Forum on Dominican Hill restoration on

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Thursday, March 27, 2014


CITY officials, planners and community members will walk through part of Baguio history Friday morning through a forum to discuss, on site, plans and efforts to restore and preserve the Dominican Hill, a two-floor monastery on a ridge near the city’s southwest end that will be 99 years old this May.

The forum, initiated by the Baguio Heritage Hill Committee headed by Mayor Mauricio Domogan and former city architect Joseph Alabanza, is set at 9 a.m., inside the edifice built by Catholic priests belonging to the Dominican (Order of Priests) as vacation house and college for their members.

Designed to heighten community awareness and involvement in heritage preservation, the forum will focus on studies made by the University of the Cordilleras on the restoration of the stone building which had been vandalized by looters and on an on-going assessment by St. Louis University on the structural integrity of the building.

Dean David Angiwan of the College of Engineering and Architecture and architect Nick Latogan, both of UC, and architect Lord Byron Gonzales and Engr. Janice Aquino of the SLU College of Engineering will lead the presenters.

The building's historical background will be provided by Ruben Cervantes, assistant city environment and parks management officer who did research on the construction and use of the edifice as a boarding house and college, refugee center and prison camp, and as a hotel.

Cervantes said the building construction was supervised by Fr. Roque Ruano, a Dominican priest and engineer, in accordance with Spanish-Dominican baroque architecture and incorporating his knowledge in designing earthquake-proof structures and in harnessing rainwater.

With its rooftop serving as a water-catchment facility and its solid foundation and stone walls, the monastery became the first building in Baguio with a rainwater-harvesting feature and to be earthquake-resistant.

Based on documents on the building at the University of Sto. Tomas that Cervantes studied, the building was constructed by local workers, Chinese and Japanese expatriates who were then living in Baguio and other parts of the Cordillera.

Anthropologist and Baguio girl Patricia Afable noted in her book “Japanese Pioneers in the Northern Philippine Highlands”, that “the massive stone and 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”.

Her grandfather, Teruji Okubo, was chief carpenter in the construction.

"He once spoke of Spanish wine as being the best, especially if it came from the Dominicans," Afable wrote.

Afable and her cousin, Kathleen Okubo, visited the building in 2003 and noted: "Today, however, no window is intact, and water has destroyed all of the interior wood surfaces. In the courtyard, now overgrown with large weedy shrubs and covered with rubble, two broken cherubs still decorate the foundation that the Dominican built. Parts of the structure and grounds were damaged in the 1990 earthquake."

From the Dominican Order, the building was transferred to a private commercial entity which operated it as the Diplomat Hotel until the middle ‘80s. The lot, reduced from 17 hectares to over five hectares, was later placed under the jurisdiction of the Presidential Management Staff.

In 2004, then President Gloria Arroyo transferred the building and its premises to the City Government and the wooded portion to the Sandiganbayan.

That paved the way for the city to begin repairs on the building which, over the years, had been vandalized by looters. (Ramon Dacawi)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 28, 2014.

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