Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hu u?

I was one of several speakers whose topics ranged from how to register corporations with the SEC, the workings of the Philippine Stock Exchange, the current status of the BPO industry, etc. The audience was composed of potential foreign investors and I was assigned to talk about Philippine history, some kind of a Welcome-to-the-Philippines sort of talk. The intention was for them to have a better understanding of Philippine culture, our people.

Preparing the slides for my talk, it got me thinking, do we really know who we are?

I decided to start off with current events and I wondered what foreigners thought if they read about the countless acts of selflessness during and in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, the Filipinos being the most resilient people in the world who always found reason to smile even in the face of such unimaginable tragedy, the images of village folks clutching religious icons against a desolate and gloomy background, of boys playing basketball surrounded by flattened homes, of Yolanda’s victims finding time to set aside their grief for a while to cheer on a fellow Filipino in the boxing ring in his quest to redeem himself. 

What then would they think if after turning the page they see stories about how our congressmen and senators shamelessly pocketed hundreds of millions in people’s money, how that same boxer tried to get away with tax evasion, how our government officials focused much energy on pointing fingers when thousands of our countrymen remained without relief goods for weeks after the typhoon?

Which one one these paint a portrait of the Filipino? 

I thought, they would not be entirely wrong if they believe that we are Manny Pacquiao, the poor boy from Gen. Santos down south who made it to the top of the international boxing scene, who believed that his talent for knocking people out made him qualified to craft laws that would uplift the lives of his countrymen. They would be right too to think we are Lea Salonga, international theater and music star. We could be Apl D Ap, the boy from Olongapo who migrated to the U.S. of A. and is now living the American dream. And we are also Flor Contemplacion, found guilty of murder, executed in a Singaporean prison, who was only truly guilty of being poor, helpless and desperate.

Hundreds of years as slaves to different colonial powers may have had something to do with the contradicting portraits of what a Filipino is all about, I thought. For three centuries, the Spaniards made sure that we believed that we are a people inferior to their kind – the fair skinned, high-nosed kind. That we don’t have the power in our own country and they do, and that power meant they can do anything they want with the land and its people. Friars can father children, evict farmers from the land they tilled and nurtured all their lives, and execute Gomburzas and Jose Rizals who dared expose their presence here as an unwelcome cancer.

The 1898 Treaty of Paris taught us that we didn't matter in charting the course of our own country, and that all of these 7,107 islands and everything on, in and below it, its history, its people, cost only 20 million dollars. Then the Americans made sure we understood that our freedom did not depend on the Aguinaldos or the Sakays of this country, but whether they, the Americans, waving the flag of Manifest Destiny, believed we already deserve to be free. They made us believe that in order to teach us how to govern ourselves, we must not be allowed to govern ourselves.

Then there’s Martial Law under Marcos, where we learned that a government that is not by, for and of the people can be just as bad or even worse an enemy as foreign aggressors.

And now that democracy is supposed to have been restored, we are made to believe that we, the people, have the power. Do we? Maybe. And what have we done with that power? We voted rapists, plunderers and incompetent movie stars into office. 

And how about those who are in power? Don’t expect much, for hundreds of years they were made to believe that being in power meant getting away with almost anything, like the friar who raped a mother, they too now believe they can rape a minor; like the guardia civil who beat up Rizal when he didn’t take of his hat in his presence, they too now believe they can arbitrarily abduct, imprison and even kill anyone and get away with it. We have got to learn that it’s not about power, that being up there is really about responsibility.

And now we are free, so we believe. But are we, truly, free? How can we claim that when we continue to use the same prejudices that our former colonial masters used against us against our very own people today? How can we say we’re free when we continue to try to comprehend who we are and what we’re all about by looking at ourselves through American or Spanish eyes? And as Rizal said, what need do we have for freedom when the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?

After I speaking for close to half an hour, I don’t think I was able to paint a clear portrait of the Filipino for my audience, for I myself continue to search for the answer to the question, Hu u?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Baguio: Heritage Zone

The ongoing struggle for possession of the Casa Vallejo property has brought to the fore two important issues - the right of the natives to their ancestral domain, and the need to preserve and protect vestiges of the city’s heritage.

On one side of this real estate coin is the family of Cosen Piraso claiming that the property rightfully belongs to their clan, unjustly appropriated by the government, and must be returned to Piraso’s descendants as represented by one Richard Acop.

On the other side is the National Resources Development Corporation of the Department of Natural Resources, current owners and administrators of the property, along with Roebling Hotels, Inc., current lessee of the property, along with Hill Station, a restaurant, Mt. Cloud Bookshop, North Haven Spa, the Baguio Cinematheque and Lagalag, an outdoor garment and equipment shop, all current tenants at the property. A petition is being circulated calling for the preservation of the structure, Casa Vallejo, which has silently witnessed the journey of Baguio from the year it officially became a city to today’s busting cosmopolitan. 

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples has stepped in and has issued an order for the status quo to be maintained pending the resolution of the cases filed before it and the ongoing one at the Supreme Court.

Victory for the heritage preservation efforts? Perhaps. But for how long? When the next heritage site is threatened, do we go out there again, start another petition, even do out in the streets with our placards? Let’s not do it piece-meal, let’s go for the declaration of the whole City of Baguio as a heritage site. Vigan did it, why can’t we? 

With that, we can call for the formation of a local heritage commission by which office all developments in Baguio – from major public infrastructure like roads to simple construction projects such as building or renovating homes – will have to be approved with the following primary considerations: 

Is it in line with the pioneers’ original vision for the city? That is, first and foremost, a health and recreation center. 

How will the project impact the city during its construction period, during its operation, in the long run? 

Is it sustainable? Given the city’s carrying capacity, will it be able to sustain such a project not just today but in the years to come? 

Now’s the time to do this, for, as I have been asking for years now… we inherited a beautiful Baguio from the city’s pioneers, what kind of Baguio are we passing on to the next generation? 

Sign the petition to revive the Baguio Heritage Ordinance of 2005 here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A walk in the park

“Mukhang wala ring epekto yung petition natin,” shared the coach as he watched his team, my daughter among them, make the most of the last few minutes of sun to complete the day’s training session. My  

I really don’t know for sure, I told him, but the letter from city hall I received months ago did say that they’re abandoning the plan to put up gates around Burnham Park and the concreting of portions of the Melvin Jones grounds.

As the sun continued to set, he shouts to the team, “Lipat tayo dun sa may ilaw,” and everyone moves towards one of the few lamp posts in the area. The team has been training diligently almost everyday after school. Most of the players get off at around 4:00pm, it takes them about an hour to get to Burnham Park and change into their jerseys wand warm-up. The sun sets quite early these days, so they usually have just an hour of sunlight to train.

With the onset of the dry season, it’s also football season in Baguio. It’s also park season and every afternoon, seeing several football teams training, a group of ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts playing a game, children running around while they parents lazed on the mats laid out on the ground, a few pairs of young lovers dreaming of their future under a tree, an old couple perhaps reliving the past as they walk around holding hands (this is where they could have met, this is where they could have spent afternoons as a young couple, this is where they could have brought their children on weekends…), I know that just like our family, they too would be going home with a sense of calm. That’s only one of the wonderful things that being in a wide, open space surrounded by towering trees and colourful blooms provides…

…along with a renewed sense of being wonderfully alive and being one with the earth with the smell of grass and the feel of the ground under the warm sun on your skin. And that little smile we give each other as we pass each other by walking around the park… that forges a sense of community way better than empty slogans on tarpaulins.

The sun sets, it’s time to go home. We get up and brush off the grass on our backs, gather our things and start walking out. We pass by Lake Drive where the few remaining children on bikes beg their parents for one more round on that trike and off they go, pedalling as hard as they can, with cold wind on their faces, ahhh the exhilaration, excitement, the happiness, they won’t be able to do as much of that  when they close that portion of Lake Drive for a whole month to sell substandard products from China and food prepared under sanitarily questionable conditions – is it worth depriving children of a wonderful experience for whatever amount they earn whenever they hold the Market Encounter during the Flower Festival… wait, what does a tiangge have to do with a festival that celebrates one of God’s beautiful creations that this beautiful city has been abundantly gifted with?

We'll make the most of the next thirty sunsets at the park without the unsightly sight of haphazardly set up stalls that ruin the very essence, the very soul of what a park should be.

Which Baguio do we want: A highland Divisoria or a health and recreation destination?

When the makeshift eatery at the top of Session Road just next to Casa Vallejo sprouted some years ago, a lot of people were surprised. How can they get away with something like that right in the middle of the city? It’s a tiny triangular piece of land which looked more like a street island, it seemed quite impossible that the small piece of property belonged to anyone, let alone titled. The bigger surprise was when that crude bulalohan underwent a facelift not too long ago – a more permanent concrete structure now stands in its place.

An ancestral land claim enabled them to do that, someone said. Having coffee with friends at the nearby Hill Station restaurant one afternoon, some joked that one day, someone might just file an ancestral land claim on the whole Casa Vallejo property.

In 1904, Cameron Forbes, a member of the U.S. Philippine Commission, was given the additional designation of being the administrator directly responsible for the implementation of the Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Baguio. At the time, Baguio had nothing much to offer visitors other than a sanitarium. Forbes’ strategy to fast track the transformation of this tiny hill station into a city was to first put an efficient transportation system between the lowlands and Baguio in place. Lyman Kennon then was already making great progress with the construction of the Benguet Road (which would eventually be named after him), so Forbes, after pressuring the Manila Railroad Company to bring their tracks closer to the foothills of Benguet to significantly cut the travel time from Manila, then pressured the colonial government to allocate funds for the purchase of a couple of Stanley Steamliners to bring up passengers from La Union all the way to Baguio.

And while the government wouldn’t allocate funds any more for the construction of more structures in Baguio, Forbes was able to get its permission to invite the private sector to step in and invest in various initiatives that would help make Baguio become a tourist destination. One of those who responded was Salvador Vallejo, who leased the property from the government and put up a hotel bearing his name just below Luneta Hill.

During the first World War, it briefly served as a detention center for German prisoners of war before returning to its original function of housing tourists during the mining boom in Benguet in the 1920’s. It was turned into a refugee center during the second World War and after surviving the carpet bombing of the city during the liberation, it served as a temporary campus for the Baguio City High School (now the Baguio City National High School).

After some time, the hotel closed down and the property was ceded back to the government. The original building that has witnessed almost all of Baguio’s entire history as a city remained standing. It closed down in 1997. In 2008, the National Resources Development Corporation expressed its intention to invite private bidders to develop the property. The City Council then tried to get Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to transfer ownership of the site to the City Government, but the bidding proceeded, with Roebling Corporation emerging as the winner. Then Mayor Reinaldo Bautista, Jr. welcomed the decision of the winning bidders to maintain the structure’s original function – a hotel, and while they planned to do some major renovation work, much of the structure, including the original fa├žade would be maintained to respect its historical significance.

Major surprises seem to always come with the new year in Baguio – after the New Year’s revelation of SM City Baguio’s plan to remove 182 trees on Luneta Hill in 2012, now comes the news that Casa Vallejo’s current tenants are being evicted in view of the Certificate of Ancestral Land Title awarded by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to a family that claimed ownership of the property. We have heard of several major ancestral land claims in the city – the Caranteses and Luneta Hill, the Carinos and portions of Camp John Hay, etc., but we never knew that a major piece of property right in the heart of the city was being claimed too. I myself have read a lot about how Mateo Carino owned much of the land from City Hall to Camp John Hay and was quite surprised to learn that a piece of land right in the middle could belong to another family.

Allegedly, the property would now be developed into a mall. Another major piece of Baguio’s history is about to be erased forever. Another mall? That is really sad because with all the other malls in Baguio today, the city is fast becoming what it is not: a shopping center.

This shouldn’t be allowed to happen because, really, which Baguio do we really want: a highland Divisoria or the way its pioneers intended it to be: a health and recreation destination and a community living in harmony with its natural environment?

*sign the petition to save Casa Vallejho here:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Year's wishlist

We, our family, welcomed the New Year sans fireworks, the explosive ones, but with lots of fireworks, the figurative ones – hopes and dreams that brighten up lives for much longer than 15 minutes. At the dining table, we talked about our triumphs and regrets the past year, what we learned from those regrets and how to build on those triumphs.

After dinner, we all did what we could to stay awake to welcome the new year. As with most of us today, some of us went online to check on what friends are up to. I sat at the kitchen table and thought about Baguio, and my wishes for her in the coming year...

I wish for its leaders to understand and realize the wisdom of sustainable development and for them to also realize that happiness trumps empty economic figures that come as a result of environmental abuse and utter disregard for the city's heritage and future...

I wish for city hall to formally and with finality abandon their plan to put up gates around Burnham Park and the privatization of the Athletic Bowl in particular and the crass commercialization of our parks in general...

I wish for its businessmen and women to look beyond their bottomlines and realize their impact on the community, and exert more effort to lessen the negative and enhance the positive...

I wish for a more vibrant art scene, for the city's artists look beyond their differences, their affiliations and work together to paint a more colorful art and cultural skyline...

I wish for Panagbenga's powers-that-be to acknowledge that though they may be efficient managers, they lack creativity, sophistication and, sorry... taste and engage the services of people who can provide these for a more meaningful festival experience...

I wish for a renewed sense of community, beginning with barangay leaders, who I wish could set aside traditional politics and work for the welfare of their constituents and not of their benefactors in City Hall...

On the streets of Baguio, I wish for Trancoville and Aurora Hill jeepney drivers to start behaving like they really deserve their professional drivers licenses... and for Puso ng Baguio administrators to clean up the mess their tenants have made of the sidewalk directly fronting the building... for Tiongsan Harrison to look into the possibility of creating a transport bay (yes, it would eat up a bit into their building, but would result in much improved traffic flow in the area, which radiates throughout the CBD)... for City Center Hotel to admit that they totally disregarded local zoning laws, and make up for it by taking an active role in the re-greening and cleaning up of Session Road... for local malls to stop mulcting their customers for the use of their bathrooms... for our traffic management personnel to start coming up with better policies that would benefit the greater majority and not always those who already have more in life (e.g. the banning of jeeps that carry more passengers along Gen. Luna St. in the morning)... and for both pedestrians and motorists to respect traffic rules and regulations... and for SM City Baguio to honor their commitment to their re-designed expansion plan to save 90% of the remaining trees on Luneta Hill, and bring back the number 182, and transform the area into a nature park accessible to everyone, whether they're SM City Baguio patrons or not...

And I wish that every single resident, and indeed visitor, of Baguio to do their share, no matter how small, to make Baguio a better place for all of us.

Here’s to a meaningful New Year!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Noong 1995, nakatambay kami sa bahay ni Ronnie Lazaro, nagkakape, nakikinig sa radyo. May nilabas siyang isang libro, sabi niya, "makinig kayo." "Sa Daigdig ng Katahimikan" ni Pete Lacaba yung libro, at sa isang bahagi, isinalin niya sa Tagalog ang Desiderata. Binasa ni Ronnie.

Mahabang katahimikan pagkatapos, tapos sabi niya, hindi mas magandang sabihin ang Bayang Ginigiliw? Oo nga naman... pangkasalukuyan ang dating, hindi natatapos, tuloy-tuloy. Alam niyo ang kailangang gawin sa bayan ngayon? Tanong niya sa'min. Linisin. 

Doon nabuo ang proyektong "Bayang Ginigiliw," simbolikong paglilinis ng Pilipinas. Sa Luneta, doon sa mapa ng Pilipinas, nagboluntaryo kaming linisin ang buong lugar. At kahit yung mapa lang ng Pilipinas ang napagpasyahan naming linisin, na akala namin ay kaya naming gawin sa loob ng ilang oras, inabot kami ng halos isang linggo. Marami-rami rin kami sa simula, ngunit ng nagsilisan na ang mga mamamahayag, ang mga manunulat sa diyaryo, ang mga camera ng mga potograpo't istasyon ng telebisyon, unti-unti ring nabawasan ang bilang namin. Sa bandang huli, mabibilang mo sa mga daliri mo ang naiwan. 

Sa bawat araw ng paglilinis, parang dasal, binibigkas namin ang Panatang Makabayan, tapos susundan ng pagbigkas ng Desiderata, ayun sa pagsasalin ni Pete Lacaba...

Naging personal kong tradisyon na isulat sa aking bagong planner kada taon ang pagsasalin na'to. Parang paalala ba, paalalang bubukadkad sa'kin tuwing bubuksan ko ang planner na 'to...

Kaninang bago mag alas-sais, ginawa ko ulit ito...

Desiderata, salinwika ni Pete Lacaba

Lumakad ng mahinahon sa gitna ng ingay at pagkukumahog, alalahanin ang kapayapaang maaaring makuha sa katahimikan. 

(Parang ngayong umaga, unang araw ng baong taon. Pagod ang karamihan, mahimbing pang natutulog)
Walang isusuko hanggang maaari, pakisamahan ng mabuti ang lahat ng tao. 

Sabihin ang iyong katotohanan ng tahimik at malinaw, at makinig sa iba, kahit sa nakayayamot at mangmang, sila man ay may kasaysayan. 

(Nitong nakaraang taon, ninanis kong isigaw ang ilang katotohanang sa aking palagay ay kailangang mapakinggan. Ilan siguro rito ay mas mainam na nailathala ng mas mahinahon, hindi nga lang ganoon kadali kung ang iyong pinagsasabihan ay nagbibingi-bingihan)

Iwasan ang mga taong mabunganga at palaaway, sail'y ikinaiinis ng kalooban. Kung ihahambing ang sarili sa iba, baka yumabang ka o maghinanakit sapagkat laging may lilitaw na mas mahusay o mas mahina sa'yo. 

Ikalugod and iyong mga tagumpay at mga balak. 

(Masaya ako na sa kabila ng lahat, pagkatapos ng lahat ng mga gabing pagpupuyat, mga hapon sa lansangan dala-dala ang placard na nagsusumamo sa mga may kapangyarihan na huwag patayin ang mga punongkahoy sa Luneta Hill, karamihan sa mga ito ay mananatili doon, buhay, at maaari pang paramihin... may iba mang gusto pang ipagpatuoy ang away, ang labanan, ang bangayan... sa akin, mahigit isang daang puno ang mabubuhay at ang sinsasabing nagmamay-ari ng lupa ay nakinig at maaaring patuloy na makikinig sa mga ganitong adhikain, ikinalulugod ko ito...)

Manatiling interesado sa iyong trabaho, gaano man kababa - ito'y tunay na kapangyarihan sa pabago-bagong kapalaran ng panahon.

Maging maingat sa negosyo sapagkat ang daigdig ay puno ng panlilinlang. Subalit huwag maging bulag sa kabutihang nakikita, maraming nagsisikap na makamit ang mga adhikain. Sa lahat ng dako, ang buhay ay puno ng kabayanihan. 

(Salamat sa isang Dok Mark, na lingid sa kaalaman ng karamihan, lingid mula sa mga camera ng media, ay linggo-linggong nasa Rizal Elementary School, dala-dala ang ilang kaldero ng masustansyang merienda para sa mga batang kapus-palad at nangangailangan ng pagkalinga)
Maging tapat sa sarili, higit sa lahat, huwag magkunwari. 

(Kung may mga paang natapakan ko sa aking paglalakad, pasensya na.... hindi ko kayang ipagkait sa aking sarili ang ilathala ang mga katotohanang dapat ilathala...)
Huwag ding libakin ang pag-ibig sapagkat sa harap ng kahungkagan at kawalang-pag-asa, ito'y lagi't-laging sumisibil tulad ng damo. 

Tanggapin ang payo ng katandaan, buong giliw na isuko ang mga bagay ng kabataan. 

Pagibayuhin ang lakas ng loob at nang magkaroon ka ng pananggalang sa lahat ng kasawian. Subalit huwag ikaligalig ang mga haka-haka, maraming pangamba ang likha ng pagod at pangungulila. 

(Siguro nga... kaya sa mga taong nagkakalat ng mga haka-haka't kasinungalingan, siguro sa taong ito, itulog at ipahinga niyo na lang muna...)
Supling ng sandaigdigang tulad rin naman ng punongkahoy at bituin, may karapatan kang manatili rito. At malinaw man sa'yo o hindi, walang dudang ang sandaigdigan ay bumubukadkad na tulad ng nararapat. Kung gayon, pakisamahan ang Panginoon, anuman ang pananaw mo sa kanya, at anuman ang iyong pinagkakaabalahan o minimithi. 

(Mabait ang Diyos, at hinding-hindi siya maninira, mangaalipusta ng kanyang mga nilikha... kaya kung ika'y nangangaral tungkol sa Diyos, huwag sana sa mapanglait na pamamaraan...)

Sa kabila ng pagkukunwari, kabagutan at gumuhong pangarap, maganda pa rin ang daigdig. 

(At yan ang totoo...)
Mag-ingat, sikaping lumigaya. 


Maligayang bagong taon!