Sunday, June 20, 2021

Cariño: Baguio Connections 41

Baguio Stories

THIS week, more of gold. In particular, Baguio gold, of which I wrote a piece titled just that, "Baguio Gold," some time ago. Apropos of golden discussions ...

"There’s always been something about Baguio and gold. Like karmic partners, the two seem to synonymize each other through time. Like a colorful joke-in-the-making, “Baguio gold” has been different colors at different times. Most obvious, of course, is Baguio gold as yellow, to denote its literal meaning. But Baguio gold has also been white, meaning its pure, sweet, natural spring water, now scarce, and so its being referred to as gold. Baguio gold has also been green, and those who do not know why must stay color-blind.

"Anyway, gold as yellow is an item inextricably linked to Baguio and its history. For centuries before Spanish foot ever knew Philippine soil or American foot ever trod a trail up the Igorot hills, native Ibaloi families mined for the gorgeous mineral and panned for it in rivers which meandered through what would later be called the province of Benguet. The Balatoc mines – originally mined by, among a few others, my great grandfather Mateo’s men -- take their name from one of the native gods, Balitok, god of gold who, legend has it, buried a tree of gold whose very roots are in Itogon.

"It was Spanish reports of the lucrative gold trade (an enterprise the Spanish colonial forces repeatedly tried to appropriate for themselves, with little success) between native miners and their lowland partners that led to an American expedition decidedly finding its way up the Naguilian trail (now Naguilian Road) in June, 1900, at the height of the Philippine-American War. It was the certainty that there was “gold in ‘em mountains” which accounted for the “chartering” of a City of Baguio in 1908 (read: white man need proper town near mining camps) by American politician-miners. That the area boasted of “white man’s weather” only made the place more golden. And the Benguet mining industry went on to boom, at one time making the Benguet Corporation the mostest gold-producing endeavor in the world, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, even.

"As if that wasn’t enough, after reportedly looting all of Asia of all that glitters, mostly gold, it was to Baguio that the Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita retreated when American forces were after him towards the end of World War Two. Retreated with a lot of Asian loot, truckloads of it. Supposedly, much of it was buried in Manila and environs before the retreat, but a goodly amount still found its way up the mountains, and to Baguio.

"Folktales have it that Yamashita and his men, for obvious reasons, buried the gold as they retreated. Ergo, much gold was buried all over Baguio before the Japanese retreated even farther, to Kiangan, from where they finally surrendered in September, 1945. So there’s Kiangan gold too? Aha. Another story. For another day.

"Back to Baguio gold.

"There is much evidence of Yamashita’s loot unearthed, most notably that spectacular find, the golden buddha dug up by Roger Roxas in January, 1971, purloined by goons one dark night, and then purportedly driven down to Porro Point and there to be loaded onto a fine white yacht waiting for it.

"Other treasure has certainly been dug up, some overtly, some covertly. Many times, news of the location of buried treasure found its way back to Baguio via Yamashita’s men themselves, or their relatives, back in Baguio in the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s. They had descriptions like “...under a big tree beside a park... ,” or “...under giant stones beside a stream on the way up to Baguio... ,” or “...beside an airport... ” Some local treasure hunters teamed up with these bearers of treasure news, and got lucky.

"My dad wanted to get lucky. When I was eight or nine, he had occasion to get “tipped” that there was some Yamashita gold in our house on Kisad Road: “...a house that faced east, faced the park, but whose door did not... ” The description seemed tailor-made to suit our house. Given, too, that said house had been appropriated by – along with, my father used to say, my grandfather’s service of golden plates -- the Japanese officers when their army had occupied Baguio, it made perfect sense. If the shoe fits...

"The workers dug all over the property at night. Maybe it was illegal to dig for buried treasure. Maybe discretion was just the better part of valor. Or of greed. Or both. As a child, I was sure of one thing, they dug by the light of my mother’s Petromax lamps. From my bedroom, I could see the diggers through these tiny cracks between the wooden floor planks. They had a lot of space, too, since the house was built high, on concrete posts that rose to some four or more feet above the ground. I think that the dig was supposed to be hush-hush, but in hindsight, I think: as if. As if you could keep a treasure hunt in the middle of Baguio a secret in the 1960s." (To be continued)


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