Of Burial Grounds and Historic Sites-A A +A
By Art Tibaldo
Monday, January 20, 2014
AS A young boy who once got hold of a Reader's Digest and read about Howard Carter and his discovery of Egyptian tombs and ancient monarchy, I developed a particular liking to old civilization and history. Though I haven't been to Egypt to personally see for myself the tomb of King Tutankhamen and to Rome so I can set foot on the coliseum where gladiators wrangled and killed each other, my fascination to such destinations has kept me wishing for a kind of journey not for soul searching but to marvel at its historical value.
I haven’t really travelled far and wide but the few places I have seen in Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Canada, Thailand and the United States that shows the preserved tombstones, resting sites and important places gave me an insight that no book or magazine article can describe.
In Baguio, the memorial sites around the city are not likely to be included in any tourism event or observation tours and the closest to these hallmarks I would say are Japanese tomb marker along Kennon Road, the World War II battle site in Irisan and the tombs of those who perished during the building of Kennon Road.
Lately, talks about Historical Sites and the need for their preservation came to be noted when the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples issued a land title to a native claimant of the whole stretch where the 104 year old Casa Vallejo is located.
To date, Baguio City has become the focus and center for many petition starting from the clamor and appeal by so-called stakeholders to stop a big shopping mall to over extend their parking lot that affects hundreds of Pine trees. The petition to save the Baguio Post Office from possible repurposing is still ongoing and now, the clamor to protect heritage sites such as Casa Vallejo, the Baden Powell Hall, the Teachers Camp and even the Court of Appeal cottages are being reckoned as part of a bigger petition to totally declare Baguio City as a Heritage Site.
In 2004, a group who called themselves “Concerned Citizens of Baguio” launched a petition to answer the rapid overdevelopment and environmental degradation happening in this city. After years, the call for support was resurrected following the media hype of Casa Vallejo.
The 2004 petition goes “We believe that the City of Baguio is culturally, environmentally and aesthetically unique and different from other cities in the Philippines. We believe that Baguio is the nerve center of four rich and diverse cultures: the Filipino culture in general, the highland Cordilleran culture, the lowland Ilocano culture, and the heritage culture brought about by the Americans during the early 20th Century.”
The petitioners believe that in the past two decades, the City of Baguio has experienced a substantial degradation of its unique culture, environment and art. They believe that the approval of certain politicians with no respect for the aesthetics and the environment of Baguio to put up concrete structures such as malls, Condominium buildings, overpasses, flyovers and other concrete structures only worsen Baguio City's lamentable decay as a so-called City of Pines.
Believing that this overdevelopment, over population, environmental violations and resulting pollution has to stop, the petitioners are suggesting alternatives such as a center for arts and culture.
Believing that due to its unique history and blend of cultures, Baguio can be to the Philippines as Barcelona is to Spain or Chang Mai to Thailand and San Francisco to the United States.
I’ve been to Jeju Island in South Korea, Malacca in Malaysia and Okinawa of Japan and these places truly showcases pre-colonial cultures through their cultural centers in the form of villages and preserved sites just like our Unesco recognized Vigan Heritage Site.
With the growing environmental awareness and sustainable projects involving culture and local tourism, the petitioners believe that Baguio deserves to be declared a "Special Heritage Zone," so that the degradation brought about by overdevelopment can be minimized and gradually controlled.
Further, the signatories believe that Baguio as a center of culture and environmental awareness can be a valuable asset not only to the Philippines but to the world as a whole.
In Baguio, we have lost the old Pines Hotel because of a man-made disaster that reduced the resort into ashes during the 80s. The Camp John Hay is no longer what it used to be. The Baguio Post Office has become an eyesore because Philpost rents out space to earn more revenues. We are about to lose another relic that truly reflect Baguio's historic past if things will progress according to the wishes of the claimants of Casa Vallejo. People are asking what's happening to Baguio.
We should also ask…where is our sense of pride and cultural heritage? As for me, I'm looking for enough reasons to live and stay in Baguio with the hope of seeing a positive turn out of events.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 21, 2014.