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.”