Reveille

City of my youth

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Notes on AFP Day.

During the past few weeks, there have been rumors circulating about the health of President Aquino. These were brought about mainly by his inability to attend several important engagements here and abroad. He had to cancel a meeting with IMF chief Christine Lagarde during the latter’s visit to the country last month. He also excused himself from the dinner hosted by New Zealand Prime Minister John Phillip Key in Wellington during his state visit. There were a number of Asean functions that he missed due to health concerns. Some doctors suggested that perhaps he needed a vacation.

Last Friday, at the 77th anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the President showed the actual state of his health.

Upon arrival at Camp Aguinaldo, he was accorded honors by cadets of the Philippine Military Academy led by First Captain Marvic Ibarde. After presentation of the command by the troop commander, Rear Admiral Roberto Santos, the President waved aside the command vehicle and proceeded to inspect the entire assembly of troops on foot. Let me repeat—on foot!

Normally the inspecting official in ceremonies of this nature is provided with a command vehicle. The official boards the vehicle accompanied by the receiving officer and the troop commander, and all three review the troops from the moving carrier.

The President, under the heat of the sun at 10:30 a.m., marched to the beat of the military band, a distance of roughly the equivalent of three Par 5s or some 1500 yards without missing a beat. As any golfer knows, when you play a Par 5 hole, you move at your own pace and stop to hit the ball every now and then. This allows the golfer an opportunity to rest and catch his breath. The President completed the entire inspection nonstop in military marching tempo.

As far as I can remember, it was the first time in the history of the AFP that the Commander-in-Chief inspected his troops on foot.

It was not a particularly elaborate celebration as much of the resources of the AFP had been diverted to relief operations in the South. In fact, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa is presently in the disaster areas distributing more relief goods for the victims as well as for our soldiers operating in the hardest hit communities in Compostela Valley.

* * *

Christmas never fails to remind me of the “City of Pines,” the place where I was born, where I grew up as a young boy, and where I spent some of the best years of my life. These included a few Christmases that can never again be duplicated mainly because people who meant so much have long since passed away.

In my youth, walking was frequently the only means of transportation and I used to cover much of the city on foot, crisscrossing from one end to the other without much difficulty. In fact, at times, it was even a lot of fun. Burnham Park meant roller skating, biking, and boating. I also remember going through the many bushes that surrounded the lake in search of fighting spiders. The gentle slopes found all over the city provided us with the best venues for testing our homemade racing carts fashioned out of discarded galvanized iron sheets. The dried pines that covered the slopes made possible the great speeds at which our carts slid downhill, making every get-together a thrilling racing event. For a young boy in those days, Baguio was paradise.

* * *

The story goes that when Governor-General William Howard Taft, who weighed more than 300 pounds, first visited the site that was to become Baguio during the early days of the American regime, he journeyed from Dagupan to the upland hill station on horseback, a distance of more than 50 miles. Upon reaching Baguio, Taft sent back word to his staff that he had arrived safely. Manila acknowledged the message saying, “Glad to note safe arrival. How is the horse?”

* * *

Robert R. Reed’s “City of Pines—The Origins of Baguio as a Colonial Hill Station and Regional Capital” has provided me with a lot of information about my favorite hill station. Some of our readers may be interested in the origins of our summer capital, particularly the development of Kennon Road.

The hill stations and mountain settlements scattered all over Southeast Asia were established by European colonizers, primarily as health centers, recreation areas, and temporary seats of government used for lengthy periods by the ruling administration. Some of the more prominent stations in the region were Bogor and Bandung in the old Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), Cameron Highlands and Penang Hill in Malaysia, and Dalat in French Indochina (Vietnam).

In the case of the Philippines, the Spanish conquistadores had a difficult time subduing the mountain people on the island of Luzon. Thus, it took them some time before they could establish a small station in La Trinidad near Baguio.

With the arrival of the Americans, greater efforts were exerted to set up a health resort and recreation center in the mountains of Benguet. A special committee composed of Dean Worcester and Luke Wright strongly recommended the development of an American hill station in Baguio. Immediately, plans for a transportation system to the chosen site were laid out.

Construction of a wagon road was started in January 1901, under the supervision of Capt. Charles Mead. A year later, he was replaced by an engineer, N. Holmes, who would give up in frustration in the face of many difficulties in construction work.

As expenditures mounted, the Benguet Road project encountered numerous criticisms. The authorities decided to replace Holmes with Maj. Lyman Kennon.

Kennon proved to be an effective administrator and after 18 months of hard work, he was able to report completion of the road. The Benguet Road—renamed Kennon Road after its builder—was completed at a cost of close to $2 million and claimed the lives of hundreds of men through disease and accidents over a period of four years.

Kennon Road would remain controversial due to the high cost of maintenance, but it would contribute greatly to the development of Baguio City as the summer capital of the Philippines.

* * *

As plebes at the PMA, we passed through Kennon Road each time the Cadet Corps left Baguio for Manila to participate in Independence Day ceremonies. Going down Kennon Road, we were required by our upperclassmen to count the number of utility poles along the way. From Fort Del Pilar to the first town in the lowlands of La Union, I counted 287 poles. Somehow my count was never the same as those of my classmates.

Today Kennon Road continues to provide access to the city, although other approaches—the Marcos Highway, in particular—have offered other alternatives for visitors to the City of Pines.

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