Commentary

The Baguio I knew

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A few days ago, a Filipino Trade Mission from Hawaii composed of 29 delegates, including Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, was in Baguio as part of a biennial program to promote better trade relations between Hawaii and the Philippines. In addition to Hawaii, the other areas covered by the Mission’s itinerary were Manila, Cebu, Subic and Clark.

The trip was sponsored by the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii and its subsidiary, the Hawaii-Philippines Business and Economic Council. The chamber is the oldest Filipino business organization in America, having been established in 1954, way before Hawaii became the United States’ 50th state. Honolulu currently has five “sister cities” in the Philippines, and Baguio is one of them.

I have attended mostly academic conferences in my lifetime and I thought joining the Trade Mission would give me a fresh perspective on the world outside of academe. Besides it included Baguio, which partly shaped my childhood as a “neighbor” from San Fernando, La Union. I would rush to the Cordillera highlands to escape the oppressive humidity on the lowlands especially during summer. My generation looked forward to inhaling the exhilirating mountain air and the pleasant scent of pine trees as one ascended the meandering Naguilian Road. It was a pure and pristine experience that never failed to cleanse your lungs and lift your spirits.

There was only one place to hang out then—Session Road—which we navigated up and down several times without breaking into a sweat as one would in the world below. There were not too many people at the time, no tricycle-screeching sounds puncturing your eardrums, no hawkers hassling you on the sidewalks. The wide open spaces and spectacular mountain views everywhere were enough to make your day.

“Home” during these visits was Camp Allen where my cousin’s husband worked as an enlisted man in the military. We would all bundle up in his tiny quarters with no heating facilities. In the morning when we woke up to answer the usual call of nature, we had to go to the outhouse still wrapped with a blanket.

Now some 50 or 60 years later, the Baguio I knew has changed dramatically and yielded to the unavoidable forces of modernization. Pollution, crowded streets, sheer volumes of people, jeepneys and other vehicles competing for passengers and other forms of urban blight have replaced the charming ambiance of the old Baguio. Where the majestic Pines Hotel once stood is a monstrous Shoemart structure, which seems out of proportion with the smaller constructions in the vicinity.

On this Mission trip, the delegation was welcomed profusely by City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, a veteran politico who had served previously in the Philippine Congress. He and Mayor Carlisle renewed the sister-city relationship between Baguio and Honolulu. And the ever-vibrant City Councilwoman Betty Lourdes Tabanda extolled the City of Pines with great verve and gusto. She called Baguio the highest city in the Philippines with a 5,000 feet elevation, and as such it’s the city closest to God. The City of God and a mecca of sorts—I like that. It should attract a lot of international tourists. Lawyer Tabanda also proudly proclaimed Baguio as the “Learning Center of the North” with its 22 colleges, universities and institutions like the Brent International School and the elite Philippine Military Academy.

At John Hay Manor, more popularly known as Camp John Hay in its previous incarnation, I couldn’t remember coming inside the camp as a child or young adult. I didn’t know who John Hay was and why the camp was named after him.

Fortunately, a commissioned coffee-table book titled “Camp John Hay—How It All Began,” written by Bona Resurreccion-Andrada and published in 2000, gives a comprehensive overview of John Hay’s life and the development of the Camp as the  exclusive “R and R” center for the American military in the Philippines for nine decades. John Hay was secretary of state to Teddy Roosevelt, the quintessential American imperialist responsible for the emergence of America as a world power in the late 19th century. Hay was best known for the “Open Door Policy” crafted by the United States to guide its foreign policy with particular regard to relations with China. Earlier he was one of two personal secretaries to Abraham Lincoln and later a co-biographer of the assassinated president. He and his co-author took 15 years to complete Lincoln’s multi-volume biography. Hay was also a journalist and literary writer who knew Mark Twain.

According to Resurreccion-Andrada, Camp John Hay became the embodiment of the City of Pines, “associated with the halcyon days of the prewar era shattered only by World War II.”  When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the first American military base on Philippine soil bombed simultaneously by the Japanese was Camp John Hay.

Also worth noting in the book is a section on Mateo Carino, a native Ibaloi whose clan owned the lush and sprawling land that eventually became Camp John Hay. But how did the American military acquire Carino’s land?  Was it sold to them? Or leased? Or simply grabbed?  What happened to the native inhabitants? They must have been evicted. Resurreccion-Andrada and her colleagues may have to come up with another book to unravel the whole dynamics of that transition period in Baguio’s colonial  history, which must have been tumultuous.

Dr. Belinda Aquino, former vice president for public affairs of the University of the Philippines, is a retired professor of Political Science and Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was also the founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies.

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