September 28, 2023

(Editors’ note: We are reprinting the speech of former Baguio Councilor Edilberto Tenefrancia when he served as the guest of honor and speaker during the 70th anniversary celebration of the Midland Courier at the Baguio Country Club six years ago).

Baguio Midland Courier marks 70 years of uninterrupted publication, even in the dark days of martial law when practically all media outlets all over the land were closed. Sinai C. Hamada, the first editor of the Midland Courier, shares the distinction of being jailed for press freedom, a badge of courage of every journalist worth his salt.

In college, Sinai sharpened his writer’s skills as editor of the university’s student paper.

After graduation, his law practice was coupled with writing short stories. Only after the war did Sinai and his siblings Cecile and Oseo envision the need and opportunities for a community newspaper.

Born and bred in the highlands with Ibaloy blood running in their veins, it was natural for the Hamada siblings to make the Midland Courier the exponent of the wonderland of the Cordillera and, later on, the riches of Ilocandia. Baguio and the mountain provinces, after all, are integral and inseparable parts of the so-called Solid North.

A community paper reflects local current events and holds a wealth of material for later historians to research on.

KEEPING THE PUBLIC INFORMED — Over the past seven decades, the Baguio Midland Courier keeps the citizenry informed of the important news and current events unfolding in Baguio City and rest of the country. The paper also serves as an alternative English teacher to its countless readers, especially for learners in the countryside. — Harley Palangchao

Last March, being Women’s Month, there was much on women empowerment in the Midland Courier issues of that month. The succeeding two months being the season for midterm elections the pages of the Midland Courier would feature stories or ads on this upcoming event.

CNN reports the good news that on women empowerment, the Philippines is first in Asia and eighth in the world. The Midland Courier staff reflects that distinction. The brains who labor into the night to put the Midland Courier to bed are mostly those of the fairer sex while the Op-Ed columnists balance the editorial and management staff. More columnists belong to the masculine or gentler gender.

The balance continues in the larger Baguio community. Women still dominate the teaching profession, but students now compete with each other in mostly co-ed classrooms, often with the girls ahead.

In Baguio, there are practically no more exclusive girls or boys schools. The Philippine Military Academy, long a bastion of future warriors, has now a sizeable number of lady cadets.

The law schools have many budding Portias in the classrooms and libraries, but only boys frequent the bars. There are still some complaints on discrimination against women.

The general trend, however, is that women can and do hold their own in top echelon executive positions in business, industry, and government. Equal pay for equal work is not a cause for complaints. Salary standardizations do not reflect any bias against women. Even if the general perception is that men are the stronger sex, women are the more durable. There are, you will note, more widows than widowers.

The Midland Courier’s role as repository of unfolding history reaches no further back than 76 years. That is shortly after the war, Baguio was smoldering from the ruins of war when the paper was first printed.

Fresh in the memories of the survivors of “liberation” are the horrors of war, and foremost in their concerns were rehabilitation of dislocated lives and devastated fortunes. World War I, as it erupted and raged in Europe in the late ‘30s, was exciting in newspaper headlines, but Filipinos and America were far from the frontlines. The United States early on maintained official neutrality, even as it was overtly aiding Great Britain with the lend-lease of war materials. America only declared war when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, at the same time, strafed Clark Field and Camp John Hay. A few years of Japanese occupation ended at Camp John Hay when Yamashita signed the document of surrender on Sept. 3, 1944. The Pacific war itself ended when, after atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Admiral Tojo surrendered to McArthur aboard a U.S. carrier.

Looking back, when the U.S. first became a colonial power, Baguio was the American dream of a temperate hill station in the tropics. Governor General William Howard Taft himself rode a horse up the Cordillera mountains to survey what was envisioned as the summer capital of the Philippines. On hearing of hefty Taft’s horse ride, President William Mckinley telegraphed his concern. Not for his huge governor general but for the beast of burden. An American city in the Cordillera was planned by Daniel Burnham who also planned Washington and Manila. The plan has long been overtaken by events and overpopulation. This headache will long haunt leaders of the city.

The earlier executives of Baguio were Americans. But you will have to consult other source materials for those years and those personalities because as earlier noted, Midland Courier was a post-war creation. It was not around when President Sergio Osmeña appointed Placido Mapa, Isidoro Siapno, Pedro Armeña, and Dr. Jose M. Cariño successively as mayors of Baguio. Mayor Cariño continued as such under the new Republic of the Philippines. It is not clear where Mayor Cariño was on July 4, 1946 because it appears that Vice Mayor Virginia O. de Guia, as acting mayor, presided over the Independence Day activities on that historic day.

In the new Republic, most cities enjoyed local suffrage. But not Baguio. The President appointed the mayor, the vice mayor, and three city councilors. Later by way of concession to local suffrage, two of the three councilors were elected and one was appointed. Until the early months of 1952 there has been a succession of appointed mayors (Jose M. Cariño, Luis P. Torres, Gil R. Mallare, Francisco I. Ortega, and Gil R. Mallare again) while Virginia O. de Guia stayed on as vice mayor. Serving as councilors, alternately or successively, were Sixto Laraya,  Rufino S. Bueno, Juan F. Zarate, Luis L. Lardizabal, Maximino Carantes, Sixto A. Domondon, Teodoro C. Arvisu, Francisco S. Reyes, Roman Ayson, Luis C. Castro, Benito H. Lopez, Bienvenido R. Yandoc, Carlos R. Lazo, Praxedes Ramos, Eugene Pucay, and Delfin Sian.

In 1954, President Ramon Magsaysay appointed Judge Alfonso Tabora as mayor, replacing Gil R. Mallare.

By then the pressure to grant Baguio the right to choose all their top local officials was increasingly mounting. In 1956, there was a public debate at the City Auditorium on the subject of full local suffrage. Taking part in the debate were local legal luminaries: Florendo P. Aquino, Sinai C. Hamada, Carlos R. Lazo, and Pablo Sanidad. Not many remember which team won the debate. Eventually, full suffrage for Baguio prevailed. Baguio voted for all their local officials in 1959. The first elected mayor was Luis L. Lardizabal who won over Benito H. Lopez, by a razor thin margin of six votes. Elected vice mayor was Norberto F. de Guzman who had long been City Secretary. The first fully elected city council was composed of Jose A. Florendo, Benjamin C. Rillera, Gaudencio N. Floresca, Francisco G. Mayo, Braulio D. Yaranon, and Eugene P. Pucay.

Elections in the Philippines have been carefully planned in law, but largely flawed in practice. There had been violence or threats of violence. Vote-buying or other ways of getting ahead of the opposition. Baguio elections have generally been considered orderly, peaceful and honest. To this day, peaceful conduct of elections in the city and the former mountain provinces is the envy of surrounding regions.

There were controversies to be sure, but mostly under the legal process. In the first election for all local officials, losing candidate Benito Lopez promptly demanded a recount. Winning candidate Luis L. Lardizabal opposed and went up on appeal. About four years later when the appeal was finally decided, Lardizabal’s winning margin was increased to seven. His final victory though was academic because by then the campaign for the second group of elected officials was already well on its way. Lopez had in the meantime been appointed to a national position. The job fell on Vice Mayor Norberto F. de Guzman to successfully frustrate Lardizabal’s bid at reelection.

Next time around in 1967, Lardizabal would come back as mayor. Thereafter came Martial Law when elections were altogether cancelled, political parties were disbanded, and Kilusang Bagong Lipunan emerged as the only political party. When democracy was restored by the 1987 Constitution, the two-party system did not come back. The party list system, copied from European models, gave birth to multifarious parties which do not seem to be political parties in the sense earlier understood. The Nacionalista and Liberal parties attempted to stage a comeback with little success. Even in this midterm election, the two grand old parties are but a shadow of what they used to be. Then and especially now there is but little difference among political parties. Now, one never knows what party a politician belongs to. National or local, political or ideological, ethnic or family, or otherwise. There are even groups that have opposing personalities in their tickets. Strange bedfellows indeed. Or tickets that have more candidates than the law allows. Or less than what the law requires.

Another innovation introduced by the 1987 Constitution is to give autonomous status to Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera. The Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao was not an outstanding success. The nation tries again with Bangsamoro Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao.

In the Cordillera, autonomous status did not take root. The plebiscite on the organic law for Cordillera was rejected twice. The question posed to the electorate was not whether they approve that Cordillera be autonomous, but whether they approve the proposed organic law for the region.

Rejecting the proposed organic law is entirely different from rejecting autonomy. The autonomous region for the Cordillera could have succeeded and could have been the harbinger of a federal system which would give to all the regions federal sub-state status, where there would be less power for imperial Manila and more power to local government. A federal system would have a better chance for acceptance except that its merits had not been sensibly discussed. The strategy of allowing on social media a song and dance team gyrating with sexual undertones effectively ended the debate. In the current midterm elections, the choice for candidates is a ventilation of their visions for government or a display of prowess at song and dance.

Lately, there emerged in the public discourse the idea that honesty is not an issue in the elections. The reason given for this stance is that there is no need to be honest when everyone else lies anyway. This is cynical, and unflattering to the electorate. Those who aspire to be leaders should be the first to upgrade the quality of public discourse. They should be the last to look down on the people from whom all government authority emanates. If as candidates they reject honesty, they will, as public officials, govern with deception and dishonesty.

The constitutional vision of public office is admittedly idealistic. Probably difficult to reach. But should not altogether be rejected. Public office is a public trust, not a private preserve. Public officers must serve the people, not themselves; serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency. They must serve with patriotism and justice. And to avoid the temptations of unbridled power, they must lead modest lives, not a life of perks and privileges. Too high a bar for ordinary mortals to reach for? That’s what we all agreed to when we ratified the constitution. If devotion to public welfare is not one’s aim, there are greener pastures in the private sector. If the candidates think otherwise and say so even while they are still seeking office, the people would be presented with a clear choice. After all, the people will get the public officials they deserve. Honesty is ever the best policy. Even if it is not considered good politics.

Assuming that the electorate listens, the Midland Courier opens its pages to the candidates who pay for ads to proclaim what they fancy themselves to be. And without cost, to expound on what they stand for. But they must agree to rules that the editors have laid down in the Week’s Mail of the March 31 issue. Readers can pose questions for candidates to answer. In some forums, business and non-government organizations partner with the press to afford the electorate a glimpse of what the candidates think and promise.

For all of seven decades, the Midland Courier is the mirror of the passing events. It has sedulously chronicled the steady march of the city and the region from the ashes of war to normalcy, week in and week out, the Midland Courier proclaimed the good news and reported the bad.

Good times had come and bad times too. Each time the city falls in war, in typhoons, during earthquakes, it rises again to claim its role as the summer capital and the favored destination of tourists. Many attractive tourist spots have been developed elsewhere, some even more attractive than Baguio. That’s the way to decongest. Not by denigrating any place, but by enhancing other places and making them attractive too. Decongestion is the solution to congested metropolitan areas. Baguio must know its carrying capacity and limit itself to what it can reasonably and comfortably serve.

In addition to its original role, Baguio has gained prominence as the commercial hub of the mountain provinces and a college town conducive to intellectual pursuits. With its community tabloids and radio stations, it is also a beacon for freedom of expression. Competitors have come and gone.

Baguio Midland Courier moves on with its many plaudits and awards. The original writers are gone. New talents have stepped up to continue the tradition. The challenge for the next 70 years is posed by digital media. Some of the big names in media, here and abroad, have gone online. That is probably the way to go. The Midland Courier, as everyone else, must get online or be left behind.