January 29, 2023

Burnham Park, Baguio’s premier park is a noteworthy and an epic site. It was built in the early1900s. It bespeaks of grandeur, happy and sad memories, significant events and serves as a refuge center in times of calamities, mainly because of its wide-open spaces. It is one of the remaining bastions of green space. The park is undeniably identified with Baguio – a park that we call ours.  A park that is free for the enjoyment of its community. It holds a lot of goodwill not only for residents but also for domestic and international visitors. Who can forget the Pope’s visits? The tents after the 1990 earthquake? The football games and the Christmas cantatas?

The park is now managed by the City Environment and Parks Management Office (Cepmo) under Atty. Rhenan Diwas with Art Kilip, as officer-in-charge for Cepmo Burnham. There are about 78 employees called “park attendants” responsible for the maintenance and operations of the park enumerated as follows: 29 gardeners, 11 parking collectors, seven garbage collectors, ninetask force members, six for nursery upkeep, six for water management and 10 administrative personnel. About six of the oldest employees are retiring next year with the benefits of a casual employee like longevity pay, leave credits, GSIS and Pag-ibig. When you pass by Burnham Park, you see them sweeping litter and fallen leaves or tending to the plants. While some collect garbage by the truckloads, especially after special events and parades. Now, they are retiring and with the uncertainty of the pandemic, some are wary of the prospects.

Nakakatakot isipin na kapag nagretire na kami, ay wala na kaming pambili ng gamot at pagkain,” says Lolita Guapo, a 64-year-old park attendant, who is retiring next year. Her only son passed away and she is left with four grandchildren to take care of.

Some of the oldest employees have been with the park since 1977, 1981, and 1988. Elvis Cadiz started in 1977.

The park attendants work on two shifts, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I asked Espelita Beng-aw, another retiring park attendant her feelings and views about Covid-19 while working in the park.

Tahimik yung dating maingay at walang kalat,” replies Esper, a single mother, who takes care of her 83-year-old mother.

“Masaya akong nagwawalis at nag-ga-garden, kasi para na rin exercise ko itong trabaho ko.  Nakaka stress lang yung mga taong nagkakalat ng basura at pinagkainan at hindi marunong magtapon sa tamang lugar, kasi meron naming basurahan,” she added.

Sixty-four-year-old Ofelia Dumangeng has eight children and 11 grandchildren. She was able to send her four children to college. One finished a Hotel and Restaurant Management course, one a computer course and two took associate courses. When asked about her views, she said: “Nakakatakot nung 1990 earthquake kasi nagtatakbuhan yung mga tao. Pero, nakakatakot din itong Covid kasi hindi mo nakikita ang kinakatakutan mo”.

Nie Mendoza, a former tourism colleague who is still with the administrative section of Burnham Cepmo, who I have known since she was single explains: “Nagtutulungan kami dito. Meron kaming members ngtask force na nagmu – multi tasking. Pag meron nagngangailangan ng tulong o emergency help, tumutulong ang task force. Mendoza hasfour children who finished courses in nursing, tourism, HRM and one is reviewing for a board examination.

The longest retiring employee is Domingo Carpio. He had been with the PTA-NPDC since 1981. He actually started as a city employee in 1979. He too has four children:  one is a police officer, a dentist, a computer graduate and one is with special needs.

Salute to the old employees or park attendants who have given us a well-manicured Burnham Park. It was nostalgic to see them again. Some will be retiring next year and some will still stay on with us through the years, through thick and thin: Espelita Beng-aw, Nenita Bocanog, Elvis Cadiz, Domingo Carpio, Ernesto Crisostomo, Edwin Conter, Ofelia Dumangeng, Teodora Lippad, Leo Mangaong, Juan Nangalatas, Severino Nangalutan, Lolita Puapo, Bonifacio Pelien and Fernando Santiago.

If you see these park attendants while promenading, strolling, running, jogging or simply passing by at Burnham Park, please give them a big smile, say hello and thank them for a job well done. After all, they are frontliners too, attending to the needs of our beautiful Burnham Park.

Burnham Park was named after the American architect Daniel Hudson Burnham who conceptualized and designed the park in the early 1900s.

The scale models of the park at the central business district were done for circa 1909, 1928 and 2009. For those interested to see the macro view of the park, the scale models are on display at the Baguio Museum at Governor Pack Road.  The 2017 U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Culture and Preservation funded the transfer of the scale models from an elevated level to the floor level for a better view and understanding of students regarding the development of Baguio through the years.

Proclamation 64 issued on Aug. 6, 1925 delineated the Burnham reservation for park purposes. Presidential Decree 1172 transferred and conveyed Burnham Park to the Philippine Tourism Authority for tourism development purposes. This was followed by Presidential Decree 1762 dated Jan. 6, 1981 and Proclamation 2144 of the same year.

In 1995, Executive Order 224 was issued by then President Fidel Ramos transferring the management, administration and maintenance of Burnham Park to the City of Baguio. A memorandum of agreement was  signed by the City, the PTA ,and National Parks Development Committee to transfer, cede and convey the management, administration, maintenance and operation of Burnham Park to the city signed by former mayor Mauricio Domogan and Rep. Bernardo Vergara for the City of Baguio and the Philippine Tourism Authority (now Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority) General Manager Eduardo Joaquin and NPDC Chair Vispendencia  de Guzman for national government in January 1998.