NOW that the new powers-that-be in Metro-Manila decided to “repair” and “restore” the office of the Philippine Information Agency here, we, locals, will soon be back to being outside-looking-in.
I grew up at the Pacdal Forest Nursery, a stone’s throw from what the American founding fathers of Baguio called “Sunnyside”. That refers to the area from Wright Park to scenic Mines View Park where most of the city’s most imposing government officials’ cottages, from The-Presidential Mansion, and official summer residences of the country’s vice-president, Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives are found. Surrounding them are summer residences of the rich and famous from Metro-Manila.
To the Baguio boy, these palatial houses are also as exclusive as the official residences and as empty most of the year, except for a week or two, when the national official or owner from out-of-Baguio visits with his family.
This eastern side of Baguio was called Sunnyside because that’s where the first rays of the morning sun touched to drive away the chill that was common during Baguio’s formative years, a luxury and respite from the tropical lowland heat.
Truth to tell, it was only during a few presidential visits, mostly press conferences, that I was able to enter The Mansion and the other edifices surrounding it. Up to this day, I haven’t had the temerity to peep into these official cottages that, as I was growing up, instilled awe, confusion and even fear, especially when the privileged occupants and their minions from Imperial Manila were around.
We, natives, I mean we who grew up in Baguio, are always awed and confused why all of the choice lots of Sunnyside became exclusive playgrounds of the rich from Manila, yet inhabited by them only once or twice a year, yet always close and inaccessible to locals all of the year.
It was a Baguio boy’s relief then when the Philippine Information Agency was allowed to occupy one of these exclusive edifices, a cottage once assigned to the national press secretary. For a while, its exclusivity to people from Metro-Manila was broken when the powers-that-be allowed rebel priest Conrado Balweg and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army to occupy it as their headquarters.
Fr. Balweg lost his clout when, out of a feeling for mutual trust, he signed a truce with then President Corazon Aquino. After that peace pact, the National Government no longer seriously considered the region’s quest for autonomy, so unlike in Muslim Mindanao where several armed groups remained to keep the government on its toes even when the MILF or MNLF had signed a peace pact.
Eventually, the cottage was assigned to the regional office of the Philippine Information Agency. True to its mandate of information sharing, the PIA made good use of the office and compound where the local media, local government and local private officials and all residents were welcome to discuss how community life should be, with or without visiting national government officials.
To provide substance to that priority need to enhance local ambience of a once-elitist structure, the PIA added a “dap-ay” where locals and Baguio visitors, from the President down to the ordinary Baguio citizen, were welcome to set up the traditional Baguio bonfire, lie on the grass (as that pictorial of some of the city’s American founding fathers did), hold press conferences and even receptions for weddings, birthdays and baptisms, occasions far more fitting than the present plan to redesign it and have it ready when a cabinet secretary and/or his minions come up for their rest and recreation.
Soon, the cottage will be out of our reach, we Baguio boys and girls. The notice has been received that officials from Manila are serious in their plan to make the building - like the other national government buildings here - exclusive to them and their cohorts and officemates- as their hotel or inn, yet closed for most of the year., especially to us who grew up in Baguio and are living up to its problems and fears.
Come to think of it, Baguio has been at the losing end over these National Government properties and cottages that cover a sizable portion of Baguio yet are inaccessible to those from Baguio. There was the Cosalan Bill that was supposed to mandate the national government to provide one half of the annual budget of the city government. This was in lieu of the national government’s non-payment of taxes over its properties that include the Camp John Hay, the Court of Appeals, Supreme Court and the Cabinet Hill and the Teachers’ Camp.
That law was never fully implemented. Right now, the city government is at a loss on how to collect its due from the national government for the operation of the Camp John Hay. While camp authorities agreed that the city’s purchase of the GSIS-owned Baguio Convention Center and the mini-forest beside it would come from the city’s share from the rentals over the former U.S. military facility, this deal never materialized, with the city ending up paying, including the interests.
However short-changed the city was, I sighed in relief over the city’s taking jurisdiction over the mini-forest which has become a rarity in what was once called a “City of Pines”. Shoemart, the giant mall chain, wanted to purchase the mini-forest and turn it into four multi-story buildings it curiously wanted to call “Baguio Air Residences”.
Elementary school pupils wrote then President Gloria Arroyo asking her to tell GSIS not to sell the pine forest to SM. The kids had their letters enlarged and hung the tarpaulins on the pine area while sending the originals to the Office of the President.
That move was followed up by the Igorot Global Organization which, during its forum in Ifugao, came up with a resolution asking GSIS to spare the pine lot and open area, if only to enable Baguio’s children to see what a pine tree looks like and what it means to have open spaces in a resort city like theirs.
Perhaps it is high-time for kids of Baguio to again write and ask national authorities to spare the Cordillera House from being turned into a hotel for national government officials.
Let the building housing the PIA office be, as a “dap-ay”, a dialogue center for Baguio residents and visitors from Imperial Manila, instead of closing it and making it an exclusive hotel for the powers-that-be from down there.
Such request is nothing compared to the privilege the National Government is enjoying over its vast landholdings in Baguio.
At the same time, perhaps national secretaries can be convinced to stop knocking down and destroying the historic row of identical buildings that once composed Cabinet Hill, as these were and are for the Cabinet Secretaries of the land.
Without any sense of history and heritage, previous cabinet secretaries had the original buildings destroyed and in their place installed monstrosities of concrete.
Before everything goes, perhaps the Baguio City Council can come up with a resolution -- as it did for the preservation of the use of the PIA-community set-up -- asking the Department of Justice to preserve the original architecture, including the fine wood paneling inside the secretary’s cottage at Cabinet Hill. (firstname.lastname@example.org for comments.)
Greetings to Joshua and Josea Dizon who, like their father, Dr. Marcelino, are growing up as the Baguio boy and girl should, sharing what they have in terms of incentives for their victories as athletes to those in need.