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A futuristic master plan for Baguio
by Charles Cheng

The Baguio Midland Courier, through its journalistic journey as a community newspaper, has made very significant contributions. The multiple national and international recognitions and accolades it has received speak for themselves. For 62 turbulent and difficult years, it was steadfast in expounding on the wonderland of the Cordilleras and the riches of the Ilocandia. It also covered many significant issues and events. It still continues the vision set by its founding father and carried over by its descendants and supporters. As Baguio enters another era as a Chartered City, it will continue its mission to be fair, fearless, friendly, and free.

Manang Cecile, the icon of this paper, in one rare occasion, whispered to me the need to write Baguio’s chronological history and to gather a team of dedicated writers to undertake the task so that the next generation will know. To begin with, the Baguio Midland Courier has stored voluminous significant events written by various authors in the different stages of our history. There are many other books, periodicals, memoirs which are equally rich sources of material.

Baguio, 100 years ago, was inhabited by the mountain ethnolinguistic groups called the ‘Ibalois’ and the ‘Kankana-eys’, with their own unique customs, beliefs, and traditions. Root crops like sweet potato or camote and taro or gabi were their main or staple food. Aside from its vast pasture land, it was rich in natural resources, fauna, and flora.

While the Spanish conquistadores established commandancias in La Trinidad, Benguet and other areas in the region, the Americans had a keen eye for Baguio’s revitalizing climate.

After the defeat of the Spanish Navy in the Battle of Manila Bay and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the Americans replaced the Spaniards as colonizers. It took them quite a while to discover much of the natural beauty and treasures of the Cordilleras.

The visit to Baguio by General Luke Wright and Dean Worcester found it to be a unique place to set up a health resort for the healthy and the sick to recuperate and a very ideal mountain resort to escape the summer heat from the lowlands. The place was also ideal to set up a military base. It was strategically located to stage military operations into the vast hinterlands, and finally they could explore the wealth of her mineral resources. They also found scattered native huts of about 21 families with a German scholar, Otto Scheerer, living among them.

The first civil government was established in 1900 under the governship of H.Phelps Whitmarsh. The township was adapted in November 1900 by virtue of Act No. 48 and Act No. 1397 of the Philippine Commission. Among the achievements of Whitmarsh were the transfer of the capital from La Trinidad to Baguio, the suppression of headhunting activities, and the establishment of peace and order.

The Americans found Baguio a perfect place for rest and recreation, for the climate was similar to their own home country, hence, the need to construct a road to the mountains of Benguet. The construction was started in 1902 with Major Lyman W. V. Kennon in charge of construction. In 1904, US President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Cameron Forbes to develop Baguio. Architect Daniel Burnham was then tasked to make a plan for an expected population of 25,000 to 30,000 people. Never did he realize that the population would significantly increase at the turn of the century. His lack of foresight has in a way led to the sad state of Baguio today, with the proliferation of illegal settlers. The famous Session Road was built by William Haube in 1906. It was so named because the Philippine Commission held its session on top of Session Road.

Gov. George A. Malcolm promulgated Act No. 1963 and thus, on Sept. 1, 1909, Baguio became a city with full administrative power and charter. The construction of the scenic Zigzag Road or Kennon Road, at huge financial and human cost, led to the entry of multi-national financial capital, entrepreneurship skills which fueled the economy. The whole of Session Road was a mini-Chinatown of restaurants, bakeries, barber, laundry, and photo shops.

The Dominican and Belgian missionaries as well as the Chinese and Japanese, set up educational and religious institutions. Finding the suburbs of Baguio rich in fertile soil with plenty of water, the Japanese and Chinese ventured into agriculture. They leveled the mountain sides with the help of the locals and planted it with all types of vegetables.

The city of the north, which is 5,000 feet above sea level, was a magnet for people from all walks of life. Thus, there evolved a new mixed culture in the ideal Shangri-la for many years, until the war clouds hovered over Philippine soil. The Second World War actually started in the Philippines on Dec. 7, 1941 when Camp John Hay was bombed. On Dec. 8, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was bombed and attacked by the Japanese.

A few weeks after the bombing of Camp John Hay, the Japanese military columns arrived in Baguio through Naguilian Road on Dec. 27, 1941. No strong armed resistance was put up and the Japanese occupied Baguio without firing a single shot, and no damage was done to the city. Baguio was then an open city.
The Japanese quickly set up their headquarters, searched all homes for arms, and rounded up all foreigners and placed them in concentration camps. The Chinese, Americans, and Filipinos were subjected to various types of atrocities and tortures. Many Filipinos, including the Chinese, joined the underground movement and fought the guerilla war with the assistance of the Americans. After four years of Japanese occupation, the Americans came fighting back to reclaim their prized possession. They subjected Baguio to a devastating carpet bombing that leveled it into ruins, killing scores of civilians, maiming thousands without any Japanese casualties, because they had already evacuated to Ifugao. The war was concluded in Baguio with the signing of the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces.

The task of rebuilding Baguio, piece by piece, brick by brick, was attributed to the sturdy men and women of Baguio. From the ruins, a new city emerged. Baguio since then has withstood many natural disasters from landslides, fire, earthquakes, and even the emergence of new diseases.

Baguio’s colorful history has yet to be rewritten. While we mark the centennial celebration of Baguio as a Chartered City and look at its progress and development through the years, what then is Baguio, 100 years hence? There is therefore a desire to look into the future of Baguio which the next generation will inherit. It is time to design an overall master development plan for Baguio. Baguio will need the help of local, national, and international architects, planners, and visionaries to put down their rich ideas for Baguio of the future.

Baguio has a limited land area and growing population. Architect Burnham planned a city for 25,000 people only. After a hundred years, there is a need to see a future city for a million people or so. A city with a vision and a futuristic design. A model city that is environment-friendly, an investment haven, a tourist destination, a convention city, educational and religious center, and many more. Plan and plan we must. We hope to see futuristic tall buildings that would withstand an earthquake of 8 or more magnitude on the Richter scale; modern sewerage and garbage disposal system, clean potable drinking water system, clean energy system; a modern subway system to decongest traffic, cable cars around and above the city, mini-train around mountain sides and tunnels; ultra
modern structures for year-round conventions; international schools to enrich arts and culture, languages, science and technology.

Baguio must dream to be the safest, cleanest, honest, greenest, and friendliest city in the country. While all of these are a fantasy, a dream, they can be realized as we have become the catalysts for change.

Today, we all share our past and present. Let us be the generation to sacrifice and set our vision to the future. The urban decay, the ugliness, the many lost desires of yesteryears are gone forever. The beautiful mountains, rivers, the flora and fauna can be revitalized if only we set a common aspiration as we will share one destiny.

Baguio has established sister-city relationships all over the world. Take Hangzhou of Zhejiang Province of China, with whom our sister relationship was formalized on Aug. 13, 1982. At that time, she was undeveloped but 10 years later, she had become China’s most prosperous and progressive city, attracting 10 million visitors yearly. On my last visit to Hangzhou, as part of the delegation of our city mayor, a floor plan of a futuristic city beyond compare was presented. Her objective is to become the financial haven of China. Hangzhou has more than 11,000 city planners and during the visit, they offered their expertise to help plan for Baguio.

Today, we have many builders of Baguio. Builders who have significantly contributed to Baguio’s growth and development, and builders who squat and indiscriminately build everywhere and wherever there are open spaces, and even on lands titled to other people, even near watersheds, and in forest reservations. Baguio is a growing city, the environment is the magnet for more people yet to come. Planning is the first step to attract multi-million infrastructure investors coupled with sincere political will. A well-planned futuristic city will inevitably invite many investors. The future will look brighter when the illegal settlers or squatters are included and given decent, affordable, well-planned high rise residential homes. They are, after all, the human resources the future leaders can tap.

We would like to leave a legacy to the next generation with many accolades or titles for Baguio, such as “National Clean City”, “Top Tourist Center”, “Small City with Easy Traffic”, “National Garden City”, “Cable Car City of the North”, “Investment Center”, and many more. We can achieve all these, we must plan and walk the talk. This is a challenge for our leaders now and tomorrow. For the people of Baguio to lend a hand or two and participate actively to realize this dream.

Supplement Articles
:: Which Baguio Centennial?
:: Baguio Midland Courier Builder
:: The 4 Fs across
the times
:: Kennon’s own report on the famous zig–zag
:: What if Baguio settled for a railroad
:: A look into Baguio’s transport system
:: Baguio: A Citadel of Learning
:: Growing up in early Baguio
:: Early recollections
:: Baguio’ cool climate keeps tourism, economy vibrant
:: Development of Burnham Park is city’ concern
:: Remembering the lessons of the past for the future: The Baguio City Market
:: Look, young man, on this tree city, now
:: The Anatomy of Squatting in Summer Capital
:: Baguio’s Many People
:: Bring Baguio Home
:: The Cordillera Warriors
:: A native–born scans: The Future of Baguio
:: Cement Pours into Baguio
:: Should BMC start tweeting?
:: Behind the scenes: searching the Midland Archives
:: 62 years of important events in the city
:: My hometown
Baguio City




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