June 21, 2024

Noted urban planner Joseph M. Alabanza, Baguio’s first city architect, has passed on June 12. He was 94.

Alabanza, also called Arch. Jody, caught pneumonia a day before he died on Independence Day, according to his daughter, Mary Anne Alabanza Akers.

His remains lie in state at the La Funeraria Paz in Naguilian Road and would be brought to City Hall on June 17 and 18 then to the Baguio Convention Center on June 19 for public paying of final respects.

His interment is on June 20 at the Baguio Public Cemetery after a mass at the BCC at 9:30 a.m.

Alabanza served as Baguio’s first city architect in 1957 and former regional director of the National Economic Development Authority Region 1 and later NEDA-CAR, which he himself organized.

Alabanza was the go-to person when needing advice and consult on urban planning. His insights and comments were highly respected both in public and private fields when planning for new projects, particularly those that may be critical in the preservation of Baguio’s environment and heritage. 

“He was a very kind and generous man, and his kids were his priority and he really raised and taught us to embrace the Cordillera culture. It was his nature lecturing to us,” Akers said, as she also shared aside from just starting to become forgetful, her father had always been healthy and in his usual jolly self before he passed on.

She said Arch. Jody read a lot and able to digest things that are applicable.

“He’s not like the other urban planners who just get any Western kind of perspective and think it could be done here. He always would say, okay, is this applicable in Baguio or in the Cordillera or not,” said Akers, whose biggest influence on taking a master’s and also becoming urban planner was her father, who was also a teacher.

Born and raised in Baguio City, Alabanza was the eldest of 11 siblings. He attended elementary school at St. Louis University, secondary at Baguio City National High School, and finished Architecture at Mapua University in Manila.

After passing the board, he worked in an architecture firm in Manila for a few years.

In 1957, he was appointed as the first city architect of Baguio.

Around mid-1960s, he finished his masters in urban planning in Michigan State University in the United States.

He came back home and for about three years, he was asked to work with the Peace Corps in Manila and then came back to Baguio.

As a teacher, Akers said Alabanza started the first architecture degree program north of Manila at SLU and also designed its curriculum.

Alabanza served and was in charge of the NEDA Region 1 office in San Fernando, La Union, which at that time covered the Cordillera.

He was then tasked to work on the organization of the NEDA-Cordillera after Cordillera became a separate region in 1987, bringing with him a team of seven staff members from Region 1, and formed the NEDA-Cordillera in 1988. He was then in charge of both regional offices until regular staff were hired.

Former NEDA Regional Director Milagros Rimando, who joined NEDA-Cordillera in 1989 as one of its senior specialists, said the Blistt framework concept is one of Alabanza’s biggest contributions while in NEDA.

She recalled it was during Alabanza’s stint at the NEDA when he started advocating the concept of interregional cooperation, which he first promoted for the Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay LGUs to adopt.

“He was I believe the first to float the idea of a Blistt. Right from the first concept of a regional development plan, Blistt was already there being mentioned. In all his talks, he would always talk about Blistt,” Rimando said.

Shortly after he organized the NEDA-CAR office, the July 1990 earthquake happened and it was an opportunity for Alabanza to strengthen and enhance his advocacy on Blistt – that Baguio City cannot plan independently and then plan the Listt separately – but it should be a holistic planning, stressing things done in Baguio have impact on its neighbors and vice versa.

It was also during Alabanza’s term at the NEDA when the agency was included in a European Union-funded project that covered the earthquake rehab program and Alabanza was able to influence the funding agency into accepting to integrate the Blistt concept in its planning.

This paved the way for the first Blistt urban plan, which was useful because it was the first time it was done and there were a lot of consultations with international and local planning experts.

It tried to organize concerned LGUs by coming up with an agreement of cooperation among mayors, but it did not succeed at that time for lack of awareness on the advantages of cooperation among the Blistt.

“But it was very useful in planning the inner circumferential road and many years later the idea of needing to have an outer ring developed, and is now ongoing,” Rimando said, adding on a day-to-day basis whenever it was called for, Alabanza would always teach them and the staff about inter-regional connection, fondly recalling him applying his being architect when he would make diagrams when making a point.

Rimando, who is among his mentees, said Alabanza lived a full life and was one who did not like to waste any moment.

Aside from being a founder, official, and a member of various organizations in the city such as the Baguio Heritage Foundation Inc., Baguio Centennial Commission, and United Architects of the Philippines Baguio chapter, Alabanza after serving at the NEDA-Cordillera retired after also having served as Presidential Assistant to then (late) Pres. Fidel V. Ramos.

Alabanza was also known for his sunny disposition and either welcoming his audience or concluding discussions not without singing “You are my sunshine/You are my sunshine/My only sunshine/You make me happy/When skies are gray/You’ll never know dear/How much I love you/Please don’t take/My sunshine away.”

Alabanza, married to Nelly who passed away in 2002, was survived by his three children Lenny, Mary Anne, and Dennis and five grandchildren. – Hanna C. Lacsamana