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Baguio City: Fresh wind of change

May 20, 2019 - Monday 4:05 AM by Jimmy Laking

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There’s a fresh change of wind in Baguio City these days.

At the outset I like the fact that Rep. Marquez ‘Mark’ Go won anew by defeating two former congressmen in the process, including a party mate of Jejomar Binay, Mauricio Domogan.

But the victory of retired Police General Benjamin Magalong as the new city mayor takes the cake. It is the stuff of legend that many Baguiotes (including my friend, retired RTC judge Edilberto Claraval) like to talk about these days.

The victory of these two true-blue Baguio boys is the most welcome news emanating from the city lately and is generally regarded as a victory for the city itself.  

Magalong has been introduced previously in this column who as head of the government’s board of inquiry (BOI) found President Aquino and several police officials culpable in the massacre of the 44 Special Action Force troopers in the cornfields of Mamasapano in 2015.

He admitted later that this may have helped during the electoral campaign since the people were inclined to ask him about it. And this was not surprising considering that at least a dozen SAF troopers who were abandoned in Mamasapano in exchange for a finger cut from a terrorist came from Baguio City itself, from the province of Benguet (where Baguio City is located) and from the nearby provinces of Ifugao, Mt. Province and Kalinga and Nueva Vizcaya.

Magalong comes at a time when the city of Baguio is currently taking a beating from over-development and from the mismanagement of its solid wastes.

Long after Binay as MMDA chairman in the 1990s gave his blessings to the trucking of Metro Manila’s mixed waste to Rizal province and long before Canada added an international flavour by shipping its wastes to Manila, the previous managers of the city of Baguio alternated in shipping its mixed wastes to the lowlands. At one time, local newspapers reported that that city had already incurred about P1 billion for trucking costs when it could not even provide enough water for its residents.

Magalong also comes at a time when the city’s parks (supposed to be beyond the commerce of man) and open spaces (to include forests and supposed protected areas) have been ceded by MOAs or by executive and legislative to business interests.

It is no exaggeration to say that where that city in the 1980s used to smell of pines, it now literally reeks of uncollected dump.

I recall that in one of his visits to that city, then President Benigno Aquino III rued that Baguio “lost its old grandeur.”

He also gave the order to examine if Baguio City, alongside Boracay, had already reached its carrying capacity. I tried following up the story but as it was in most cases during his watch, nothing came out of it.

With Magalong and Go at the helms of that city, I'd like to believe it is now in good hands.


Yet looking back, that city is in a sharp contrast to a time when its American planners envisioned it a “hill station” at the turn of the 20th century.

That ‘hill station’ has since metamorphosed into an urbanized metropolis with a population of more than 300,000 persons as of 2007 and it was still growing. It has since emerged as a major destination, a center of trade and commerce and as the seat of prestigious schools and universities.

In City of Pines (The Origins of Baguio as a Colonial Hill Station and Regional Capital), the American author and scholar Robert R. Reed cited four reasons on what makes the City of Baguio unique.

First, it was planned primarily as a health and recreation center and developed secondarily as a regional capital.

Second, it was a spin-off from the “city beautiful” movement that helped shape the cities of Chicago and San Francisco. Third, the American colonials persisted in introducing development (such as the Kennon road) for the city to be beneficial both to westerners and Filipinos.

Finally, it welcomed Filipinization of the city as it “evolved eventually into a major regional capital and a flourishing hill station adapted to the service of Filipinos.”

That uniqueness still holds true today. It explains the magic that draws people to it like magnet.

Development has not slackened a bit. Business is thriving. Peace and order remains exceptional.

But it is not the full picture. As one typhoon after another laid bare, the grim reality shows a fragile infrastructure in place and an abused and strained environment prone to climactic takedowns.

The roads leading to it are also prone to landslides, eating up a lot of resources to repair them, year in and year out. Would Baguio be in better shape today had the American colonial government stuck to a railroad it earlier planned for that city?