heartbreaking. As an entrepreneur doing business in Session Road, unless you’re a car repair shop or a gasoline station, you don’t want cars on Session Road, you want people, and that’s what the pedestrianization of the road would bring.

And so what if it does result in a slight cut in your business income? Think also of the thousands of people who will benefit from it: without the toxic fumes emitted by dilapidated colorum taxis and other vehicles, maybe plants and trees would survive along the road, the air our children will breathe will be much healthier and our city will start becoming beautiful again. You can’t put a price on that. Besides, plants and trees are much prettier than your imposing commercial billboards.

And between a handful of businessmen and the health of thousands of residents, the choice is clear.

And in the meantime, while we’re waiting for the pedestrianization of Session Road to happen, turn off your loud speakers outside your establishments, it’s bad enough that you’ve contributed to the road’s “uglification,” don’t add to the noise pollution anymore.

Today, because the current administration of the City of Manila decided to open up Avenida to vehicles again, and it’s back to being one of the country’s most polluted areas. Damn politics.

I hope our city officials would start thinking of the greater good instead of the interests of the elite few.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

That concrete pine tree, seriously now

Would you offer fake snow in Aspen? How about plastic tulips in Holland? Papier-mache pyramids in Egypt? The concrete pine tree at the top of Session Road just doesn’t make sense.

And it has to go.

The reasons for keeping that cement tree doesn’t hold water at all (pun very much intended). While we don’t really want to antagonize and insult the people behind it, we also don’t want to antagonize the sensibilities and insult the aesthetic sense of the community by having a fake concrete pine tree in what is known all over the world as the City of Pines.

And just because millions were spent in erecting that phallic monstrosity does not mean we should grin and bear it and turn a blind eye to it. In fact, that’s precisely the reason why the city must be rid of that eye sore. It is a monument to a former administration’s, its proponents and protectors, lack of aesthetic sense, an unforgivable offense in a city known for its natural beauty. Baguio is not just like any other roadside municipality who can only boast of a Pamilihang Bayan and colorful tricycles, not at all. Baguio is a distinct national treasure and government projects such as a concrete pine tree with a sign that says “plant me, protect me” is laughable at best, and deeply insulting, nonsensical and even humiliating at worst.

As to what to replace it with, so many inspired suggestions have been floated – among them, which I personally endorse, is to transfer there Benhur Villanueva’s sculpture, Builders of Baguio, from the Botanical Garden. But according to a Centennial Commission official, that’s out of the question. Sayang. That could have been the beginning of the transformation of the now unattractive Session Road to a Central Business District made beautiful by the creations of the city’s world-class artists that could be at par with the various streets in Europe that feature sculptural works by the masters.

But we can never run out of ideas on what to replace that hideous thing with – that same CenteCom official suggested a light fountain, a brilliant suggestion. Most people have said that they would want a real pine tree there, another good one: maybe a pine seedling that the community can take care of and leave as its legacy and something that can tell the future generation that hey, despite the fact that this generation let the rape of Baguio City happen, at one time we did plant a real tree. But a blogger called our attention to the fact that pine seedlings have a low survival rate and with the pollution in the area, that pine seedling as almost sure not to survive. A pocket garden? A water fountain?

Or nothing. Yes, nothing would be better than that something. It’s never wrong to admit and apologize for one’s mistakes - nothing personal here, really, but seriously, to the creators of that… thing… did you, do you still, honestly believe that right in the heart of the City of Pines, in a spot where almost everybody pass and see almost every single day, that distasteful monument to lack of aesthetic and even common sense should stay?

Seriously now.

(to sign the petition calling for the removal of that concrete pine tree, click HERE)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Open Forum

We recently wrapped up Open Space’s tribute to the city on its centennial year, BC09AD, held last Dec. 2-3, 2009 at the Baguio Convention Center. The event was a collaborative effort of the Baguio-based multimedia arts group and featured performances of the aforementioned musical, a visual arts exhibit that captured the different facets of this cosmopolitan city and screenings of two documentaries on Baguio. The first three matinee performances were attended by elementary and high school students from various schools in the city, while the lone gala performance had some college students from UP Baguio and St. Louis University together with some friends in the community.

In that two-day event, we exhibited a hundred images celebrating the beauty of this city, or what’s left of it. We held the history of this city up high and projected it on a screen and froze moments in Baguio’s journey from being a mostly uninhabited pastureland to a highly-urbanized city for everyone to see. We sang songs that asked, “ano ba’ng tama, kasaysayan o titulo?”; “ano ba’ng plano niyo sa Baguio?”; “pang-aabuso sa kalikasan, kalian niyo kaya ito titigilan?,” that told its audience to: “ang mithiin ng Baguio, isapuso, isulong at itaguyod mo.” We also reminded them that: “ang kailangan ng Baguio, ikaw at ako.”
After each matinee, we held an open forum where the students can direct questions to the cast and artistic staff or make comments about the performance. Among the questions thrown to us were:

“What was your intention in staging this event and what do you intend to accomplish with this undertaking?” I remember the excitement the filled the Baguio air when we greeted the year 2009 – this was our centennial year, a once in a lifetime event. I looked forward to the grandest celebration this city has ever seen – I was expecting festivities way bigger than whatever they had here when the then townsite was declared as the official summer capital in 1903, or when it was chartered as a city in 1909; parades that would be way more grander than any Panagbenga parade; a Charter Day like no other that would definitely be etched in the minds of us lucky enough to have lived within this lifetime. September 1, 2009 came and went. Poof. And I, together with the members of Open Space, thought that the city deserved much more on its 100th year.

So, despite the lack of sponsors and other means of support from both the government and private sector, we went ahead and put together this multimedia tribute where we can tell the story of our city to as many people as we can, and hopefully reawaken our audiences’ sense of history, culture and their sense of community as we write Baguio’s history in the next 100 years today.

(photos by RL Altomonte, Eunice Caburao and Jojo Lamaria)
“How long and what did it take you to put this together?” A month of brainstorming, a few months of 4-hour rehearsals everyday, a hundred photographs and ten paintings, lots of scrap jute sacks, a hundred hours of video footage, and an unlimited supply of love for this city from the group’s members.

A high school student asked, “What inspired you to stage “Kafagway: Sa Saliw ng mga Gangsa?” I answered, “You.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fostering a culture of caring - what do you care?

There is no other time more fitting, this is it: the perfect time to get the community, particularly the youth, interested in the history of our city.

No sir, ma’am, we don’t want your students to merely learn about and memorize dates like June 1, 1903 or Sept. 1, 1909 or December 7, 1941 or July 16, 1990. But we do want to let them know about how hard the Igorots fought for their independence that had the Spaniards declaring the people of the Cordilleras as the “most unconquerable of all the natives of this country.”

Roads named Cariño or Kennon or Bautista or Salvosa, or parks named Wright or Burnham, or barangays named Tabora or Forbes, aren’t enough if the we don’t know the story behind those names and their significance in our city’s history – Malcolm is not merely a small park where one can have his shoes shined, we must know that it was named after George who wrote a charter envisioning a city free from petty politics.

Mateo Cariño isn’t just some guy in a g-string, he is some guy in a g-string who filed a case against the most powerful nation in its highest court, and won, and whose case has become the basis for defending the rights of indigenous peoples all over the world.

We don’t want our children growing up thinking that Halsema is just a landslide-prone highland highway, we want them to know that Eusebius was the mayor who brought about a fully-developed city that’s in harmony with its natural environment.

Sir, ma’am, we do understand that in the classroom, your students must learn about how Magellan lost his way in the Pacific and accidentally found himself in Mactan. True, we must all read the Noli and the Fili, know what games little Pepe played as a child, when and why a bunch of natives gathered one night to tear their cedulas, what the Treaty of Paris meant, what McArthur promised and who really shot Ninoy on that tarmac.

But, see, sir, ma’am, whenever your students practice juggling bottles to learn about what your institutions believe is an integral part of learning about hotel and restaurant management, they end up leaving broken pieces of glass all over the Melvin Jones grounds unmindful of the dangers it poses to the children who play there. And perhaps they wouldn’t be as uncaring if they knew that Minac, as the area was once known, is the largest piece of level land in Baguio that one Daniel Burnham thought was best left as it is for the enjoyment of the masses. Your weekend NSTP sorties where you have your students pick up litter in Burnham Park are an empty undertaking if on other days these same students go around town spray painting walls and gates with graffiti.

We understand that majority of your students are out-of-towners, they are not from Baguio, but perhaps it is precisely because of this that they should be educated about the city’s culture, its history, and maybe they will start caring more about Baguio. Isn’t that what we all agreed to advocate in our city’s centennial year – fostering a culture of caring?

Hearing you say that “Baguio’s history is irrelevant to the students’ education” is appalling. But not surprising. Because looking at what has become of what was once the one of the most beautiful hill stations in Asia, we can say that since there are people who live and make their living off Baguio who think that learning about the city’s history is irrelevant, we now know why the city is reeking and covered with mounds of garbage – because these same people don’t really care about Baguio.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Homeless in Baguio, ca. 2009

He first came to the city about three years ago – lonely, dirty and hungry. To him, everything must have seemed so big in this city: the mountains, the trees, the buildings, even the stairs leading up to the cathedral seemed absurdly steep. He was drawn by the tolling of the bells towards the church, and later drawn towards the park by the sight of this family of four who have just attended mass have decided to spend some time under the afternoon sun out in the open. A part of him envied the sight of the father carrying the boy on his shoulders while the mother walked hand in hand with the younger girl.

His early years were a blur – he has no memory at all of the first five of his 13 years. He must have been born already a five-year old for that was his earliest memory – waking up in the streets of Dagupan already with the knowledge that he was five years old, with no father nor mother, with nowhere to go.The other part of him saw the two young children as opportunities, the boy a reason for the father not to feel boy’s hand picking his wallet from his back pocket, or the mother not noticing him running off with her purse. A couple of long hours later, after intently but discreetly watching them waiting for that opportunity, he gave up on them just as they were making their way to the jeepney station to catch their ride home. On his first night in the big, cold city, he slept hungry under the stars.

Three years later and he’s still homeless, but not alone anymore. He has found two other boys whose stories weren’t unlike his own. He has found a family. They’ve been walking around the central business district all morning looking for a woman who they believe stole the precious blanket the three of them share at night. It is already November in the City of Pines, and the evenings have become much colder. They had no idea that the woman was not anywhere there at all but has been going around the park all afternoon and like them, has been waiting for an opportunity to deftly pick up an unattended mobile phone or bag, or maybe bump into a generous tourist willing to part with the last half of a sandwich.

Except for moans of pain at night when the woman ends her day again on an empty stomach, or threatening grunts directed at the young boys old enough to be her own children who constantly fight with her over rummaging rights to the garbage bin of a restaurant at the park, she hasn’t spoken a word in ten years. She feels she has nothing left to say. She beat them today to the garbage bin. She is staring blankly at the tourists seated at the tables outside, and noticing her, a group of tourists instinctively reach for their bags and mobile phones giving each other knowing looks. Already carrying several bags of plastic bottles and cups, she wasn’t thinking of their bags and mobile phones at all, they just caught her in one of those moments where she stops dead in her track, her eyes wide open but her mind totally blank, a convenient pastime of those who have nothing and nobody in this world. She hopes to be able to sell the plastic bottles and cups to a junk shop and earn enough money for a piece of bread for dinner.

A couple of hours of walking around these busy streets they already know by heart takes its toll on the patience of the young boys, and with no pockets ready for picking, they head for the park talking about getting into a fight with the first group of high schoolers they see, to pass the time.

They get to the park and were excited by both the sight of a group of tourists seated at the tables outside the restaurant… and the woman. The hunt for high schoolers can wait for now. They first approached the tourists seated at the table to beg for some left over food and some loose change, but a waiter appeared out of nowhere who barred them from coming near his customers. They turned their attention to the woman and demanded her to turn over the blanket they were sure she stole. The woman was awaken from her stupor, and with a grunt, shook her head to say both that she didn’t have their blanket and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. The boy from Dagupan raises his voice while his two friends flank her. She glares at them, picks up her bags and turns to leave. The two boys stop her from leaving while the other grabs her arm and starts cursing at her. She swings her arm free from his clutch and accidentally hits his face with her bag full of trash – he heaves back and throws a well placed punch right in her face. She runs toward the table of tourists to grab a soda bottle to defend herself with while the boys continue to take turns kicking and punching her. The tourists jump away from the table while the restaurant’s waiters try to stop the fight – afterall, the sight of dirty, lonely, hungry vagrants fighting within their property isn’t good for business. While the boys were being driven away by the waiters, the woman frantically looks for her slippers that must have accidentally gotten off in the melee. She can’t afford to lose anything at all.

Suddenly they were all gone, the boys, the woman. The tourists go back to their seats.

The boys have gone to the park’s skating rink to look for that group of high schoolers, while the woman have picked up a piece of wood. She is determined to find the boys. She has lost her slippers, and she can’t afford to lose whatever little she has in this world.

Welcome to Baguio, ca. 2009.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And on on the other side of the AdCon coin...

I have read the article on AdCon Overall Chair Margot Torres’ rationale on the decision to move this year’s Ad Congress to Subic, and while I still do not agree with the decision, I must admit I see their point.

For all of us up here, the reasons behind the AdCon pullout are baseless: students have gone back to school, the malls, restaurants, sidewalks, etc. are once again filled with people, transportation systems to and from Baguio have gone back to normalized. While we can still see evidences of Pepeng’s destruction in certain areas, things have certainly begun to normalize in the City of Baguio. With everything in place, add to that the hard work already put in by those directly involved, Baguio’s ready and very much capable to host the 21st AdCon. But sadly, that’s not how they see it.

Or more accurately, that’s not exactly how things are presented to the rest of the them over there 250 kilometers away. Examples:

Heard on a TV news report: “90% OF BAGUIO IS IN DANGER OF LANDSLIDES.” Ninety percent! From our house, I look at the five houses up the road and the other four down, and I’m thinking – which one of these ten houses would probably be left standing should a landslide occur? Out of the city’s 129 barangays, which 12 or 13 are lucky enough to be free from potential danger?

Net-izens are also talking about another news report that said residents of Crystal Cave were being evacuated, when according to someone who actually lives there only those whose houses happen to be situated on sinking areas are being asked to evacuate. But a whole barangay being evacuated does make for a better sound bite than just a few houses, doesn’t it?

Headline online: “PEÑALOSA OPENS HIS GYM TO PACQUIAO AS ‘RAMIL’ KOs BAGUIO CAMP.” KO as in knock out? I pass by Coyeesan Hotel Plaza, where Manny Pacquiao has spent the last few weeks training for his upcoming fight, I have even been buying supplies at the hardware store located there – the place pristine, fully-functional, in fact in our area it’s the only structure that continues to enjoy electricity even if there’s a blackout because of its industrial generator that can power the whole building.

Oct. 11 headline: “REPORT: RICE AT P60/KG, FUEL STOCK RUNS LOW IN BAGUIO CITY.” On that day, I went to the city market, and while there were some rice stalls that were obviously running low on stock, I bought 5 kilos of that “aroma” rice variety at 40/kilo. And while there were some gas stations that have closed down, I was able to fill up the car with P500 worth of gasoline.

The story that had “VICTIMS RELOCATE TO MANSION HOUSE” as headline turned out to be a mere photo op, and the supposed evacuees were allegedly sent back home as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. To add grave insult to grave injury, we even learned that some of those who were bused there to receive relief goods later found out that inside those bags were tattered rags.

That’s just the way it is… “dog bites man” takes the inside pages while “man bites dog” takes the front page. We all know that media relies on advertising for revenues, advertising is all about reaching as many people as possible, and sensational headlines promise a wider readership/viewership.

Think about it, why would the organizers go on with the planned staging of the 21st Advertising Congress in a city where according to the headlines, there’s only roughly five square kilometers of space that can be considered safe in this city with a total land area of 49 square kilometers? Or where a gym has been “knocked out,” which to me brings to mind the images of a collapsed building? Where prices of commodities have doubled? Where even the president’s official residence has been turned into an evacuation center?

So much has been said about this issue showing that this particular coin has more than just two sides, and I believe that one of those sides shows the ugly face of sensationalism in media as among the reasons for this brouhaha.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


And so the people behind the 21st Philippine Advertising Congress decided to ditch Baguio for Subic. This comes at a time when the city and its neighboring communities can really use some much needed push to rise up from the devastation caused by typhoon “Pepeng.” “Ito ang tama!,” a beer commercial says.

A number of reasons have been cited for this insensitive, selfish decision – the safety of their delegates, the much longer travel time to Baguio because of the damage to roads brought about by floods and landslides, etc. They gave up on us so easily, when these are the same people who told us, in a garments commercial, that “Impossible is nothing.”

“Is it in you?,” an energy drink slogan asks. Obviously, it’s not in them. It’s beyond them to walk the extra mile (or in this case, drive the extra few kilometers in their flashy SUVs) to really put some meaning to the words “Corporate Social Responsibility.” They sit behind those desks for hours waiting for that most memorable slogan to come to them so they can put a human face to that corporate logo, and then turn their backs on this real opportunity to really do something noble. Didn’t they tell us, in a car rental ad, that “We try harder?” No they don’t, and they won’t, in this case, they obviously didn’t.

Sure, some roads leading to Baguio are currently damaged, but didn’t you see the city rise from the ashes after the carpet bombing of the city during the liberation of Baguio from the Japanese, or get back on its feet after the 1990 earthquake? “We’ve got it all for you,” as that mall chain slogan says – a healthful climate, breathtaking scenery, efficient world-class facilities, and of course, the city’s greatest treasure: its warm, hospitable, friendly people.

Fine, “Have it your way,” as a burger joint tagline says. But really, can’t you take it from that ice cream brand slogan, “Follow your heart?” You people know how much help this congress will bring to the City of Baguio and its neighboring communities, how much it will boost the morale of its people struggling to get over the tragedy of losing their loved ones, their homes, their means of livelihood, and yet, just like that, you walk away from this opportunity to show us that those catchy one-liners aren’t just empty words. To paraphrase a softdrink brand slogan, “Magpakatotoo kayo!”

Well, at least now we know that there’s one slogan out there that you really do practice, “Think small,” as one compact car advertisement says. To the heartless people behind the 21st Philippine Advertising Congress who chose not to hear the pleas, turn a blind eye to the destruction, and not see this golden opportunity to show that they actually care at all, wala ba kayong “Haplos ng pagmamahal?” Because really, “It’s all in your hands.”

As for Baguio, I say “Nasa dugo lang ‘yan” and let’s “Just do it,” and “Keep walking.” We just need to “Think different.” Let’s “Fill the air with love” and soon, we shall see, to paraphrase that airline catchphrase, “The beauty of Baguio shining through.”

Baguio has the heart that’s “Simply amazing,” and that’s among “Some things money can’t buy.” “No more tears,” and believe in the “Power of dreams,” and start “Turning dreams into reality.” Baguio will soon get back on its feet, really, because, see...

... “I can feel it… yeah!”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bringing out one of Baguio's greatest treasures (and it isn't the longest longganisa)

In the last 13 years since I made Baguio my permanent place residence, I have lived in various parts of the city – three times in three different houses in San Luis Village along Asin Road. During one really strong typhoon in 2001, San Luis was inundated with landslides, one of which brought down a house killing several persons. The house we were living in then was also hit by a landslide, but fortunately the slide, which buried the driveway in 3 feet of mud, stopped right at our doorstep. We didn’t have electricity for days and water was scarce since water delivery trucks couldn’t come near our house. This had the whole family carrying buckets and whatever else can contain water trooping down the road where there was a spring to collect water. But despite all that, at the height of the typhoon when I braved the weather to get some supplies from town, the sight of our Barangay officials armed with shovels and what-have-you immediately clearing out parts of the road that’s been blocked by a landslide, or evacuating families living in danger zones was comforting.

I must mention that I was also really impressed by then San Luis Barangay Captain Corazon Arizala. Back then, Kapitana, as almost everyone called her, was always seen out in the streets directing her people in cleaning up the Barangay, sweeping the streets, painting the sidewalks. On that stormy day 8 years ago, I saw her right in the middle of the street, her raincoat barely doing its job of keeping her dry, screaming at the top of her voice that there would be no merienda break yet for the volunteers who were clearing out the debris from the landslides for there they still had much to do. And then she proceeded to get her hands dirty by directly helping out in the clearing operation.

Seeing our barangay officials at work made tragedies such as what just befell our city a little bit more bearable.

Last week, even before Pepeng wreaked havoc in the city and while Ondoy was putting much of Metro Manila underwater, my wife was driving down Asin Road on her way home when suddenly there was a traffic build up just some meters from our house. A motorist on his way up the opposite way stopped and informed my wife that a landslide just blocked the road 50-100 meters down. When my wife reached our house, I got into the car to go to town, expecting traffic along Asin Road. But as soon as I got out of our driveway, I was surprised to see an empty road with hardly any cars in it. Curiously (just like any “usyosero”), I went down the road instead of up towards town to see exactly what happened, and there they were, just minutes after the landslide: San Luis’ valiant barangay officials (wasn’t sure if they were tanods or kagawads) and some volunteers shoveling mud and chopping down fallen tree branches out of the way. I believe Kapitana is not our current barangay chair anymore, but the tradition of public service that she initiated surely lives on.

Then Pepeng came and last Thursday. My wife and I were on our way to town to get some groceries and knowing that the kind of rain that the city was getting that day would certainly cause a lot of damage, we brought our cameras to document whatever came our way. At the bottom of Quezon Hill’s main road along Naguillian Road, the sight of the City Camp lagoon underwater made us stop to take photos of the area. Seeing that cars were still making their way down Queen of Peace, we decided to get a closer view and drove down towards the lagoon and on our way down, we saw several men in uniform yellow raincoats making their way down the same road. After taking more photos of the flood, we decided to go around town first to look around before making our way to the supermarket. Earlier that day, we heard that Marcos highway had been closed due to landslides and we saw video footages of the rampaging Balili river. Off to Marcos Highway, but after reaching the turning point in Green Valley, we were met with really heavy rains and strong winds that shook our car, so we decided to turn back towards the city. We proceeded to the area where the footage of a raging Balili was taken and we were really impressed by the presence of so many ambulances, rescue vehicles and police along KM 3 in La Trinidad. Balili frighteningly raged on but there they were, the city’s Samaritans, clearing our blocked roadways, assisting and evacuating people, sans tv cameras, sans relief goods with politicians’ names stuck to them.

This we can say: the damage Pepeng inflicted on Baguio will never get as much attention as the havoc Ondoy wreaked on Metro Manila. We didn’t have celebrities on rooftops waiting to be rescued, and that’s probably why while last week my Facebook wall was flooded with calls for donations and volunteers for relief operations to help the victims of Ondoy in Metro Manila, at the height of Pepeng in Northern Luzon, those same calls, this time to help victims in the Cordilleras, were buried under the usual clutter of Mafia Wars invitations and inane online quizzes.
Our deepest condolences go to the victims and their families up here, and our gratitude goes out to to the city’s rescue volunteers, the police and certain barangay officials who, as I said, helped a lot in making this calamity a little bit easier to bear.

But, if there’s a silver lining to all this, I must say that this tragedy brought out one of Baguio’s greatest treasures: its sense of community.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Baguio in the time of Pepeng

Naguillian Road, City Camp Lagoon, Marcos Highway, Government Loop, Session Road, Balili River... Oct. 8, 2009, around 4:30PM.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Realizing the dream of a vibrant Baguio theater scene

After squeezing in between students, parents and other local theater patrons, the simple yet imposing set greeted us as we entered the theater. This didn't come as a surprise knowing that the indefatigable duo of Baguio theater, Atty. Damaso and Mrs. Bing Bangaoet, was behind this production of “Joseph the Dreamer.” Known for theatrical presentations with impressive production values and as the driving force behind the renowned SLU-CCA in late 90's until the early years of 2000, the Bangaoets, in the past, brought to us the unforgettable productions of “Les Miserables,” “Miss Saigon” and Lynette Carantes-Bibal's “Adivay,” among others.

After a voice-over introduction, the cast of thousands entered (ok, that's an exaggeration, but that's how usually a cast the fills up the whole stage is referred to in theater), and we felt privileged to be seated in the front row. The opening number, “Praise His Name and See It Happen,” was strong, setting the tone for the rest of the performance. Among the notable performances that night was Ian Paolo Acosta's portrayal of “Benjamin.” His mastery and compelling delivery of the spoken text was matched by his impressive singing voice. He “conquered the stage,” so to speak, with his very strong stage presence.

That evening the title role was played by Baguio's Got Talent champion, Lloyd Celzo (who alternated with Jeff Coronado for the role of Joseph), and he breezed through the whole presentation with aplomb as expected of a veteran of countless musicales. The production was a collaborative effort between the UCCP-Baguio and SLU-CCA, and I am really hoping that UCCP-Baguio will from now on be a regular player in Baguio's theater scene with more heartwarming productions such as this.

Our very own group, Open Space, recently premiered its musical revue on the history of Baguio, “Kafagway: Sa Saliw ng ng Gangsa,” and will be doing a re-run on October 16. UP Baguio's CCA recently ended its month-long run of Baguio Stories. The newly formed Sentro ng Teatrong Pilipino will be staging a play called Rizal Side B this month. And hearing the warm applause during curtain call brought a big smile to my face for I thought, Baguio theater is indeed alive and kicking.

Congratulations to the cast and staff of “Joseph The Dreamer,” and to the rest of the city's theater artists… keep 'em coming!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tempest on that pale blue dot

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Carl Sagan said that. He was talking about a photograph taken by that NASA space probe, Voyager 1. The photograph, perhaps unless explained to its viewer, may not make sense at first glance: a dark background with a scattering of tiny specks and a ray of light that runs vertically through the middle, and barely visible somewhere on that ray of light, is a pale blue dot: Earth. That space probe was launched in 1977, originally with the primary intention of visiting Jupiter and Saturn, but currently on an “extended mission to locate and study the boundaries of the universe.” Upon Sagan’s constant prodding, and after completing its primary mission, on Valentine’s Day, 1990, NASA decided to command the probe to turn around for the last time and take a photograph of our home from 3.7 billion miles away. And there was home… “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

It does put things in a different perspective, doesn’t it? Zoom in on that blue planet, zoom in further on the biggest continent in that planet, and zoom in even more on that collection of roughly 7,000 islands – somewhere in those islands, in a place they call Metro Manila, hundreds died and thousands were left homeless.

A weather disturbance that occurs here and there and every now and then on this pale blue dot brought in so much rain which resulted in unprecedented flooding in the area. It was, on that Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, a great equalizer. It did not spare anyone, it did not choose between rich and poor, good and bad: powerful politicians, celebrities, common folk, it didn’t matter. Everyone was helpless.

You may think so highly of your position in government, or your popularity as a celebrity, but in the eye of “Ondoy,” you’re just one of billions of this mote of dust’s inhabitants, and in that instant your life mattered just as much as your neighbor’s noisy mongrel. So the next time you are deluded into believing that you are so great and powerful, privileged and untouchable, remember that during that one stormy day, you felt the same way everyone else did: small and powerless against the power of… what? Just a combination of some amount of warm and cold air spinning in one direction and coming your way.

After collecting donations and distributing all those relief goods (go ahead, put a sticker with your name on it if that makes you feel good about yourself), after caring for someone other than yourself for one brief moment, and after getting our lives back together again, remember that just some hundreds of meters above and your face cannot be recognized anymore. A few kilometers away from earth and your home cannot be distinguished from everyone else’s. Just a little beyond the earth’s atmosphere and you’re not even a dot anymore. And from 3.7 billion miles away?

Carl Sagan further said, “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate… Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand… It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

There’s something, someone, out there that, who, is so much bigger than you are and will ever be. Call it what you want… I believe it’s God. And if there’s one lesson that can be learned from all this, for me it’s this: Remember your place in this universe. There’s so many ways you can make your short visit on this pale blue dot matter.

Think about it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Love for sale

The posh hotel was quite impressive, I should've worn shoes instead of rubber slippers. The coffee did not taste burned (well, at least the first cup didn't) and the sandwich came with a tiny umbrella.

"We need your brain." All 8 or 9 or 10 of them said in perfect unison, and the man seated at the head of the table wolfing down a rather long longanisa looked up and smiled at me as if to say, "aren't these people great?

I said, What?

"We need some stuff in your brain for this things we're working on." What is this thing you're working on? "A beauty pageant." (Cue: Yanni music fades in).

A beauty pageant. I paused for a while (Yanni music up), wolfing down my 300-peso snack and thinking why I didn't order a 500-peso lunch instead like everybody else, it was past lunch afterall. and I thought they called me for a project that would present relevant social and cultural issues that could make the world a better place, or stop global warming.

"A beauty pageant can do that," said the man in between longanisa bites.

Sure, what's in it for me?


Nothing. Sounds fair. But wait, this stuff you want... from my brain... you're just borrowing it, right? I mean, it's my stuff afterall.

"Er... yeah." (Music crossfades from Yanni to Mike Francis' "Lovely Day").

The man wasn't halfway through his longanisa when the first meeting ended.

So that night with a sterilized ice pick, a cuticle remover, a teaspoon and a plastic bag with ziplock, I picked my brain. They were nice people, and they were nice about it, so the pain was worth it (which wasn't much anyway), although it wasn't easy picking through the rubbish inside my head. Some brain stuff kept splashing on the heap of bond paper on my desk - I'll use them later for something. I carefully placed them inside the ziplock bag and went to bed, dreaming about tiny umbrellas and fog machines with pine-scented oil.

The next day, I hand over the ziplock bag to them (there were more of them, actually their numbers kept growing as we kept on having more meetings). This time I ordered for something in between a snack and a lunch - tapsilog here is served without a free bowl of soup like every other tapsilog place does, but that's ok. I should have ordered a longsilog.

"Hmmm, nice stuff," said one while sniffing the bag. Another opened the bag and dipped his finger in it and licked his finger, "would you have something in there to season this stuff a bit?"

You mean right here, right now?


Good thing I brought that faux Swiss knife I won in a Christmas raffle. So right there, while everyone was enjoying either their grilled prawns or Caesar's salad or minestrone, I picked my brain. I added a bit of this and that into the ziplock bag and the bag was passed around and everybody dipped their fingers into the bag and then everybody licked their fingers and in perfect unison, just as the man at the head of the table who continued to eat his rather long longanisa from yesterday licked his fingers, they said, "Hmmmm, this is good. Take two bottles of freshly ground pepper and we'll call you in the morning."

I left feeling quite dizzy.They didn't call the next morning, but two mornings after. They wanted another meeting, and they wanted me to bring them more of that brain stuff. Like Clarisse Starling, I trustingly and blindly obeyed. This brain picking makes me hungry, and I was hungry on that third meeting, so I ordered something two notches classier than the soup-less tapsilog platter. The man still had that rather long longanisa from days ago.

As they passed around the new batch of stuff around, and just as I was picking through the extenders in my goulash, one of them, "there's one more thing we need."


"Your heart."

My heart?

"Yup, we'll pay you."

How much?

"Your brain stuff's good, we're sure you heart's fine too, so name your price."

You do understand that if you take my heart I'll die, right?


Really. So here's the deal, I can give you a taste of my heart and let's take it from there. But bear in mind that I will never allow you to take all my heart away from me, you may use if for your... er... pageant, but it must always remain inside me, ok?

Again, in perfect unison, "ok." I forgot to cue the music for this scene.

We had 10 lunches after that, and on the 11th one which came after a breakfast, we stared at each other for hours until it was time for dinner and I was about to order something only to find out that they've alreay ordered something for me.

Pink salmon.

"Your heart's too expensive."I almost choked on the salmon I just put in my mouth, as if it's a rather long longanisa. Speaking with my mouth full of fish, I said that I wasn't selling my heart, I was merely letting them use it.

"But using it entails costs for us that we find too prohibitive, the equivalent cost of 6 luncheon meetings mean so much to us you know. And besides, we were just wondering if you'd actually sell your heart to us, but you won't, though renting it is fine with us too since we wouldn't need it anymore after the pageant and after we've taken our curtain calls."

I take a sip straight out of the Coke Light can. So what now?

"Actually, we don't really need a heart, all we need is an extra pair of hands... how much are those?"

They're not for sale.I left in such a haste that I forgot to retrieve the brain stuff in that ziplock bag. But that's ok, there's more where that came from. Like that rather long longanisa.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mediocre at best

It was the administration party’s own version of the primaries – the frontrunners, nay the only runners, were Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando. While Fernando has been virtually campaigning since last year (I base this statement on his “performance” in a convention held in the city last year where he promoted himself, not so subtly, as the next president of this country), he was the underdog in this skit for just a couple of days earlier, Teodoro was endorsed by a majority of local government officials belonging to the administration party.

With the way both the Republicans and the Democrats ran their respective primaries, I thought that we may have learned something from the most recently concluded U.S. presidential elections. What I saw on TV was embarrassing. Though the Defense Secretary performed a tad better than the “pink fencer” when two were questioned by the party’s executive committee (or perhaps more accurately, the latter performed worse), their responses to even the most fundamental questions on governance were devoid of any substance. Motherhood statements. Empty. Nada. Mediocre at best. I sure hope someone from the opposition can offer something much better, or we’re doomed, again, for the next 6 years.

Mediocrity – and while we’re at it, here’s another one: the upcoming attempt by some people to produce the longest longanisa. This comes to us after the recent presentation of the biggest pizza. We’ve also had the biggest salad, the biggest strawberry cake, shake, etc. And all of these feats, according to their respective organizers, are attempts to put Baguio on the map (what map, I’m not sure), to make a world record, to boost the city’s tourism industry.

We live in a city gifted with one of the most beautiful topographical layout, and we want to be known as the city with the longest longanisa. We are blessed with a cool climate, and we go out there as the city with the biggest pizza.

Don’t get me wrong, all of the above may be fun undertakings, but please don’t put these out there as something that Baguio can be proud of. 300,000 residents picking up a broom to clean the whole city, now that’s a world record we can be proud of. Or maybe a city with not one “colorum” taxi. How about a city government with zero corruption? Why not put all that money and effort that go into stuffing hundreds of meters of pork intestines into programs that would get our youth out of the streets and gangs? We have money to waste on an irrelevant undertaking such as the longets longanisa, but no money to put up a police station near Nevada Square to stop the gang wars that regularly occur there that have resulted in a number of deaths.

Baguio was once considered the most beautiful hill station in Asia, the cleanest and greenest city in the country, and instead of working hard to get those titles back, some instead choose to put all their energy into slaughtering hundreds of pigs to “promote the city.” Pearls to swine, indeed.

Wasn’t the rape of Session Road enough when it was turned into an ugly epitome of crass commercialism earlier this year, must you now cover it in blood in an inane effort to “promote local tourism?” With all the expensive lunches and dinners and tourism junkets, this is what you can come up with? The longest longanisa?

On my online status update a few days ago, I quoted film director Joey Reyes, "nobody is more dangerous than a mediocre mind who is made to believe that he/she possesses genius by sheer coincidence of power and position given to him/her." Daniel Burnham, forgive them, for they seem not to know what they’re doing. Sorry for messing up your beautiful Plan of Baguio.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Isang Daan

In the early 90’s, the Baguio Arts Festival, then run by the Baguio Arts Guild, was among Baguio’s biggest tourist attractions, drawing both participants and audiences from here and abroad. But sadly, the annual holding of one of the country’s most successful art festivals seized with the last festival that was held back in 2002. Since then, no major artistic and cultural even has been held in the city. Or maybe there were, and I just missed them.

Baguio has always been an art haven, it is a fact that the city is home to many renowned artists. As another matter of fact, its artists are among Baguio’s greatest treasures. I’ve said it before, our city officials often mention this fact in their speeches and pitches, yet nothing much is really being done to develop and promote the local art scene. I really believe that only the artists themselves can revive the vibrant artistic and cultural skyline of Baguio.

I am dreaming of holding a week-long arts festival within Baguio’s Central Business District. The festival shall feature various artistic and cultural events with the various business establishments and institutions along Session Road and its environs as venues. The festival aims to promote the local art scene and at the same time help the local economy by attracting audiences/visitors to the city.

I am dreaming of photographs and paintings and installtion art pieces in banks, bookstores, hardware shops, poetry to go with your coffee, music to go with your family dinner, films out in the open, different stories that hopefully will provoke its audiences, the community, into taking a more active role in making Baguio a better place.

I dream that the festival may open with a parade along Session Road by the participating artists. With the local performing and visual artists at the forefront, this parade promises to be a real multi-sensory experience. I dream that during the festival proper, the community will be treated to exhibits, theatrical performances, performance art pieces, book launches & poetry readings, film showings and concerts held in the various establishments along Session Road as well as out in the open.

I dream that in closing, the last day of the exhibit, hopefully with Session Road closed to traffic, may feature a grand outdoor exhibit and performance.

I dream of all this happening right in the heart of Baguio City - Session Road.

Isang Daan – The First Session Road Arts Festival, a collaborative effort between the private sector and the city’s creative minds, joining hands to express the beauty, the dreams and sentiments of a century-old city, reviving the once world-renowned arts and culture scene of Baguio City.

Isang Daan – one hundred.

Isang Daan – a road.

Isang Daan – one common goal.

Hopefully, the city will wake up one November morning to find this dream becoming a reality.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Excerpt from the KAFAGWAY: Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa, a musical journey though Baguio's history. Music and lyrics by KM Altomonte. Arranged by Ethan Andrew Ventura. Performed by Lloyd Celzo with Emerlad Ventura.

Nung una kitang makilala, aking mahal
Ang puso ko'y nabihag ng 'yong kariktan
Magmula noon 'di ko na kayang mawalay sa'yo

Kafagway, sa yakap mo ako'y hihimlay...
Pinapawi mo'ng lumbay na aking taglay

Panalangin ko sa twina ang mabuti sa'yo
Nawa'y 'di ako nagkulang sa pag-aaruga sa'yo
Magmula ngayon'di na muli pang mawawalay sa'yo

Kasaysayan o titulo?

Excerpt from the KAFAGWAY: Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa, a musical journey though Baguio's history. Music and lyrics by KM Altomonte. Arranged by Ethan Andrew Ventura. Performed by Robert Capuyan, Jr. with Ken Dingle and Lloyd Celzo.

Dantaon na ang lumipas
Mga Kastila ay lumikas
Tayo'y lumaya ng pansamantala
May bagong mga amo... mga Amerikano...

Pagamutan ba'ng itatayo niyo?
Bakasyunan ba'ng hinahanap niyo?
Magpasintabi sa mga anito
Sa mga katutubong naninirahan dito

Sino ba'ng nagmamayari ng lupang 'to?
Ano ba'ng tama kasaysayan o titulo?
Aming likas na yaman...
Ang mga kabundukan...
Ang hangin...
ang lupa...

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 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.

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.”

Monday, August 10, 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.

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)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

14, 100

Our 14th year, no precious stones, no grand getaways, just an evening with friends, an evening of whisky and brandy and chicharon, at an exhibit opening and at table number one in Luisa’s on Session Road. A beer brought over from Rumours next door. Acquaintances slip in and out. Monsoon rains raging outside.
“Really?” asked Pigeon, this paper’s editor-in-chief, asked in between brandy refills, “14 years? This calls for a toast!” And so we raised our glasses for the sixth or seventh or eighth time last night. We have been raising our glasses to Baguio, our dreams for Baguio and our resolve to realize those dreams, all night.

Nung una kitang makilala, aking mahal
Ang aking puso’y nabihag ng ‘yong kariktan
Magmula noon, ‘di ko na kayang mawalay sa’yo.
Kafagway sa yakap mo ako’y hihimlay
Pinapawi mo’ng lumbay na aking taglay

I wrote that song, and in my mind the word Kafagway and my wife’s name crossfade.
So there, it’s been 14 years since the day we decided to spend the rest of our lives together, and that life has been closely intertwined with Baguio's last 14 years, or perhaps the last one hundred.

Halimuyak ng mga pino nariyan na
Nagsasabing ako’y malapit na
Isang daan, patungo sa puso ng Cordillera
Daang malapit sa mga ulap, puno ng talinhaga
Dugo at pawis ang gumuhit ng ‘yong kasaysayan
Walang sawa kong tatahakin ang ‘yong kagandahan

It’s been quite an adventure – we’ve lived in a rundown apartment tucked away in a corner in Campo Sioco (named after one of the fathers of the city), in a friend’s house in Mines View (which once offered a glimpse of Baguio’s gold rush in its early years), in Gen. Luna and Gen. Malvar streets (reminders of Baguio’s role in our nation’s struggle for independence), we now live in Asin Road, a stone’s throw away from the Ifugao carvers’ village, and just a little further down the road is Asin’s famous hot springs (which has drawn visitors since the time of the Spaniards). For 14 years we have walked the streets of Baguio, saw the construction of tall buildings and flyovers that ruined the beautiful skyline, the transformation of Camp John Hay and the deterioration of the Baguio Convention Center, malls sprouting one after another in different parts of the city, the closing down of theaters along Session Road, a snatcher being chased by the police and young men hurting each other for no reason.

And we told these stories to the community, my wife and I. We staged plays that we believed asked relevant questions, that provoked, inspired, painted the real picture. We made films that reminded all of us of the city’s beautiful history. We’ve tried to voice out the aspirations of the community, its heartaches, its dreams…

Ang mithiin ng Baguio
Isapuso mo
Itaguyod mo
Isulong mo
Ang kailangan ng Baguio, ikaw at ako

14 years. Isang daan. And so our fifteenth year together begins on Baguio’s 100th.
And so soon, we go onstage once again to tell the story of “Kafagway: Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa,”a performance art piece that will sing the city’s songs, and our songs.

Happy anniversary, RL. And we wish you well, our beloved Baguio, on your 100th year.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

To see what to see at the BCC

There’s an art gallery inside the auditorium, though since we started rehearsing there a few weeks ago, I have never caught it open, nor have I come across any announcement of an upcoming or ongoing exhibit. Beauty pageants, singing contests, the occasional music concert and once every couple of years, a stage play or two – but lately, it’s been cold and quiet at the Baguio Convention Center, and I’m not so sure if the looming takeover by the Government Service Insurance System of the property has anything to do with it, or rumors about the plan to turn the property into a condominium complex. Even the Soroptimists International of Pines City office tucked in a corner sheltered by pine trees oftentimes feel empty, only the presence of the Guardians in the tents behind give any indication of activity at all. How sad.

In the meantime, the most vibrant exhibit venue these days is a mall’s basement. Baguio-based National Artist Bencab’s museum isn’t as easily accessible being down in Asin Road seven kilometers away from the city proper, and the P100 admission fee doesn’t help. Tam-awan Village too, Bencab’s first baby, has been quiet. The last time I visited the Greenhouse Effect Gallery, the late Santi Bose’s brainchild which he worked so hard for, there wasn’t really anything happening there except for some artists working on some props for Anthony de Leon’s musical extravaganza, Panagbenga’s Phantom on the Lake. Events at Kidlat Tahimik’s VOCAS, located at the top floor of La Azotea Bldg. on Session Road, have dwindled too.

A couple of non-government organizations have complained about the pathetic state of the city’s major tourists attractions, among the reasons for the decline in the number of visitors to the city, and have called for action from the government. Good luck with that.

Back inside the Baguio Convention Center – the stage, the halls, the offices in the basement, the lobby: the whole place is perfect for the city’s very own cultural center. A full art season may be put together, making it easier and more cost efficient for the artists to organize exhibits and performances. It could be run by an arts council, run hand in hand by the city government and local artists. It could be the center where all artistic and cultural activities in the city emanate from. The offices inside the hall may be turned into intimate film screening rooms where people wanting to take a break from the usual commercial fare at the malls can go to experience the works of independent alternative filmmakers. Every month a new play opens on center stage, while the lobby hosts a new exhibit by a local artist. You walk down the stairs to the basement and wouldn’t it be nice to hear the sounds of various musical instruments coming from the rooms, budding musicians rehearsing for an upcoming recital or recording an original album. In another room a visual artist in residence works on his canvass while students linger to see the artist at work. I’m sure a room or two may also be reserved for a library.

Given the opportunity to have a home, I’m sure most local artists would work hard to keep the place vibrant, alive, bringing Baguio City’s soul back to life, and surely the soul of a city is a better tourist attraction way more than a week-long tiangge or putting together the world’s longest longganisa.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the city’s youth exposing themselves to the works of city’s artists instead of to the elements in the dark corners of the city’s streets at night, or even participating in and expressing themselves through art instead of brawls and vandalism. Wouldn’t it be nice if parents can bring their children to a storytelling session, or a film showing on weekends for hours of art and culture instead of the arcade for hours and hundreds of pesos of noise?

We can’t bring back to old Baguio, that we know. The efforts of our congressman to amend the city’s charter, with the primary aim of empowering the local government to distribute public lands, if successful, will perhaps put the final nail in the coffin of the Baguio we all once knew. The view of mines is gone, so do the scent of pine, the sunflower-covered hillsides, and others that made Baguio, Baguio. The artists are still here, though, and all they need is a home.