Baguio Voices (That) Matter: Baguio City on its 108th year


“Summer Capital of the Philippines,” “Panagbenga,” “Character City…” famous words attached to the city of Baguio. Tourists both foreign and local, put Baguio in their bucket list of scenic spots they want to visit.

Many Filipinos can be heard saying “Ay, gustung-gusto kong makapunta sa Baguio” and those who have done so, say “Sa wakas, nakapunta na ako dito sa Baguio.” For them, Baguio is always a place to go when opportunity comes, as if it were a dream to set foot on this famous tourist destination known for its cool climate and renowned beautiful sceneries.

Meanwhile, longtime residents, migrants and advocates for a better city say that Baguio is no longer the same. This City also known as “The City of prayers” or “Cleanest and Greenest City” has lost its beauty at the rate the City Government, with their chosen capitalists/investors are pushing plans to attract prospective investors and magnetize in more profits.

Baguio has a total land area of 57.49 square kilometers. It is located at 5,000 ft above sea level with a year round average temperature of 24.5 degrees centigrade.

The city has a population of around 350,000 (as of 2016 Census) which increases during weekends and holidays. Tourist peak seasons like “Panagbenga,” Holy Week and Christmas breaks, witness the population increasing to a million or even more.

Last September 1, 2017, Baguio celebrated its 108th anniversary as a chartered city. Back in 1909, Baguio was the dream city of the American colonial government, ideal for rest and recreation, and recuperation area for American soldiers deployed in South East Asia and where the officials of the colonial government escaped from the heat of Manila during the summer months.

While the City Government lines up pompous activities every September 1 and gives recognition and awards to people who they claim are contributors to the growth of Baguio (no offense to them), never did the local government seriously acknowledge and recognize the original, indigenous inhabitant Ibalois’ right to ancestral land despite the landmark decision on native title in favor of their land rights in 1909.

It should be remembered that in a landmark case fought by a recognized leader of Kafagway, as Baguio was known then prior to American colonial rule, Mateo Cariño brought his case to the United States Supreme Court, and won. The case created the famous “Native Title.” The US Supreme Court decision pointed out that the land owned by the natives prior to colonization were not public land but private as they were held as such since time immemorial.

The American colonial government then made Baguio, through legislation, a chartered city on September 1, 1909. The city was planned by the American architect Daniel Burnham for a population of 25,000.

Today, Baguio City is at the brink of urban decay as we fail to acknowledge that this City the American colonizers designed more than a century ago is facing problems that affect the future of its populace. While some officials and business people see Baguio as a place of opportunity to rake in economic gains, Baguio advocates struggle to let them understand, if not realize, that the City is saddled by congestion caused by overpopulation.

Continuing migration contributes the most while its carrying capacity is at stake; traffic problems are due to the unregulated number of vehicles coming in and out of the Central Business District (CBD), aside from some affluent residents who seemingly have a passion for buying new cars or SUVs even without their own parking place or garage; systematic garbage disposal is still not realized; dwindling if not disappearing natural resources such as watersheds and water sources are haunting the residents with water shortage.

The facilities and infrastructures which some city officials claim are helpful to the people of Baguio are introduced and implemented without prior, thoroughgoing, honest-to-goodness public consultation, and most often than not, tainted with corruption. The real sentiments of the city’s constituents do not seem to matter.

Admiring Baguio simply because of its beauty and climate is good but not enough to show one’s love for the city. Understanding the plight of Baguio residents, critically analyzing a rational urban plan should be done, and collective responsibility should be encouraged for the benefit of the city and its people.

Tongtongan ti Umili-Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) aims to contribute to the study of the concrete situation of Baguio and offers options and alternatives to mitigate the effects of urban blight. It is therefore the objective of this column to provide a perspective of the various sectors that have come to claim Baguio as their own. #


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