By RUDY D. LIPORADA
In spite of Baguio City now tagged to be in ‘urban decay,’ former residents of the City celebrated her 110th Charter Day at Oceanside, California last Sept. 1, 2019. Hosted by David and Angie Macayan-Iheinfeld, more than a hundred Baguioites reminisced on the Baguio they used to know, love, and could only, wistfully, wish for her to revert to her glorious past.
Chartered to be a city in 1909, the Americans officially designated Baguio as the summer capital of the Philippines to serve as the R&R of their troops to escape the enervating heat from the lowlands especially during the scorching humid summer. Nestled among undulating hills at over 4,000 feet above sea level, she was called with the monikers Simla of the Philippines, Cloud Kist City, Pine Scent City, and others to connote a restive mood, tranquility, and just plain fresh air for one to rejuvenate.
Designed by Daniel Burnham for 25,000 residents, Baguio has burst its mountains to contain a current population of 400,000. This has caused mountains to lose thousands of trees supplanted with houses, paved roads, and sky-reaching structures that make her skylines come to naught. Congestion would be an understatement as traffic crawl almost always to a halt and pedestrians bumped shoulder to shoulder as they huff to wherever they are going. Apart from missing the pine scent which used to be ushered upon ascending the City from the foot of Kennon Road, the residents have to bear the toxic smog borne from diesel spewing vehicles and often uncollected garbage. And can one imagine flooding at the center of the city during storms?
Thus, the Baguioite celebrants at Oceanside could only dwell in their happy memories of their beloved City. Their collective stories preserve in their minds those times when the strong scent of pine trees livens one to know that you are about to reach the summit as you start to ascend Kennon road, where sparse of people Session Road was not only a thoroughfare but a pleasure in itself to drive through or just to amble about; where caterpillars abound feasting on flower stems; where one could race with bees to suck at nectars from Gumamela flowers; where one traces spider webs to their dried leaf hibernations and transfers them to matchbox dormitories, awaken only when they are transformed into gladiators across reed arenas; where one could scoop tadpoles in nearby streams; where one could compete using marbles, flash cards, rubber bands, spinning tops, or simple soft drink bottle caps before and after school; where there are grassy hills where one can slide with simple cardboards lined with candle sticks; where blades of grass teem with grasshoppers we could catch, skewer with reeds, sung with fire, and eaten – crunchy and proteinous; where a kumare knows the kumare of another kumare; where one can sit on the sidewalks of Session Road even at wee hours munching on pan-de-sal lined with butter from Baguio Superett; where one could meet at Dainty, Star Café, or other iconic places; and many more memories that just now exist in the minds of so called Baguio Old Timers.
Most of these memories were depicted in one of the activities of the Baguioites. The organizers had made participants sketch on paper what they remember most about Baguio. There were drawings of the Burnham Park as they remembered it as truly a family’s haven, of the truly religious Cathedral, not cluttered Mines View Park, and the like.
While the urban sprawl, however, could no longer revert to the old Baguio, it could be abated. The BLIST (Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan and Tuba) designed after the 1990 earthquake has only to be implemented. It is supposed to decongest Baguio by decentralizing resources of the adjoining communities. It was a concept for a general urban guided plan to ease development among the areas. However, with the lack of political will and empire-building among government functionaries, the plan never took off.
Abatement, nonetheless, appears again with a flicker of light with newly elected Congressman Marquez Go on the helm. He said that “ “We are beyond the original design of Burnham … We generate more waste, spend more water, more electricity and use more fossil fuel.” Something must be done. He said, “the city government would organize several technical working groups to address not only Baguio’s reduced tree population of 2.5 million but also human activities that affected the environment, such as the growing waste generated by its 350,000 residents.”
Go’s vision is shored up by Senator Panfilo Lacson who was the guest speaker during the Charter Day Commemoration program. He said, “You need to nurture your home.” He noted that Baguio was also his home for four years when he was a cadet with the Philippine Military Academy. He laments that “the Baguio mountains are balding, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources cites the construction boom and urban sprawl as reasons for the decline of the city’s pine trees.”
Lacson further said that should legislation be passed for the reshaping Baguio’s direction, ”the city government may access up to P300 million to fix its urban decay issues on top of the P150 million to which Baguio was entitled as its share from internal revenue allotments (IRA).” Lacson anchored his statement on a measure called the Budget Reform Advocacy for Village Empowerment (BRAVE) that should be passed by Congress. Go is expected to file the supplemental corollary bill within the week.
Meanwhile, newly elected Mayor Benjamin Magalong is initiating changes in the City. In his proclamation interview, he said, “it is time to deliver results…for the breath of fresh air… The people have a high expectation, so we really have to start hitting the ground…We are so lucky that the clamor of Baguio is changed. At the end of the day, we just simply have to deliver results. Rest assured that I won’t fail you.”
The Baguioite celebrants in Oceanside are part of those who clamor for change and are really expecting delivery of results. After all, come what may, they still consider Baguio as their home and they love the City for better or for worse but for better is best.
Organizers for the mini-reunion dubbed Baguio Peeps Manen include Susan Flore-Fine, Jocelyn Ribaya, Arnella Valencerina Giron, Lilian Ares, Macrina Perez, Jeannette Damasig-Thommes, Mike Pearson, and, for a golf tourney: Leonardo Espinosa, Delfin Lapid, and Fernando Biscocho. # nordis.net