February 2, 2023

Mayor Benjamin Magalong considers the past two weeks as a challenging period for Baguio as it prepared measures to prevent the surge of Covid-19 cases in the city, including the much talked about restriction of borders with the city’s neighboring BLISTT towns.

While he kept silent about the “truth behind what really happened”, Magalong took offense against the person or group of individuals who started to drumbeat that he was discriminatory against the Igorots when the city imposed entry restrictions with the bordering towns of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay due to the surge of Covid-19 cases in the past weeks. 

“That is really something that frustrated me. It is immoral, it is evil, it is deplorable, and these people have no honor,” Magalong said as he addressed City Hall workers during the regular flag raising ceremony on Dec. 1.

He said he fought, got wounded, and risked his life fighting for the rights of the Igorots when he was in the Philippine National Police and even took risks for the members of the Special Action Force 44 who perished in one of the bloodiest police encounters in the country. 

“I was assigned for 12 years in the Cordillera fighting for the Igorots. I risked my ambition and my career fighting for the SAF 44, majority of them were Igorots. I hate to say this, but whoever came out with the idea raising the issue, driving a wedge between highlanders and lowlanders, that person or group of persons are completely, absolutely, totally immoral,” Magalong said.

The mayor said the city needed to be proactive as it was imposing a sense of orderliness in the city for it to be able to fight the pandemic especially since he said there is no doubt that there will be a surge of cases not only in the city but in the country during the Christmas season.

“Unfortunately it was misunderstood. When we started imposing it, we got hit left and right. We got attacked to the extent we were even hit below the belt, personal attacks for that matter. But did we do a counterattack? We did not. We maintained our composure. We remained calm and silent about it, despite the demand of our friends and members of family to fight back, to tell the truth, we remained silent.”

He said he remained calm and silent and chose to understand them because he knows they themselves are also hurting because they also needed to justify themselves before their own constituents.

“My family is hurting, my friends are hurting; employees of the city are hurting because of these attacks but we never responded in the way that they did, because we took the high road. Toward the end, they finally realized that we are right after all.”

The border restriction, which required LISTT residents to present a medical clearance upon entering Baguio, took effect on Nov. 25 until Dec. 4.

The provincial board of Benguet passed a resolution appealing to the city government to reconsider the restriction, but after Magalong met with the LISTT mayors last week of November, issues and concerns were threshed out and the policy remained. 

On Tuesday, Magalong stressed the city cannot think and focus on its welfare alone as it shared resources and technical support to the towns.

“We provided substantive amount of assistance for our BLISTT neighbors. Not only thousands of testing kits worth millions, but even our own isolation facilities, we offered it to them simply because we are not exclusive. We cannot exist without them in the same manner that they cannot exist without us. We need to work together and we need to have unity and solidarity to be able to fight this pandemic,” he said. – Hanna C. Lacsamana