Thursday, May 07, 2009

Baguio: Is Baguio a hopeless case?

Baguio City is the only hill station in the Philippines. For those not familiar with hill stations, a hill station in Southeast and South Asian countries is a high-altitude town used especially by European colonialists as a place of refuge from the summer heat. 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. And that’s why we have Baguio City which is celebrating its centennial this year.

Many of these Asian hill stations (such as Simla and Darjeeling in India, Cameron Higlands in Malaysia, Bandung and Bogor in Indonesia, Dalat in Vietnam, and May Myo in Myanmar) were able to preserve their character. But Baguio, sad to say, was not as the destruction of what makes it unique continues as we speak, with the uncontrolled development and short-sightedness of many businessmen who continue to erase the character of the city in the name of progress and wealth generation. I'm sure they're bound to realize that despite all their money, they can no longer bring back Baguio’s charm. I hope they realize that sooner than later.

There are still a few enclaves of Baguio’s original character such as Camp John Hay and the Teachers’ Camp area with towering pine trees and Baguio’s green and white architecture. Those are the colors that define Baguio just like white houses are characteristic of some Greek Mediterranean towns, or the bright pastel colors that define several Latin American capitals.

In fact, we’ve long been telling the city that a quick solution to beautify the deteriorating Baguio landscape is by repainting the houses in former mountain vistas using Baguio’s historical colors: white, brown or pink walls with green roofs. Imagine how Quezon or Aurora Hill would look like if all the houses there followed this color pattern? It would be an attraction in itself and worth taking pictures of, the same way we take pictures of mountain villages in Europe. And we are not reinventing anything since those are Baguio’s colors. Shouldn’t it be that when a tourist sees green and white houses and buildings harmoniously mixed with lush pine trees, one should know that he is in Baguio City?

There was actually a petition that went around on Baguio and it says:
“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.”

But one thing about petitions is that while written well, are not addressed or sent to people who can make it happen. Plus the constant follow-ups and lobbying are not done too. So despite the wide and laudable circulation of this petition, I doubt if it has been sent to the right policy and decision makers.

It’s already centennial year and still there’s no one moving. Maybe someone out there is listening; someone who can push the national and city governments to make real efforts to preserve what’s left of Baguio’s charm. That being said, let me say that Baguio is not a hopeless case. Something can still be done. But we all have to realize that it’s the responsibility of all Filipinos to save the character that makes Baguio City uniquely Baguio.


  1. I grew up in Baguio City. I remember how strolling in Session Road was more than enough to make me happy. I remember going to CJH Bell Ampitheatre without having to pay Php50. I also remember how quiet and serene it was in the park where SM Baguio stands now. I never heard about the petition letter you mentioned, probably because I'm already working here in Manila. But I'm more than willing to sign it, I'd call all my highschool friends to sign it. I'm hoping that we can still preserve the beauty of Baguio.

    there. i just wanted to share my thoughts. and thank you for posting this entry about Baguio City. :)

  2. i certainly hope not.
    although at its present state, it looks almost impossible to undo the damage that has been done. gone were the days when i look forward to go to Baguio to relax and smell the fresh, pine scented mountain air.
    today, it's all pollution and over population and the hideous structures that go with those.

  3. I like it here...although the hills is no longer a sight to behold. :( I can only look at the beauty of Baguio through pictures and going to places like Tamawan and such. I do hope it's a hopeless case, but this should be a lesson to others. You can no longer just remove the houses on the hills or undo the damages done. The government is not only the one to blame but the people who put houses to such places. :( Oh well. Philippines.

  4. I grew up in Baguio too. And it is a hopeless case if and only if the reaction of the resident's now is "wala na tayong magagawa". I'm glad that there is a petition. I hope it works. I just wish there are movements. Start with the schools for example. Teach the kids the importance of trees. We used to have tree planting. And teach them to the importance of a clean environment. I noticed when I go back home (even in Manila), the kids just throwing things around, not even an ounce of conscience. The thing is if these are the attitude of the people, they don't have to be surprised if there are floods or if they start to feel the effects of global warming. The/We/Our habits are the cause of these.

    Jogging around Burnham, I noticed so much trash. Enough trash that once the cleaners finish their round, they have to start all over again. Why not each of the schools there have a day off to clean Burnham (specially after the holidays/fiestas). That's a start. That also teaches the kids the importance of cleanliness and the environment.

    The petition is great. But why not add that each of the signatories do their part. Baguio is still a much better place than Manila. But it is far worse from the one I knew as a kid. I miss having to walk from tennis to Camp John Hay without much of the usok and feeling the breeze. I think we can return that. Not immediately, but with determination and DISCIPLINE, we can in maybe a few years.

    Sorry for the long comment. Just frustrated. Your post made me think of what I can do.

  5. Anonymous10.5.09

    Baguio is a shanty town which very sad. Like many places in the country, there is no control.

  6. I love the City of Pines because I grew up going there every Christmas and Holy week. Despite the overpopulation and denudation of the place I can still see the potentials and beauty if only we, the Filipinoes, put discipline into the area. Recently, we had to reinforce our fence due to this so-called overpopulation. I grew up where our house was not so fenced in so that we could admire the beauty of nature around us. we had to reiforce our fence because I caught a squatter stealing plants and moss from our property just to sell in the market. I think politicians in Baguio should look into this if they want to maintain their stature in the place. Despite that, we still continually go to Baguio becase of all the sights ( the most recent is the bencab museum in Asin Rd.) and the memories we have.In celebration of its centennial, I hope city offcials will really think of the future and not leave it up to others to think it for them.

    -Lito, Baguio heritage activist-

  7. Anonymous14.5.09

    I passed through Baguio when I went to Sagada and back last Labor Day weekend. Baguio looked worse since when I came to visit there for the first time last 2004. Everywhere you look are slums and ugly concrete houses- it looked like Manila's slum area has relocated to the mountains. It made me feel disgusted and sad how the people of Baguio let this thing happen. Baguio residents and their leadership has a lot to answer for what they did to this once beautiful place.


  8. Jose Ma. Panfilo de Castillio y Casteneda14.5.09

    Baguio is a good place to score weed.

  9. dionfernandez4.6.09

    I am Dion Fernandez, sole author of the Baguio Heritage Petition. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE sign the Petition and PLEASE pass it around. Print it out, email it to other people, I really don't care how you spread the word around but PLEASE do it. I CANNOT DO THIS ALONE.

    The Petition is at

    Thank you.

  10. "...let me say that Baguio is not a hopeless case. Something can still be done. But we all have to realize that it’s the responsibility of all Filipinos to save the character that makes Baguio City uniquely Baguio."

    In my opinion, Baguio is being destroyed not so much by businessmen as by local government policies and projects that reek with poor taste (crass public restrooms -- outhouses, really -- in tourist attractions or that unnecessary flyover in our welcome rotunda where previously traffic was light), commercialism in its negative sense (did you know that our then mayor gave SM City Baguio 5 years moratorium on local taxes -- in exchange for...), and opportunism (check out all those articles on garbage mismanagement).

    My stand has always been that Baguio belongs not to the Baguio residents but to the Filipino people. Therefore the systematic destruction of the city (oooh, our current mayor declared a paradigm shift away from tourism toward education and commercialism two years ago --- he owns one of the largest schools dispensing diplomas here) is of national concern.

    If we achieve a Special Heritage status for Baguio City, like Ayutthaya in Thailand, for example, old buildings will be preserved, no new (ugly) ones may be erected without conforming to set aesthetic standards, and my old "virtual heaven on earth" can be restored to its former glory.

    Baguio can still be saved. It's natural beauty lies beneath the 8000 jeepneys, tarpaulins and concrete structures and shanties. These are man made and can be regulated or removed. Experience shows us that it is not the current residents who are capable of starting the ball rolling for Baguio's restoration.

    Intervention is necessary.

  11. In the 60's & 70's my uncle was a poet and writer at your local university in whose writings I could smell the pines and imagine its beauty. He would turn over his grave is he knows how Baguio has now gone to the dogs. For some time now I wanted to bring my children there to witness their great uncle's poetic love of the place.I guess there is no sense in visiting because the smell and vista can be seen & smelled in Manila's shantytowns. Baguio's problem is due to poverty and the people who votes for the coward corrupt selfish politicians who think that they will live forever & take their hordes of money and material goods to their next life. Wrong, wrong, wrong, just ask the Pharaohs in museums or Ferdinand in cold storage.

  12. francis dy12.4.10

    Baguio will only be hopeless if its citizens allow it to become so. Let the local officials involved in this degradation know the indignation. Baguio should be preserved for all generations to enjoy. Local officials involved in shady deals transforming this once great city into the mess it is today should never be allowed to hold public office - ever!

  13. I have to agree with those that say Baguio is a "hopeless case", actually, it's a total joke. I don't envy those that grew up here because if it were me, I would be disgusted beyond comprehension. There is no single group to blame either from the corrupt politicians to the big businessmen to the average citizen throwing their trash on the ground and driving their smoke belchers to the parents that don't teach their children the importance of environmental preservation, it's pretty much everyone. I may be an American and perhaps I am spoiled by American cities but I have to say that Baguio City is revolting and it's only getting worse. Imagine a city designed for 30k people that now has 400k and is still growing. The local government should have incorporated a decent land zoning and protection act a long time ago because it's all but impossible to do anything about it now. However, if you think you as one person can't do anything to help, try starting an organic compost bin at you place of residence like I do or even better, start a community one and for god's sake STOP BURNING LEAVES AND TRASH, YOU'RE ONLY ADDING TO THE POLLUTION. Also, record the license plates of smoke belchers and report them immediately (although that may be an act in futility) or perhaps petition the mayor to put cement garbage cans on every city corner. Let's face it, Baguio is already ruined but there are things we can do to improve it, at least a little. It's funny how quickly everyone forgets 1990. Suffice to say, it's inevitable that another earthquake will hit again, only this time a lot more lives will be lost and yet no one thinks about this. I know it sounds bad but another 1990 would be about the only thing that could help "reboot" Baguio. Most importantly, Pinoys need to stop this attitude about only looking out for oneself and start acting as they should, as a contributing member of a community and society. That my friends is the real problem, the attitudes of the people as a whole, there just simply isn't enough of you good people that actually care about making a change.

  14. Anonymous1.10.12

    As much as we would love to bring back the city's splendor,it will take more than a petition to achieved. Like what Nocturnalis said "people's attitude." The general public must do a soul searching before they cast their ballots/vote on the next election. What is your candidate stand for? Is he/she against deforestation? How important the air they breath? And go by there...

    My memories of old Baguio still vivid. I remember Burnharm Park, was a piece of heaven. Open space with beautiful flowers,pine tress and manicured green grass surrounded the park. You can walk from the park to Session Road without run into annoying vendors, vehicles parked every where with emissions dangerous to your health. Now, the piece of heaven I used to know is no more... The last time I visited there was back yr 2006. My experienced was not pleasant. Everywhere is soooooo crowded, you can hardly breath. And SM? Is like Christmas everyday,consumers fighting parking space and a cab. Don't get me wrong, I welcome progress, as much as the next person. The problem is, zoning, is so terrible it taken away what Daniel Burnham intended too. A place for serenity and clean air.


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