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My hometown
Baguio City
by Sinai Hamada

Baguio is a city. She is my hometown. Baguio was chartered a city 65 years ago, the second of the first two in the Philippines. When I first opened my eyes to her, she seemed only a village, a lowly hometown indeed. Now a crowded city, she is essentially still just a town, not a city, to me.

Here I was born. Here I have lived, loved, and labored, and I am laboring to this day. Here I hope to die and be buried. So this is my very hometown, I am deeply attached to and feel very strongly about.

Baguio is an interestingly curious city, with an odd beginning. A mile high, near the clouds, cool, with exhilaratingly fresh air to breathe, you would seek her comfort somehow. And this is exactly what led to her opening up. When America at the turn of the century supplanted the sovereignty of Spain over the archipelago, the early American administrators, soldiers, and teachers had to have a rest station during the hot summer months. So Baguio was found. The Kennon Road was built along canyon cliffs from sea level to the heights. It was a determined plan and Baguio today is the consequence of that determination.
It took several years to build the Kennon Road, finished in 1905, at an enormous expense of lives and money. Thirty kilometers long along the Bued River, the drive over the Kennon Road is picturesque and thrilling. When the road finally reached Baguio, this community began its history as a mountain city.

Baguio is sometimes called the summer capital of the Philippines. For a decade, 1910-1920, this was literally true. A government center was established. The national government would move up here from about April to June. But this practice was found expensive and has long been abandoned. It would be a misnomer then to call Baguio now the summer capital of the Philippines, which she has ceased to be. She is a summer resort.

Under her Charter, from the very beginning, Baguio had a semi-city-manager form of government. With American mayors, and without meddling politics, Baguio was efficiently administered as a municipal corporation. She was then a model community in every way. This kind of administration lasted until 1936.

It is well to keep in mind always the underlying purpose for the founding of this city. This has given character to her growth. Deviation would cause aberration. While in addition to her development as a resort city, Baguio has become also a mining or industrial and commercial and vegetable trading center, the principal and original intention for her townsite establishment remains.

From the start also, Baguio had a townsite plan to follow. This is the so-called Burnham plan which to this day is the only blueprint the city could go by in the absence of any other adopted. Daniel Burnham was a Chicago town planning architect. He also laid out the Burnham Green in Manila, now part of the Rizal Park.

In extension, Baguio is seven kilometers wide and long, or forty-nine square kilometers in area. It is evident that the city is on a plateau, that of Benguet. In its natural state, the Burnham Park was a little mountain prairie. The pine trees all around, evergreen, stand tall and stately. In a grove, you can smell the tang of the pines, and on a hilltop, you can hear the soughing of the leafy trees on a windy day. These are sensations which recur in remembrance.

Population-wise, the people by count are said to number 83,000, more or less. Baguio residents are cosmopolite, Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Indians, and most of the ethnic groups of the country. The Ibaloys, aboriginal settlers of the locality, are a very negligible minority today in the city. In pre-war days, the Chinese and Japanese were the principal department-store owners. The Japanese were all shipped back to Japan at the end of World War II. Now Chinese and Indians run the super-market business. With the friendship treaty between the Philippines and Japan ratified and signed, it would be interesting to watch developments from here on.

Within the boundaries of the city is an American military reservation, presently known as John Hay Air Base, which is the most beautiful section of Baguio. Uncle Sam could and can afford to maintain the camp as it is, tended like a well-appointed country estate. When turned over to the Philippines, JHAB should as much as possible be kept or preserved as it is, like some kind of national park, a model rest and recreation center, which she is for all members of the American armed forces in the West Pacific.

There are four roads of entry and exit of the city namely: the Kennon Road from the South, the Naguilian Road from the Ilocos, the Halsema Mountain Road from the northern mountain provinces, and the Baguio-Kayapa-Aritao road across the Ambuklao Dam from the Cagayan Valley. All are beautiful and scenic highways which if further improved and maintained as first-class thoroughfares would tremendously increase tourist and commercial traffic. Soon to be added fifth is the projected Marcos Highway from Pugo and Tubao, La Union up to Baguio through the municipality of Tuba, Benguet. This may yet prove to be the most serviceable and reliable access to Baguio by motor vehicle from the outside world.

At Loakan valley is the city airport which can land four-engined, forty-passenger planes, and which field is fog-free when the weather is not inclement. There is a daily passenger flight between Manila and Baguio subject to cancellation. Also connected by bus service to Bauang and Damortis are first class and tourist accommodations by railroad train to Manila. So, to Baguio you can train up, motor-up, or fly up.

For all her natural and environmental advantages, Baguio is fast growing and is bound to be the cultural and educational center of northern Luzon. She is more than just a university town. There are six institutions of higher learning in the city, four private and two public, namely, the Saint Louis and Baguio universities, the Baguio Colleges Foundation, and the Lyceum of Baguio, and the University of the Philippines Baguio and the Philippine Military Academy. Two of the private colleges have acquired university status, and two more are on the way to equal elevation. The PMA at Fort del Pilar, Loakan, the West Point of the Philippines, is getting to be more and more renowned as the training institution for future officers of the armed forces of the Philippines. The physical developments of the PMA at Fort del Pilar are making it a lovely campus.

Baguio, unfortunately, has not developed her public services at par with her reputation as a first-class community. What she needs may be a capable city manager with engineering acumen. Post-war mayors have all been politicians. The water, sewer, garbage, telephone, and electric systems leave much to be desired. Yet, obstacles to their excellent improvement are not insurmountable and could easily be remedied. What is needed is truly dedicated, unselfish attention to the operation, maintenance, and improvement of these facilities.

Squatters abetted by politicians have had their heyday in this city. They are chiefly responsible for the ugly appearance of present-day Baguio. Their excesses have not only depreciated but seriously disturbed orderly community growth. Only martial law has halted further depredations by the lawless, unprotected by their political patrons.

There is still time to bring back the city to the prettiness, orderliness, cleanliness, and stability which characterized her pre-war charm. There is still time for the city to follow planned development which will enhance her social, economic, and administrative advantages. Leadership has only to have vision, courage, and resolution. Blight will fall upon the community should dishonest and selfish motives have the upper-hand.

Baguio is so far advanced in urban development as a mountain city, she will remain unrivalled for a long, long time yet to come. But she can be toppled from her position when she is not looking. There are certain immoral steps taken which have to be corrected. You cannot mix cupidity with uprightness.

In tourism, Baguio is the gateway to the wonderland of the Cordilleras. The famed Banaue rice terraces and the colorful mountain tribes are the Philippines’ premier tourist attractions. In the multi-million-peso vegetable trade, she is the collecting and distributing center. In mining, she is the commercial exchange for the industry.

As an educational center, she has unequalled natural advantages and bold intellectual entrepreneurs. Uncontestedly, she occupies a top position as a health and vacation resort. And she would have preference as a sports and recreational arena, the playground of the country. In small-scale industries, she can prosper with proper management and marketing.

Peace and order, presently prevailing in the locality under martial law, is the proper climate in which the city may flourish. So it is all up to us now.

It is a privilege to live in Baguio. Affluent Manila businessmen and commercial firms have summer residences in this city. The Mansion House for the President of the Republic of the Philippines, the American embassy’s compound within the JHAB reservation, cottages for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals justices, a residential row for department secretaries on Cabinet Hill, the fabulous Pines Hotel and Baguio Country Club facilities, are all testimonials to the attraction of living in this community. Housing development in all sections of the city is never at an end.

Local administration is presently under a mayor, who is the city chief executive, a vice-mayor who presides over the legislative city council and six councilors who are members of the city council, all of whom are elective. The city is divided into barangays, more or less autonomous units, which are effective sounding boards and sensitive indicators of the public pulse beat.

One remembers one’s childhood when there were but 10 stores along Session Road and the Burnham Park was a slimy lagoon. At night the sky would be full of stars. Or in the moonlight, the moon would shine its kindly beams on the hills. Days could be gloomy with heavy rain ceaselessly falling. Or brightly lit with sunshine streaming through pine boughs. Heaven then seemed nearer.

Once there was an American mayor, the last one, Eusebius Julius Halsema, who administered this city for 17 years until 1936. He did it so well that it is to sigh for such as him again. He lies with the ashes of his wife in a crowded lot at the local cemetery. He was killed at the Notre Dame hospital during the carpet bombing toward the close of World War II.

Perhaps it is not impossible, nor too much to hope, that Baguio may have the fortune again of an able administrator like Halsema, the problems of city services and finances all solved.

Still, sun and moon and stars light the benign skies of this city. You long for heavenly light it seems has been absent for a while in the firmament. Surely, you cannot despair for so fair a community.

** First published on March 24, 1974

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:: Baguio Midland Courier Builder
:: The 4 Fs across
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:: 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
:: A futuristic master plan for Baguio
:: Should BMC start tweeting?
:: Behind the scenes: searching the Midland Archives
:: 62 years of important events in the city




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