Storytelling in Urban Heritage Walk-A A +A
By Art Tibaldo
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
THE metamorphosis of Baguio City’s urban landscape from a bare Ibaloi pastureland to a prime educational center and tourist destination has become unstoppable with its continued infrastructure developments in every corner of its fifty something square kilometers of land area. This is not to discount the fact that the city’s population has already exceeded more than ten times the ideal no of residents that this upland city was originally intended for by its architects.
And so, from the construction of Kennon Road to the renovation of the old Casa Vallejo, the story of Baguio was once again retold by the same team of storytellers who initiated the Urban Heritage Walk. In 2006, Ramon Dacawi of the Office of the City Mayor convinced friends in media including the Bishop to educate young boys and girls of Baguio about its historic past. Together with civic volunteer groups such as the 911 On-call and the Emergency Medical Service, we had toured scores of schoolers and told them historical facts about how Baguio or Session Road got its name. With my daughter Timtam who is now working as a government employee, we again toured a bunch of young Koreans to the same historic places found within the Central Business District.
I recall that the Baguio Convention Center lot was being bulldozed when I was about to finish my high school days and the Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi Chess championship happened when I was already studying in Manila taking up my college education. The Baguio Convention Center became a national landmark just like other edifices built under the Marcos administration namely; Cultural Center of the Philippines, San Juanico Bridge, the Folk Arts Theater, Development Academy of the Philippines and the Philippine International Convention Center among others.
As we toured the Korean youngsters, our team of storytellers can’t help but mention corporate attempts to cut the trees near the convention center to give way to high rise residential buildings. The sight of tree seedlings being propagated at the mini forest became a good talking point that nobody disagreed. Timtam speaking on a megaphone briefed the young Koreans about the significance of lowlanders going up to Baguio to relax and find respite from the hot weather of the lowlands. The refurbished veranda of the old Casa Vallejo became an instant classroom for the foreign children who had to do the math orally when Timtam asked how old is the Casa today if it was built in the year 1909. Casa Vallejo together with the Baguio Cathedral survived the World War II bombing by American planes in March 1945, a month before the city was liberated from the Japanese Imperial Army by the US and Filipino Guerilla units.
Due to the sweltering summer heat in Manila, members of the Philippine Commission decided to hold its first session in Baguio. The Commissioners, the forerunner of the Philippine Commission, passed through the future main street on their way to their session at what is now the Baden Powell Hall fronting the bus terminal along Gov. Pack Road. Pryce Environ Quinto of the Philippine Information Agency showed to the young Koreans the marker facing the Baden Powel Dormitory which appears more of a backdoor inn than a historic site. The marker placed in 1940 reads; “This is the site of the building where the Philippine Commission held its first session in Baguio from April 22 to June, 1904, inclusive officially initiating use of Baguio as the Philippine’s Summer Capital. The Commission was composed of Governor General Luke B. Wright, President, and Commissioners Henry C. Ide, Dean C. Worcester, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Benito Legarda, Jose R. de Luzurriaga, James F. Smith and Cameron Forbes. In this session, 74 acts and 727 resolutions were approved.”
We proceeded with the Urban Heritage Walk passing through Session Road and down to the USAFIP-NL Veterans Park which is better understood as a memorial site. Our teacher storyteller, from the Baguio City National High School told the children about the heroic sacrifices of Filipino soldiers who perished during the Second World War and the children somehow understood the meaning of war when Mrs. Reyes mentioned the conflict between North and South Korea. We did not proceed to the Burnham Park for the eco-tour as the kids already manifested signs of exhaustion and so our environmentalist in the team gave an animated talk on the eco-system pointing to nearby trees as his talking point. The tour ended with a test of memory and cash gifts were given to those who answered correctly. Just like past walks, the mentors who accompanied the children were tasked to require their ward to write a simple story about their heritage tour. As an artist, perhaps one innovation to adopt for a learning such as the Urban Heritage Walk is for participants to draw and tell their experiences and insights about a place’s past and present situation. After all, art is universal and it can be interpreted not only by the gifted but by whoever that sees and experiences it.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 22, 2013.