Tibaldo: Baguio hills as heritage or historical sites

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THE Dominican Hill was declared as a heritage site by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines on September 1, 2014 and after some restorations and improvements introduced by the city government, the whole place transformed into a venue for art and cultural exhibits and seminars. Following the designation of Baguio as a Creative City for Crafts and Folk Arts by the Unesco in 2017, the Dominican Hill Heritage Site became a venue for arts and tourism events such as the ENTAcool 2018 that launched a series of creative activities that include cultural presentations, gallery exhibits, art discussions and demos by local artists and master artisans.

Before reaching the place, visitors usually pass by the lower stairs of the Lourdes Grotto of Mirador Hill which is famous as a tourism destination and site for pilgrimage. Not known to many is that a few meters above the grotto is another historic place, the Mirador Jesuit Villa and Retreat House of the Society of Jesus or more known as Jesuits.

We visited the Jesuit Villa and Retreat House with my wife and grandchild sometime in 2018 and I noted its transformation from a seldom visited and obscure place into a truly awesome destination not only for retreats and booked conferences but also for tourism purposes. Today, the place has been certified by the Department of Tourism-CAR as a venue for said purposes.

With its summit at almost 5,000 feet above sea level, one can actually see a 360 degree view of the western part of the city, parts of Tuba, Benguet and on a clear sunny day, the coastal areas of La Union and the Lingayen Gulf.

I remember checking out the place with the late sportsman and writer Narciso Padilla after the great quake of 1990 when we toured the observatory with a big terrestrial microscope at the Jesuit Villa's roof deck. On the north side of the hill facing the central business district of the city is another seismic observatory used by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) to monitor ground motions or seismic waves. After the 1990 Killer Earthquake, I've seen the seismometer at the Mirador Hill but jagged recordings with the aid of its former caretaker and so with another seismometer near Mines View.

One interesting discovery at the Mirador Hill is the preserved PLDT outcall station where Baguio residents back in the 60s had to come up to this place for long distance calls. The Jesuits according to Fr. Joe Quilongquilong is preserving this wooden structure located near the grotto as part of the Mirador Heritage complex.

Another interesting part of Mirador Hill is the presence of a Cordillera Dap-ay and a maze-like garden walkway called Knidos Labyrinth. Accordingly, the garden formation is named after a place called Knidos at the tip of a peninsula in West Turkey. Knidos was once a thriving Christian area, dominated by the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium, whose capital was Constantinople now Istanbul. It is said that there is no set way of praying at the labyrinth because "the deliberate and slow walking of the path is prayer itself or a quieting of the self to prepare for prayer." Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong tried to walk with his shoes removed with me doing the same at midday and the small pebbles after a few yards felt like I needed to put back my shoes. The walk has three parts according to Fr. Joe: walking in, resting at the center and walking out. There is actually more to learn from that brief experience as the walk in toward the center means "purification," release of your fears, distractions, resistances, sins guilt and harmful habits and the resting at the center signifies "illumination" for the Holy Spirit to fill you with light or "Breathe of God." The way out from the center following the labyrinth path can mean invoking the Spirit's guidance in your life and work.

Last Sunday, August 16, 2020, we attended a church service at the retreat house presided by Fr. Ro Atilano, SJ and the mass was aired live via the Mirador Jesuit Villa Retreat House Facebook page. While hearing mass that conforms to the maximum attendance of 25 percent of venue capacity under the new normal setup, I realized that high areas like the Dominican Hill, Mt. Cabuyao, Mt. Sto. Tomas and Mirador Hill have the strategic advantage when it comes to communication signals, the reason why PLDT established its outcall station many years ago. Seeing these as important attributes to Baguio as a communication hub, education center, tourism destination and religious mecca, I see no reason why the Mirador Hill cannot be considered by the National Historical Commission as another Historical Site.


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