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 CariƱo, 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.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trailer of Raymond Red's "Himpapawid"

I last worked with Raymond in "Sakay" (1993), and then last year he invited me to be a part of a new full length film he was working on... it was like a reunion of sorts, familiar faces in the cast: Raul Arellano, John Arcilla, Soliman Cruz, Raul Morit, Ronnie Lazaro, Nonie Buencamino, Nanding Josef, etc... here's the trailer...

Monday, July 6, 2009


The circus has come early to town. With elections still almost a year away, some have jumped the gun. They’re already out, everyday, on various media, but more commonly on television. Infomercials, talk shows, some are seen peddling themselves even on programs supposedly devoted to the glory of God.
Politics. It’s that time of the year, still almost a year before the elections, when the lines get blurred, are often crossed , strange alliances are formed, whatever’s convenient, whatever they believe can fuel their political ambitions.

Watching television one morning, I was asked by the screen who’s going to be this city’s congressman next year, and a silhouette of a man tried to give me a clue. In certain local tv programs, they’ve started addressing themselves by the positions they are hoping we’d place them in next year. It’s one thing to announce one’s ambitions, it’s another to blatantly start campaigning way before the official campaign period. In the world of track and field, that’s a false start. That would mean the clock would have to be reset and everyone would have to take it from the top, including those who were playing it by the rules. Another false start and it’s back to the starting line again. Do it again and you’re out of the race. That makes sense – you don’t play by the rules, you’re out. For if you can’t follow the rules, how can you be expected to make rules? If you can’t follow the rules, how can you be expected to implement rules?

I’m in the middle of directing a play right now, and when auditions were held, I asked the applicants fairly simple questions, which some of them found quite hard to answer. I only have one vote, I know, but that one vote is asking, just as I asked those who auditioned for our production: Are you a good actor?

This always catches prospective actors off-guard, but in this case, I ask, what is it that you actually do and are you good at it? And are you good at it NOW? Don’t tell me to cast you in a play first and then you’ll try your best later on to be the best you can. I want to know if you’re good now, and if you’re not yet, then come back when you already are. You’re selling a product: YOU. Don’t make promises, for if you’re a vacuum cleaner, I’d like to see you suck out dirt now, before I make the purchase, and not later. I’ve made that mistake before – I’ve cast an actor who promised to commit to a production who later on abandoned the play for a bigger gig; I’ve voted for someone who abandoned his campaign promise within a few days after taking his oath of office.

What productions have you done in the past? In this case, I ask, what have you done in the past that would somehow convince me that you’re the best among the rest and that the role you wish to play can only be played best by you and nobody else?

How do you plan to approach the role you are auditioning for? What are your thoughts about the role? What do you think does it take to successfully portray the character? In this case, I ask, how do you plan to accomplish the tasks required by the position you’re aspiring for? Let me know so I can decide if it can be effective and efficient and is in line with what I believe this city needs right now.

If I give you the role, can you fully commit to the production, from day one to opening night? For I don’t want to have to fire you in the middle of the production when you start being absent from or coming in late for rehearsals. In this case, I ask, can you fully commit yourself to the demands of the position you’re aspiring for? And that you won’t hold back, won’t let anything and anyone get in the way of your performance? Because this time, we'll fire you if your performance is not up to par, or better.

And lastly, why did you come here to audition? Theater does not offer huge financial rewards, why are you auditioning at all? You will have to spend quite a lot getting to and from rehearsals every single night, meals and snacks during rehearsals, you will have to commit so much of your time and energy to this production, plus you will also have to do a significant amount of work outside the regular rehearsal hours, all of that for some chump change, why do you think it’s worth it? In this case, I ask, you are entering politics, you wish to be elected, you must have money, whatever it is you do now. Why are you willing to spend so much more than you’ll ever earn LEGALLY being in whatever position you’re aspiring for?

What are your intentions?