Forum on historic building slated

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Sunday, March 16, 2014


THE historic but long-neglected former monastery built by the Dominican Order on a promontory at the southwest end of Baguio will be 99 years old on May 23.

And the Baguio Heritage Hill Committee will mark its anniversary with a forum tentatively set on March 28, to bring to fore a study made by the Architecture Department of the University of the Cordillera on how to preserve the edifice that is part of the city’s history.

The committee headed by Mayor Mauricio Domogan and former city architect Joseph Alabanza decided to have the UC study presented for the community to appreciate the significance and background of the building and to provide recommendations to enhance the restoration plans and work to be done by the city.

Inaugurated on May 23, 1915, the stone building was built under the supervision of Fr. Roque Ruano of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers), a civil engineer from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

In his research towards the preservation of the edifice and its surroundings, Ruben Cervantes, deputy city environment and natural resources officer noted Fr. Ruano based his plan on Spanish Dominican baroque architecture and infused his knowledge in designing earthquake-proof buildings.

The design, Cervantes noted, considered the lack of water on top of what would become Dominican Hill and had the rooftop serving as a water-catchment facility, making the building the first earthquake-resistant structure and with rain-harvesting feature to be erected in Baguio.

The two-story concrete structure was built by the locals, Chinese and Japanese expatriates living in the then Mountain Province, Benguet and Baguio, Cervantes said.

“The massive stone an concrete walls still stand, a tribute to all the Ilocano and Pangasinan carters whose water buffaloes and oxen dragged on sleds each stone and bag of lime up that hill,” wrote Baguio girl and anthropologist Patricia Afable in her book “Japanese Pioneers in the Northern Philippine Highlands”.

In 2003, Afable and her cousin, Kathleen Okubo, visited the monastery on the hilltop the old Ibaloys called “Tuel”, describing the experience as “a small pilgrimage to the highest and largest of the construction jobs on which our grandfather, Teruji Okubo, was chief carpenter.”

Cervantes said a month after its inauguration, the Dominican Order had the building used as a boarding house and college called “Colegio del Santissimo Rosaro”.

With only six students in 1917, the edifice was reverted to its original use as a vacation house for members of the Dominican Order or New Province, Cervantes said.

From 1940 to 1945, the Dominican Hill and house were converted into a refugee center for priests, nuns, active sisters, lay and secular members of the New Province from around the country, Cervantes added.

The Japanese forces then used the building and compound as a prison camp, with the roofdeck serving as a look-out tower. The building was damaged during the carpet bombing by the American forces on March 15 and 16, 1945 and in the battles fought towards the liberation of Baguio iin April that year.

Reconstructed in 1948, the building was restored as a vacation house of the New Province, according to Cervantes’ research. In 1973, the New Province sold the property to the Diplomat Hotel, Inc. which operated it as a hotel.

It was eventually taken over by the national government, through the Presidential Management Office. Then President Gloria Arroyo then assigned the building to the city government and the adjoining forested meditation area of the Dominican priests to the Sandiganbayan.

By then, the building had been vandalized by souvenir and scrap material hunters.

Guards employed by the city also reported diggings within the compound by treasure hunters. The local government has repaired what remains of the inside, making it available for conferences. (Ramon Dacawi)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 17, 2014.

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