Even as Baguio marked its centennial with flourish and appropriate ceremonies, brick-bats have been hurled at it for one reason or another.

One criticism appears well-intentioned but overly critical. Others are simply prejudiced with a jaundiced viewpoint. Just the same such criticisms should be taken as eye-openers for needed improvements in the city.

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One account in a Manila newspaper laments, “the pines of Baguio are gone… both the hotel and the trees.” The hotel obviously refers to the old Pines Hotel which was consumed by fire years ago. Incidents like this, of course, takes place anytime, anywhere in the country and which should not be reason for deliberate slur on the city. As for the pine trees of Baguio, the writer-critic must be suffering from some kind of eye disease. The pine trees are there, only they cannot be seen by those who refuse to see them or ignore their existence.

Where in the country can one find trees, pines even, in the middle of the town or city? Are these things seen, say, in the greater Manila or where the critic presumably lives?

In Baguio the pine forests are as lush as ever. Downtown Baguio have trees, even a concrete one. Out-of-town writers have this penchant decrying the alleged disappearance, whether real or imagined, of the pine growth of Baguio. They are there. They have always been there. What mountain slopes are now dotted with both squatters (informal settlers) shacks, even big residential homes have never been tree areas.

Such city area has always been barren of trees of any kind. Old photos of Kafagway as old Baguio has been called, show hills bereft of pine trees. Now, even these barren hills are with pine growth thanks to sustained regreening efforts by the city. The exception could be the downtown city business district of Session, Magsaysay and Abanao Road, although within the central business district, is lined with tall eucalyptus trees, not pine but green, leafy trees just the same.

The pine forests are as dense as ever in the eastern side and fringes of Baguio. These are

in the Pacdal Area, the Mansion House vicinity, the Baguio Country Club complex, Camp John Hay is as fresh and full of pine growth winding down to the old Voice of America site.

Loakan and the Philippine Military Academy reserve is covered with a wonderful pine forest.

There are other city areas such as the southwestern portion along Marcos highway which abounds with thick pine foliage.

And, of course, the scent of pine is still there which Manila critics claim are lost forever.

One Manila based writer-critic even denigrates Baguio’s observance of its centenary. This critic says Baguio folk have little to celebrate after 100 years. Obviously because he does not see much of the city, he has this view. However, Baguio folk know better. They marked the centennial of Baguio with deep appreciation for so much city growth spanning the past 100 years. They look forward to, perhaps, more development in the years ahead.

This writer even claimed no landmarks and monuments were unveiled to showcase the distinguished historical and cultural legacy of Baguio. He must be suffering from hallucination. To honor the countless builders of Baguio monument has been unveiled and stands at the newly designated Baguio Centennial Park, courtesy of the Baguio Centennial Commission and the City Government of Baguio.

Another historical marker has also been erected in front of City Hall. Outsiders won’t know much about this, but Baguio folk harbor a great deal of sentiment on such landmarks symbolic of the growth of the city.

Another criticism thrown at Baguio speaks about the “lost paradise”. One thing in common among critics of Baguio is their impressions of the unpopulated, sleepy Baguio before the last pacific war. They tend to transpose this view of the city to the present highly urbanized status of Baguio today. Baguioates most of all treasure the memory of old Baguio.

But, time moves on and has a way of dimming the vision of old Baguio. Let it not be said, however, that Baguio folk care less for their city than outsiders.

Baguio fold are sentimental lot. They care for Baguio as an ideal hometown and place of residence, even as a retirement haven. But, time has a way or rearranging things. In the case of Baguio, its population has grown to excessive levels, more vehicles now prowl city streets causing air pollution and inevitable traffic gridlocks, water requirements have increased depleting local water sources. Somehow, this has resulted to climate changes. Now, a bit warmer than before the last war, the vaunted Baguio cold weather has likewise become degrees warmer. Yet, it is still cooler compared to what obtains in lowland Philippines.

Fortunately, what use to be indiscriminate cutting of pine saplings years ago, which are transported to Manila for sale as Christmas trees have ceased. Thanks to a strict enforcement of forestry laws by the city forestry division and the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the pinelands of Baguio have grown denser with its government protection. A keen sense of public awareness on the importance of the pine forests in Baguio has resulted to prevent any more damage to the local pine growth.

Even private entities and individuals have joined the combined effort to protect and safeguard the local pine forests.

In time, what another writer-critic bewailed as the lost Eden may entirely evolve into an exact opposite. There is a lot of truism and reality on what one write-critic says that what Baguio needs today is a serious physical makeover. He says this partake of a hard pill to swallow. A lot of city residents are well aware of this. This calls for reducing zoning densities, removing structures and (informal settlers) from all dangerous slopes, rationalizing vehicular access (read: minimizing utility, vehicles and jeepneys from the city center) and recreating the vision of Daniel Burnham for the 21st century.

The writer-critic says Baguio can be a fine city once more (as if all of Baguio does not know), but only by a comprehensive urban design within an economic, social, environmental and regional context. This is, of course, such a big order considering what presently obtains in the city. Even the critic with, perhaps, his good intentions knows about this.

After all, this seems like a job for superman, the fictional hero, and no such being exists, unfortunately.

The same critic sees a Metro-Baguio development complex. This approach, by the way is currently in the works which would combine the City of Baguio and the Benguet towns surrounding Baguio such La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba and Tublay composing some kind of a loose Metro Baguio Authority. This governance coordination concept has long been kept idle. It is slowly gaining ground and possibly acceptance by the concerned political entities. This is with the support of Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan and Baguio Representative Mauricio Domogan.

The critic has this added warning: “If Baguio does not fix itself now, then the storied Hill Station will be nothing but a mountain of woe, a legacy lost forever and the uncontested bummer (underling ours) capital of the Philippines.

In response Baguio has done and is doing everything and anything possible to improve its lot and enhance its repute as the Summer Capital of the Philippines. Baguio folk might as well say, thanks but no thanks, to an outsider telling them on what to be done for their city.

They know by heart and are determined to overcome any and all setbacks which no critic of any stripe should ever forget.

The process may be slow. It could take time. But, Baguio will get there sooner than later.

After its centennial anniversary, Baguio looks forward to the future with hopes and vision for greater results and fulfillment. And no outsider, critic or otherwise should make no mistake about it.

Happy New Year to all!