Saturday, May 14, 2005

Baguio: Restoring Baguio's old charm

Just got back from Baguio where the Heritage Conservation Society attended the turnover of the restored Baguio Central School Building. In our group was HCS President Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Arch. Jojo Mata, Arch. Melvin Patawaran and Carmen Prieto of the Dagupan City Heritage Commission.

Baguio City is the only hill station in the Philippines. According to Wikepedia, "a hill station in Southeast Asian and South Asian countries, particularly India and Pakistan, is a high-altitude town used, especially by European colonialists, as a place of refuge from the summer heat. Several hill stations served as summer capitals of Indian provinces, princely states, or, in the case of Simla, of British India itself."

Famous hill stations include Simla and Darjeeling in India, and Cameron Higlands in Malaysia, Bandung and Bogor in Indonesia, Dalat in Vietnam, and May Myo in Myanmar. It looks like the Spanish were not into hill stations since it was the Americans who established the first and only hill station in the country, which became the summer capital, the City of Baguio.

Anyway, we left Manila at about 12 midnight on Friday the 13th of May in order to get to Baguio in time for the lunch inauguration, with a few hours of rest in between. In Baguio, we stayed at the Prieto Compound thanks to our host, Carmen Prieto. We slept for a few hours after arriving and left for Baguio Central School at about 11 a.m.

Officiating the turnover ceremonies was DepEd Secretary Butch Abad and Undersecretary for Finance Mike Luz, and local DepEd officials. Also in attendance were the mayor, vice-mayor and City Council of Baguio, teachers, as well as the alumni of Baguio Central School. Spirits were high and you can see from the teachers and alumni that they were indeed proud of the restored building. I'm excited since Pampanga High School is the next on the list of the buildings that DepEd will restore.

After the ceremonies, we went back to sleep. I guess all of us were just tired. But I woke up a little earlier than everyone since I went around with a SSEAYP friend who was a former City Councilor of Baguio when he was SK President. Aside from catching up, we discussed the possibility of creating a heritage ordinance for Baguio so that we could protect the remaining patches of heritage areas scattered around the city. One of the features of the ordinance would be the requirement of the green and white color that is distinctively Baguio. Looking at Baguio from Kennon Road for example is an eyesore! Imagine if all these houses where white (or at times brown) with green roofs! That would be indeed charming! Like the white and blue houses in the Mediterranean, these unsightly mountain homes would now blend with the environment they altered.

Just to give everyone an idea of the importance of Baguio to our national heritage, here's the petition which went around...

We believe that the City of Baguio is culturally, environmentally and aesthetically unique and different from other cities in the Philippines. We believe that Baguio is the nerve center of four rich and diverse cultures: the Filipino culture in general, the highland Cordilleran culture, the lowland Ilocano culture, and the heritage culture brought about by the Americans during the early 20th Century. We believe that in the past two decades, the City of Baguio has experienced a substantial degradation of its unique culture, environment and art. We believe that the approval of certain politicians with no respect for the aesthetics and the environment of Baguio to put up concrete structures such as malls, overpasses and flyovers only worsens Baguio City's lamentable decay as a "City of Pines." We believe that this overdevelopment and resulting pollution have to stop. We believe that due to its unique history and blend of cultures, Baguio can be to the Philippines as Barcelona is to Spain, Chiang Mai is to Thailand, and San Francisco is to the United States: a main center of arts, culture, philosophy, education, tourism, sustainable development and environmental awareness. We believe, therefore, that the City of Baguio deserves to be declared a "Special Heritage Zone," so that the degradation brought about by overdevelopment can be minimized and gradually controlled. We believe that Baguio City's heritage as a center of culture and environmental awareness is a valuable asset not just to the Philippines, but also to the world. We now respectfully call on the residents of Baguio and the Filipino people to sign this humble petition, and for the local and national governments concerned to implement and declare Special Heritage status on this unique mountain City as soon as possible, preferably before the Baguio Centennial in 2009, so no further destruction on its limited cultural, environmental and aesthetic resources may continue.

If you want to sign it as well, you can visit the Baguio Heritage Petition. One thing the petition forgot to mention was the fact that Baguio was cosntructed by Japanese workers at the turn of the past century. That's why many of Baguio's original residents have Japanese blood!

The next day, we went down to San Fabian, Pangasinan to meet Mayor Libunao who had invited the HCS to take a look at the old municipal hall and suggest plans for its restoration and adaptive reuse. I hope mayors thought this way before they considered demolishing an old building. It reminds me of Lito Atienza's penchant for destroying heritage structures. Does the Sky Lounge ring a bell?

We arrived in Manila at 10:00 p.m. giving me just 5 hours to rest before my next trip. Good thing I wasn't driving so I was able to sleep on the way back.
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