Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dear tourists/visitors currently in Baguio City

Dear tourists/visitors currently in Baguio City:

1. You are not caught in a traffic jam, you are one of the reasons there's a traffic jam. Take the jeep, or better yet, walk around town and leave your cars wherever you're staying. That way, we lessen the cars on the road, and in the process, the pollution in our home, and you get to meet us, the people of Baguio and see how friendly and welcoming we are when our city's not being trashed.

2. Bring reusable bags wherever you go, because let's face it, you would want a couple of jars of Ube or Strawberry jam, a bonnet or two, that Baguio City shirt, or a couple of ukay-ukay items. These things are usually put in single-use plastic "sando" bags, and you'll most likely to leave that in our city and not take it with you wherever you came from. And in case you didn't know, waste management isn't one really among our city officials' expertise. So don't add to the haul we need to take all the way to far away provinces kind enough to accommodate our garbage.

3. Stop asking "where are the Igorots?" You're surrounded. Yeah, the old folks in native attire at the entrance of the Botanical Gardens are Igorots, most vendors at the market and the pony boys at Wright Park are too, so are the carvers at Asin Road, most probably the guy driving your cab or jeep, or the owner of that Hummer or that BMW, or this or that hotel... did I say you're surrounded? Some are in g-strings, others are in suits... This is Baguio, a melting pot of different cultures including the different indigenous groups in the Cordilleras collectively known as Igorots.

4. No, The Banaue Rice Terraces isn't anywhere near here. You have a smart phone? Go to and you'll see.

5. Our taxi drivers are honest, they will give your change down to the last peso. But don't be a cheapskate and tip them well.

6. Do not smoke along Session Road and in our parks. There's an ordinance prohibiting smoking in public places. Better yet, don't smoke, period. And that e-cigarette? Yeah, we don't care if you call it vaping, it's still smoking to us.

7. Don't be too loud when you get back to your transient homes... you're on vacation, we're not. We live here and we have work early tomorrow morning and we don't need to hear your version of My Way until midnight. And remember that Baguio is teeming with world-class vocalists, so unless you are too, keep the volume down.

8. We do a lot of tree planting around here, so watch your step when walking along trails, you might step on a pine seedling that takes decades to become a tree.

9. There's more to Baguio than Wright Park, Botanical Garden and Mines View. I suggest you also visit the nearby towns, go down Asin Road to check out the carvers' village, Ditch Mines View and take a drive towards Itogon instead to see what the mines really look like, go up Mt. Kabuyao and view the majesty of Baguio from up there, etc.

10. If the Christmas decorations around the Central Business District, particularly the supposed Christmas tree at the top of Session Road make you cringe, please know that most of us don't like it too. I don't think anyone does, not even the people who put it up or the city officials who approved the budget and design for these.

P.S. We also don't like Joel Cruz's ugly house in Camp John Hay.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

YOLO, and we got time

One Rabindranath Tagore once said, "The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."

Most smaller species, the ones we usually see fluttering about in our home gardens, on flower pots on our window sills, on plants by the side of the road, live an average lifespan of a mere few days to two weeks as butterflies. Just enough time to spread its wings and explore the world around it, to jump from one flower to another and taste the sweet nectar found in each one, to soar as high as its wings can carry it. Yeah, butterflies have time enough. 

They have enough time to live a life well-lived because they do not spend their time thinking about what kind of flowers they would land on, which garden has better flowers. 

True, comparing the way we live our lives to the way butterflies do would be an over-simplification. It's way more complicated. Or is it? Whatever, there's a lesson to be learned here. Over our lifetimes, if we're fortunate and careful enough, we may get to spend 70 birth anniversaries. Alright, we'd hardly remember if at all the first few ones, but how many Christmas memories can we look back at that can make us sigh a happy sigh? Make us nod our heads with a smile on our face and think, yes, those were happy days. How many cold, rainy nights were you able to spend cuddling under the covers with loved ones, keeping each other warm and making each other feel safe? How many good laughs were you able to share with people who complete your life? How many times were you there for that loved one who needed a hug, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold? 

How many times were you able to experience a moment of happiness without making someone else feel sad? Get on a higher plain without having to step on and push someone down? How much unnecessary baggage were you able to put down? How many trespasses were you able to forgive, whether inflicted by someone else or yourself? 

Today's generation shout YOLO! You Only Live Once, the acronym can often be seen as a caption to an image of someone taking chances, dreaming and daring. It's the Gen-Y-ers' version of Horace's Carpe Diem. 

How many times did you want, desire, dream and how many times did you stand up and make it happen? How were you able to make the world a little better than when you were here for those whose life journeys are just about to begin? 

We all have our caterpillar stages, spend some time in our respective pupae, but we all get to be butterflies... and when we do, it's up to us what to do with those wings. We only live once, and it's enough - enough time in this world if only we don't forget what it's all about: happiness. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Serving the people is not exclusive to those who bear arms

No regrets coining and labeling some as Rebels, Just Because (if, indeed, I did coin it, otherwise credit goes to whoever used the phrase before I did)...

While I do understand the struggle, armed conflicts never produce real victors. And I just can't accept armed resistance as a solution knowing that it's not only about resistance to an oppressive, corrupt system but also to forward an oppressive, failed ideology.

We cannot denounce the death of our comrades while condoning, celebrating the loss of lives on the other side of the political fence. A death of a human being is always a loss, soldiers leave widows and orphans too. Or how about the unfair, senseless loss of innocent lives caught in the crossfire, oftentimes brushed aside as mere collateral damage?

In the last couple of days, I have listened to a doctor who personally attended to the victims of an ambush against police trainees. One of the survivors was a woman whose leg was penetrated by a bullet which exited and totally shattered her knee and had to choose between amputation or to never be able to bend her leg again. They were jogging, part of their morning exercise, unarmed, when they were fired upon by snipers. Maybe she, too, set out to dedicate her life to serve the people, she just chose to do it as part of the police force and not as a rebel. We will never know now.

Another first-hand account shared to me was how a road project nearing completion that would help farmers in a far-flung area bring their produce to the market was halted because of non-payment of "revolutionary taxes."

Peace. Give it a chance, is all I'm saying. Yeah, peace.

I do acknowledge, a revolution is in order - our political system needs restructuring, our fragile democracy needs strengthening, but how do destabilization, terrorism, and let's not deny it - murder help bring about change, positive change? How do all that help move this nation forward? How do AK47s put food on the table of the oppressed and not only on that of its bearer? 

Let us not romanticize terrorism, let us not romanticize violence, let us not romanticize murder.  

And we too love this nation, we too are doing what we can to help turn things around in this country, and we, too, are hungry - most of us are, in fact. But none of that justify firing a bullet on a fellow Filipino. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rebels, just because

Traffic was heavy at the top of Session Road the other night because of the annual lantern parade – one of the things we look forward to at Christmas time in Baguio and we regretted not knowing that it was happening then. We could’ve been seated on the knoll at the mini-park at the Post Office to watch, instead we’re stuck in traffic in our vehicle on our way home.

We saw the candles, and that’s one of the things we loved about this parade. It used to be solemn, we used to love the calm, the peace that fell on the normally noisy, smog-filled Session Road when the hundreds of candles come. It was a joyful experience.

There were less candles this year, we noticed. There were more placards too. We heard chanting, somewhere along the lines of “bayan ko, ‘di pa tapos ang laban mo!”

Oh well, Merry Christmas to you too.

Image lifted from

“All we are saying is give trees a chance.” That was the main battle cry of the movement that has come to be known as Save 182. The movement was protesting the planned removal of some 182 trees on Luneta Hill for SM Baguio’s expansion. Before the Temporary Environmental Protection Order was issued, nay, honored by SM Baguio, around 49 trees were removed, earth-balled they say, whatever. A case was filed by the movement, the court ruled in favor of SM. Then SM offered, despite the absence of any legal impediment to go ahead with their expansion as originally planned, to re-design the whole thing to spare all but less than ten out of the remaining trees. Sounds good?

Not to some, who now insist that they weren't really there just for the trees so despite the proposal to spare almost all of the trees left on that side of the hill, the expansion must not push through.

What was it again? “All we are saying… blah-blah-blah.”

The war rages on between government forces and communist rebels and separatists down south. Can’t help but wonder how our lives would really be if this war ends with the victory of one and the defeat of the other. What would life be like in this country if our soldiers only had to risk life and limb serving the people, protecting the nation’s sovereignty? On the other hand, what would life be like in Mindanao if it were a separate state ruled by the leaders of the separatist movements fighting the government now? Or, what would it be like if the country were under communist rule?

What's your rebellion about?

“We are living in the era of premeditation and the perfect crime. Our criminals are no longer helpless children who could plead love as their excuse. On the contrary, they are adults and the have the perfect alibi: philosophy, which can be used for any purpose - even for transforming murderers into judges.” ― Albert Camus, from The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Leaving Home

One stormy night a few months ago, strong winds battered the gate to our house and our dog, Zeus, a beautiful Labrador, got out and never returned.

We got Zeus when he was barely three months old in 2009, a Christmas gift for our children. He’s a playful dog and loves to nibble on anything: newly potted plants, wooden furniture and footwear were among his favorites. Almost all of our furniture has nibble marks, and we’ve had to throw away a few pairs of shoes and slippers that we carelessly left outside the door.

The children adored him, when he was a puppy he slept in the kids’ room. He loved to fetch, and loved to have you run after him to play tug-o-war with whatever it was you had him fetch – an empty soda bottle, a stick, a chewed up slipper. He can be intimidating too – he wasn’t that tall nor long, but he was bulky and had a deep baritone for a bark. Those he scared just didn’t know that his barks were simply an invitation to play.

Last year, a friend offered one of their Labrador’s puppies to us, a female that we named Juno. We thought she’d be a perfect match for Zeus. In the days leading to that stormy night, we noticed several times how Zeus would try to mate with Juno. She must be going in heat soon, we thought.

And then it happened, got out. He loved darting out of the gate whenever we opened it. He even learned how to pretend not to be interested in escaping, and silly us fell for it often – we’d open the gate and in the blink of an eye he’s out. He would not answer to anyone’s call, one of us would have to run after him and lead him back home. We were confident that he was just in the neighbourhood, waiting to be fetched.

There were several sightings in the days, weeks that followed, but we never saw him again. After more than a month, the sightings stopped and we thought: somebody must have taken him in already. We were sad, of course, the kids specially. Even Juno was, we noticed. But at some point, I became somewhat angry at Zeus. How can he do this to us? We fed him, and fed him well. We played with him whenever we can, took him on trips around town whenever we had the chance. He loved having a specific spot on his belly rubbed, and we obliged and I found it amusing how, whenever we would miss that area by even just a inch, he would use his paws to guide our hand to the right spot.

But then I thought, there was something he needed, perhaps, that we couldn’t provide that he found somewhere else. He yearned for something, and we didn’t have that – our home didn’t have that.

Several good friends are leaving for foreign shores soon. They’re leaving as a group, almost all of them were born and raised in Baguio. They’re very, very good at what they do, no wonder they easily passed the audition for that gig. I’m not sure about the rest but I know a couple of them would rather not leave home. But they are left with no choice, home doesn’t have what they want, need. No, they’re not asking for the moon really, just a fair fighting chance in this crazy world.

They’re not alone, in fact here are many of them – artists, doctors, nurses, teachers, a lot of them would rather stay home but are left with no other choice but to grin and bear it, bite the bullet, be away for a while, sometimes a long while, from their loved ones, for what? What were those again? Food, clothing, shelter? Some peace of mind. Freedom from anxiety. A future that’s just a little brighter.

Never mind the ones who are leaving because they want to, those who've totally lost faith in this nation, have pledged allegiance to a different flag, but my heart bleeds for those who have to leave home because they need to. It’s not easy. I've tried leaving once, and I just couldn't.

We are among the countries with the richest natural resources in the world, and we live in one of the most beautiful cities in this country. Why are they leaving? Because As big as that pie is, only a few enjoy the lion’s share of it, while the rest are left with crumbs – that’s how it is in this country, and it’s how it is in this city.

What can I say, but fare thee well. Fare thee well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Behind the fog: keep an eye out

The sunflowers are out, and in Baguio, that means Christmas is just around the corner.

Our two elder children spent most of their lives in Manila, but spent most of their holidays in the summer and Christmas up here. One time, when we entertained the thought of moving down to Manila those two said: we cannot imagine spending Christmas elsewhere but in Baguio so if you do move to the lowlands, you have to make sure that we spend Decembers up there.

How can you blame them – the chill, the fog, the nights warmed by a fireplace or a bonfire, nothing compares to a Christmas in Baguio.

I don’t mean to be a Scrooge here, but in the last couple of years, it seems that bad things are hatched during this time of the year here in our beloved city. Take the SM expansion plan, for example, which was announced at around December of 2011 with plans to start construction early the following year. They probably thought that catching the community by surprise that way would not give them enough time to voice out their opposition. Thanks to the likes of Michael Bengwayan, Chyt Daytec, the Cordillera Global Network led by Atty. Chris Donaal, Glo Abaeo and Gideon Omero and the thousands of concerned citizens who took the streets to stop the sacrifice of 182 trees for a parking facility.

The following Christmas, alliances were made, holy and otherwise, in preparation for the 2013 elections. We ended up with the same old faces up in City Hall whose concept of development is limited to the use of chainsaws, bulldozers and cement mixers, which meant more woes for this abused city in the years to come.

Christmas 2013, a party was allegedly held at an alleged private property on top of a prominent mountain in the city allegedly attended by who’s who in the local media community allegedly hosted by a public official newly-elected to a new position who during the campaign swore to be a protector of the environment. That same property is now in the middle of a controversy and a serious environmental issue when more than 700 trees were mowed down to pave the way for a planned resort. Between the time of that party and the time some concerned citizens discovered the massacre of trees, not a squeak was heard from the media personnel who were at that party who knew of the plan as early as then.

What are we saying? It’s Christmas time once again, go visit the Christmas Village at the Country Club, or maybe the light and sound show at The Manor or the artificial snow fall at Le Monet, enjoy the chill at any one of the remaining parks in the city, or simply, let’s be merry and make it as meaningful as possible, but keep an eye out for it is during this time of the year, under cover of fog, that shenanigans usually occur in our beloved city.