LAST week, about gold. This week, recalling a piece I did about more of it, titled – what else – “Baguio Gold.”
“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 it’s 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 most 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.”
And we shall indeed go back to Baguio gold next week with the other half of my “Baguio Gold.” At this point, though, let me announce that History Channel is currently airing a series titled “Lost Gold of World War II.” It has an American team of treasure hunters in search of Yamashita’s fabled loot, hunters based in and around Kiangan, of course. Aha. Maybe they also have a hold of that “another story” for another day. Let’s watch and see...