May 28, 2024

In 2012, I was a fledgling newspaper reporter for the weekly, Baguio Chronicle and was waiting to be sworn in as member of one of the oldest and still active media clubs in the country, the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC).

I was going to take oath with my colleague, Jessa Mardy Polonio-Samidan, now a hardworking writer for the Public Information Office of the city government.

The oath taking took place during the BCBC media camp at Burnham Park for the annual Lucky Summer Visitor (LSV) program. As we waited in front, lined up to say our oaths, a woman leathered by years of experience was slowly ushered in front to administer the oath taking.

She was 95-year-old Cecile Afable, the longest serving editor-in-chief of the Baguio Midland Courier.

Three years after she passed, I joined the Midland Courier in 2015 under the watch of physician-turned-publisher-cum general manager, Charles M. Hamada.

This is my reflection of how I see and revere this community newspaper. 

The Midland Courier is an amplifier of community issues and events through its 77 years of existence.

An amplifier is a device that helps increase the volume of sound so it could reach a wider hearership.

In the context of a newspaper, it amplifies issues to reach a much wider readership – whether for information or to stir up public discourse leading to a more critical-thinking public.

BEING PART OF THE WAVE — Joining the ranks of talented and well-respected journalist at the Baguio Midland Courier since 2015, the author has embarked on various coverages in the Cordillera to bring to the forefront community issues for public awareness and discourse. — Neil Clark Ongcangco

Former city councilor Edilberto Tenefrancia in his reflection about Midland Courier, which was published in the paper’s 70th anniversary said: “A community paper reflects local current events and holds a wealth of material for later historians to research on.”

And what a wealth of history the Midland Courier has.

Midland Courier headlines

Midland Courier is the repository of the significant memories of Baguio City and its environs as aptly captured in its banner: “Fair. Fairless. Friendly. Free. Exponent of the wonderland of the Cordilleras and the riches of Ilocandia.” 

Browsing through the headlines through the years, it brought some nostalgia seeing how history unfolded.

Take for example the headline in its 1947 maiden issue: “Expect to open Benguet road in next six months” where the principal road of entry to the city then known as the Benguet Road, and later renamed Kennon Road, was eyed to reopen through the order of President Manuel Roxas with funding from the national funds and “surplus materials from the U.S. Army”.

Another headline in post-war 1947, when the Philippine Military Academy was just reopened on May 5 that year at Camp Henry T. Allen goes: “Academy cadets camp in Polo Field” at Navy Base.

“Camp tents are being pitched at Polo Field to accommodate this year’s quota of PMA cadets. On June 1, before the wet days set in, the cadets may pull up stakes and move into their home on the hill – Camp Henry T. Allen. Many top army authorities envision a home for the cadets at Loakan,” the article added.

Years later, the PMA transferred to its present location in Loakan to accommodate the growing number of cadets.

In 1976 the headline reads: “Governor Lumauig airs justification for creation of Mountain Province region” where Gov. Gualberto Lumauig of Ifugao justified the proposal to create a separate region from the Mountain Provinces, including Baguio City.

“The Ifugao executive explained the development thrusts in the Mountain Provinces are different from those of the lowland regions under which the Cordillera provinces fall under the present set-up. Lumauig said the natural beauty of the Mountain Provinces is far more attractive than that of Switzerland, and all that we need in the region are roads to bring the tourists to the tourist spots.”

Another take on the headlines is that these issues prevalent in the past are the same issues we are still facing at present.  

In 1960, the Midland Courier headline reads: “Talks on stopping of free city services set,” where Mayor Luis Lardizabal led the executives to suspend the proportionate free water services granted to officials, employees, and laborers rendering direct services to the city, including schools in the city.  

Then in 1966, the headline reads: “Officials meet on smuggling and squatting”, as Benguet officials led by Vice Governor Dennis Molintas discussed the “vital subjects of unlawful occupation of public lands, forests and reservations and illegal logging.”

Molintas had also informed that even President Ferdinand Marcos was irked by forest fires he saw along Kennon Road during his Holy Week stint in Baguio City.

It goes to show forest fires then were as common as now. 

Also, the never-ending market development plan is a public issue since the post-war period when the Midland Courier’s headline in 1947 reads: “Council’s choice of market site to go through” where the site selected by the city council “will most likely be in the vicinity of the Slaughterhouse, north of the present market site.”

In 1991, the headline “33 ancestral land certificates issued”, where then Environment Secretary Fulgencio Factoran, Jr. “lashed out at his detractors specially politicians for misinterpreting the land ownership concept espoused by his office in support of the cultural minorities land claims. Certificates of ancestral land are being issued in recognition of the occupation by tribes and individuals of their lands since time immemorial.”

How about the famous golden buddha in 1971, where the headline reads: “Buddha not gold? Court awaits Roxas”.

The lead of the story goes: “All that glitters is not gold, a Shakespearian phrase from the ‘Merchant of Venice’, may yet aptly describe the Buddha confiscated from the residence of Rogelio Roxas by still unidentified government agents last April 5. Several local residents engaged in the gold trade came out openly to state that the statue submitted by Lt. Victorino S. Calano to the court is not gold.”

History would later reveal that Roxas fought hard to get his treasure back, suing President Marcos after they were deposed in 1986. He would win his claim posthumously in 1996 (he died in 1993) for a record of $22 billion, but the money was never collected.

On the subject of mining back in 1947, the headline reads: “Interest in mines awakening, prospectors busy” where “many locators have already filed their declaration of location of claims with the Mining Recorder.

Representatives of the Philippine American Corporation, a giant mining venture, are already here scouting the mountains for prospective gold veins.”

Midland and its team of journalists

I take pride in being a reporter for nine years now, in this newspaper. I joined the long line of extraordinary men and women – some who have gone ahead of us – in these fruitful years who have become part of the newspaper’s legacy. 

Founded by a well-respected lawyer and gifted writer, Sinai Hamada and his brother Oseo, I could only imagine what it would feel like being mentored as a young journalist (with a bonus for being exposed in literature) under his wings during his time as editor in chief.

Meanwhile, Dr. Charles Hamada made the sacrifice to take care of the corporation and the Midland Courier as a general manager and a publisher.

He was a quiet man, who shied away from the spotlight, but when he spoke, it is with wisdom and authority.

Back to Sinai, his “Tanabata’s Wife”, regarded as one of the finest Filipino love stories ever told (a semi-autobiography of their mother Josefa who married Reukitse Hamada).

JUXTAPOSITION — Baguio Midland Courier’s longest serving editor-in-chief Cecile Afable at 93 years old is seen here leading the oath taking ceremony of the newly-inducted members of the oldest and active media organization north of Manila, the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC) in 2012, a month prior to her demise. Newsman Art Tibaldo took this photo of Afable with then fledgling reporter Ofelia Empian. — Art Tibaldo

He also published a collection of short stories, which is a rarity these days. His works captured life in the mountains of the Cordillera, which is as relevant as the world we are living in in this mountainous region.

Thus, Sinai should be included in more discussions about Baguio City’s contribution to literature in the country, as a prominent Filipino writer in the post-war period. He paved a way for the city’s artists to thrive and for the city to be recognized as a place where creativity thrives.

Speaking of creativity, this writer wrote an article in 2015 titled: “Baguio artists and the community: An enduring relationship” to share how the artists community have contributed to the enrichment of the city, as well as lending a helping hand during disasters.

Following the 1990 killer earthquake, artists through the Baguio Arts Guild (BAG), which was the predecessor for the arts scene in the city, opened a soup kitchen to feed families devastated by the earthquake.

BAG gave birth to many other arts groups: Tam-awan Arts Group and Pasakalye, among others.

In the music scene, there were local folk singers with the likes of journalist-folk singer March Fianza, Conrad Marzan, and the late Tito Mina. Even Noel Cabangon had his start in the city.

Years ago, celebrities came up to Baguio to chill, as they can freely roam around without being mobbed by a legion of fans. But with Baguio being a multi-cultural hodgepodge now, eager fans could spot celebrities in Session Road and ask for a selfie (still tamer though compared to other celebrity-crazed places). 

Baguio journalist Frank Cimatu was kind enough to send me the draft of the “Tiw-tiwong” book at the time, eight years prior to its publication in 2023, as basis for my writeup of the Baguio arts scene and its contributions to where the city is now as a Unesco Creative City for Crafts and Folk Arts.

As for Afable, she is an institution in the City of Pines together with former acting mayor Virginia de Guia and educator Leonora San Agustin. Together they were called the “Three witches of Baguio” who fought for the preservation of remaining trees, forest covers, and other historical landmarks in the city.

Midland Courier was also a witness to the community’s strong opposition against gambling “in all forms” in the city led by the late Bishop Carlito Cenzon, who rallied to prevent the establishment of a casino in this mountain resort.

Up until now no casinos have been built in Baguio, but other forms of illegal gambling still thrive in the city. These and many other issues were all kept in the annals of the Midland Courier.

 Closer

It has been nine years since I started out in Midland Courier, since then it has given me opportunity to not only further my profession and vocation as a journalist, but it made me feel that I am part of a much bigger purpose – to amplify the community’s ills and feels (as in feeling or emotion), chronicle the travels and travails of the city’s journey towards development and costs of development in the post-modern world.

It has enabled me to see the world through the community’s eyes, that we are all interconnected.

If not, Baguio and its environs will be reduced to an individualistic pursuit in one looking out for their own agenda, devoid from having the core value of a community, of having the “brother’s keeper” mentality. Meantime, I echo Sinai’s editorial piece in 1947: “As a newspaper, we shall be a crusader. Having no cause to live for, we have no reason for existence… Beside the general and public welfare, we owe no other loyalty. What ideal we have set before us we shall steadfastly live up to.”