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A native–born scans: The Future of Baguio
by Roberto Lim

After the earthquake of July 16, 1990, Baguio is in ruins. What will rise from the rubble? Will it be better or worse? The only thing certain is that it will not be the same.

Baguio has always been part of the 70 years that I have existed. Mama and Papa courted each other there.

Baguio has changed over all these years and will continue to change because of the people that go there.

In the 1910-20 decade, the American colonizers made it their summer capital. Copying the more experienced British colonizers, they established it as a “hill station.” All the principal government offices moved to Baguio during the hot summer season.

In the 1920-30 decade, the government realized that the summer move was too costly. Fewer of the offices moved in the summer. Only the Supreme Court retained the practice. The gold mines became active. Baguio had a good market, specially for vegetables and handicraft.

In the 1930-40 decade, more Filipinos vacationed in Baguio to enjoy a respite from the lowland heat.

After the war, 1945-50, Baguio changed drastically. It was destroyed and many people were killed by the bombings to recapture the city from the retreating Japanese. The streets were fixed and restored and Baguio slowly built up from the shambles.

Vision, design, and purpose were missing. Everyone was doing by themselves what they thought was good for themselves. Small things that did not seem to change Baguio much.

It was in the 1950-60 decade that the student population grew. Four universities sprouted up. Good ones. Parents started to send their children to Baguio rather than to the overcrowded Manila schools. Half of the population of Baguio consisted of students—mostly bedspacers sharing the inadequate housing situation.

Baguio was a University town, but very few recognized it as such. It was still thought of as a vacation place. It had possibilities as a tourist resort. Plans were made to turn it into one.

Meanwhile, the population pressure increased. Lowland people from the Ilocos and other provinces migrated to Baguio. The city and national government did not know where to stand. How could adequate housing be provided?

Squatters moved into any plot of land that could accommodate a shanty. For the vote of the squatter, the politician/government official allowed the violation of the laws.

In the 1960-70 decade, the trend was fully established. The overflow of students was there to stay. More Filipinos visited Baguio for a day or so, but not for the period of the summer vacations of the past, just sightseers for the day.

The Baguio market was still the main attraction of the city. Now that there was a larger population, the volume of business was greater and it was more important. More goods flowed through. More people came from farther places to participate in the transactions.

The decade from 1970-80 saw the beginning of Martial Law. Jose Aspiras was made the minister for tourism. He moved quickly to start projects that were to attract the tourists to Baguio. One would have expected more peace and order, but the squatters proliferated and it became unsafe to be in the streets at night.
The 1980-90 decade saw only further deterioration of Baguio.

All the past ills and weaknesses of the city even all the more became worse. The student population grew without better housing. More squatters replaced what once covered the hills of Baguio. The shortage of water was the only deterrent to an ever increase of population.

So what future Baguio do we dare dream of? The immediate answer is a tourism resort. This writer is against it. After 40 years of being an important part of tourism development, we have come to the conclusion that tourism as an industry is extractive.

The results are to the benefit of visitors at the expense of the local hosts. Tourists will be welcome, but Baguio must be a city for its own reason. It will be the confluence of many people for economic, political, educational, religious, or communications reasons first. Then it can secondarily be a tourist attraction.
To this writer, Baguio’s existence can be justified as an educational center, or as a trading center.

The leadership must decide which they consider the wiser choice and then, in the democratic process, sell the concept to the people. By doing so, an objective is set and priorities can be drawn up on how the limited resources will be allocated. By deciding it will be a trading center then roads, communications, market places, transportation, warehouses will take priority. Housing for the traders and workers will be planned out.

In like manner, if Baguio will become an educational center, the priorities to achieve that position will be defined and prioritized.

Such decisions are not to the exclusion of the other functions that Baguio may serve. Baguio will always be many things to many people. The favorable weather will always attract people for many reasons.

But we must set up a zoning system to develop the land and locations of Baguio in an orderly manner. The infrastructure must be designed to support the chosen reason for Baguio being an important part of the society we call the Philippines.

Who is going to make such a decision? That will be debated for many days or decades. Will it be the executive or legislative branch of government? Is it a local or a national issue? Granted the people should decide. But who will exercise the leadership to give them some far-sighted options on what will be for the good of Baguio over time?

My own bias is that Baguio’s best prospect is to develop as a market and trading center. Give it the ability to become an efficient trading center and other facilities inherent in a great city will also grow and prosper. A market center for the best of goods, people, ideas and money, what every great city in Europe and Asia started as.

**First published on August 5, 1990

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
:: 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
:: My hometown
Baguio City




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