September 30, 2023

Going up the stairs of Luisa’s Café on a Monday afternoon and meeting Nonnette C. Bennett, a long-time contributor of articles about food and culture to Baguio Midland Courier, it made sense why we met here – at an old restaurant settled way down Session Road, the popular watering hole for journalists, lawyers, and political leaders.

Just like the café, Bennett exuded an unimposing and gentle aura. With her curly hair in a low ponytail and wearing a casual outfit, one might not immediately know the history that bonded the writer with the city.

“There are so many things to write about, hindi ‘yan nauubos,” Bennett implored when I asked about her decades-long relationship with writing.

As a weekly contributor for the Midland Courier, she has the freedom to choose her topics. She likes delving into insights and uniqueness of the Baguio culture best, and her preference for communities was apparent, as she regularly sat basking in the quiet yet rich history of the café.

Moonbeams is a children’s story on the environment written by Bennett.

When asked how she would go about describing the foods she talks about, Bennett proceeds to give a glimpse into how her mind works. When writing her articles, she tends to aim in finding a commonality with her audience, letting the words talk about the texture, patterns, and symbolisms of the subject so readers can imagine alongside the story.

Along the way of being a Midland Courier contributor and a published author, Bennett realized her passion for the environment, which inspired her to actively fight for the preservation and protection the remaining green patches in the Summer Capital.

Sabi ko, parang walang nakakakita nung what’s happening around us. Nobody was mindful about the effect of human activities to the environment,” Bennett said.

The signage reminds the public that any portion of the Mount Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve is not for sale and is the headwaters of the Bued River and other streams. At present, the forest reserve is covered by a permanent environmental protection order as a result of a petition to protect and preserve it with Bennett as one of the petitioners.

A civic-minded resident, Bennett was one of the concerned individuals, along with late Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who petitioned to stop the construction and commercial development contaminating the Mt. Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve in Tuba, Benguet.

The petition has led to the issuance of a permanent environment protection order (PEPO) by the Court of Appeals but stakeholders claimed no significant efforts are being done to preserve and protect the forest reserve.

“The frustration is, they still do not see the value of Sto. Tomas for the future,” Bennett claimed, as she remembers their organization’s efforts in reminding Tuba residents and local government on the importance of the forest reserve being one of the primary sources of tributaries in the municipality and nearby provinces.

Nonnette Bennett on the right with former DTI Information Officer Art Tibaldo, tourist guide Clint Taynan, and sculptor Kigao Rosimo on a regular day at Luisa’s Cafe.

This passion and focus on communities are also evident in the books she eventually published. She spoke about her book Moonbeams, which won a local contest for children’s books authors and was largely inspired by her decades of experience as a community worker, and even her romance novels and short stories that had Baguio as a prominent setting – all touching upon environmental or women’s rights.

“It’s a matter of, maybe, sharing an experience that someone might be able to identify with, and might even be able to do something about it,” Bennett said.

Hindi ka lang nagsusulat. You always influence what you are writing, and the direction where you want to take it,” she added.

Luisa’s Cafe is where journalists write the latest news and favorite haunt of the cross-section of Baguio society.

Despite writing about things that she sees and experiences around Baguio City, Bennett never forgets her purpose: to be able to do something for herself (as a woman, writer, community worker, environmental defender) and writes about things that affect her. She believes that writers are guided by their principles and philosophies, emphasizing her willingness as to not feel ‘alien’ in their own craft.

“You make your mark as a journalist by making it a part of you,” Bennett said.

Leaving Luisa’s Café and seeing Bennett go back to the other round table at the opposite side of the room to sit with other fellow long-time local contributors, a different view of the bustling City of Baguio – the purpose, personality, and passion ingrained deep within a woman sitting at a corner of an old restaurant – was evident.

– Joyce Mae L. Estrella