GREEN and white.

These have been the distinctive colors that represent Baguio, a once summer hill station for American soldiers. It was for most of them a mountain resort, a place where one could escape the tropical heat by smelling green pine trees in the foggy hills of the Cordillera mountains.

And this same place, more than a century later has been a home to close to a half a million people.

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"Buildings and houses, and more houses," he described.

Twenty-three years ago, Marc Lamangan says he was born in Quirino Hill where houses were as sparse as those of the American countryside.

For him, growing post-1990 July 16 earthquake was a time of many changes. From Indian, Chinese to American stores dotting Session Road before. After the quake, it wasn't the Baguio he knew anymore.

As a young man who spent his youth in Baguio, he has seen it to its worst.

"After the earthquake, everyone seems to be in a hurry reconstructing. As if there was a time limit to rebuild everything with disregard to the old places that matter," he said.

Burnham park, the Baguio Cathedral, Session Road has been a lego-land of sorts he said as many people tried piecing together things that are not truly Baguio, he said.

For him, transformations were happening year after year. Tourists who would visit the city every year will notice something new.

"Every year there's something new, it was like a year ago there was no overpass there, a mall here the following year, another flyover here and all the green patches are gone, all I see is concrete," he narrated.

Petition

In an online petition, Dion Fernandez, a Baguio-born and raised writer wrote "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."

And of course, it is true. In the past years, Baguio has been degrading in beauty without the aesthetics and heritage that has always been neglected.

The petition adds, "We believe that due to its unique history and blend of cultures, Baguio can be to the Philippines as Barcelona is to Spain, Chiang Mai is to Thailand, and San Francisco is to the United States: a main center of arts, culture, philosophy, education, tourism, sustainable development and environmental awareness. "

The petition moved for declaring Baguio a Special Heritage Zone.

As of now, it has only 2,133 signatures in the Petitions Online website. Has the move for the city become a heritage zone neglected? This writer asked Lamangan.

"No, the youth has been active - although passively - we have all been concerned with the city," he said.

"Take a look at the social networking sites like Facebook, we have been participating in forums, causes and petitions online. It shows the youth's concern over Baguio," he adds.

Heritage preservation

In a recent lecture of the Cordillera Indigenous People's Historical Society, Heritage Conservationist Ivan Henares discussed many things that have gone wrong with Baguio and what should be done by the youth to address it.

Henares, the current vice-president of the Philippine Heritage Conservation Society believes Baguio has very special heritage sites that are been being bastardized and neglected as years go by.

He adds an immediate localization of Republic Act 10066 or the Heritage Conservation Act should be done by local officials.

"This will ensure that the few remaining heritage sites left in the city should be given proper attention," he said.

In the new law, works will be considered important cultural property.

Among them are works by a Manlilikha ng Bayan, National Artist, national heroes and archaeological and traditional ethnographic materials.

"Baguio has lots of greats. The works of BenCab, the Aguinaldo museum here just to name a few," Henares said.

Also included for conservation are marked or unmarked structures and archives dating more than 50 years old.

Henares said many sites in Baguio are included in the conservation list like Casa Vallejo, Camp John Hay, Session Road, Burnham Park, Teacher's Camp and Diplomat.

These sites among many others in the city declared national cultural treasures and national historical landmarks are entitled to privileges.

Privileges include priority government and private funding for protection, conservation and restoration.

An official heritage marker may also be placed by the cultural agency concerned indicating that the immovable cultural property has been identified as national cultural treasure.

In times of armed conflict or natural disasters that endanger the cultural heritage, all national cultural treasures or national historical sites will be given priority protection by the government.

Likewise, he said Baguio may also have the chance to designate a heritage zone and allocate funds for its maintenance.

Local government units should also document and sustain all socio-cultural practices like canaos and other rituals, traditional celebrations, historical battles and recreation of customs that are unique to the locality, he said.

Among the best examples of well-preserved heritage zones cited by Henares are those in Vigan, San Fernando, Pampanga where local legislators made ordinances protecting heritage sites left in their cities.

He added Baguio should adopt walking tours similar to those started by Carlos Celdran and Ivan Man Dy in Manila.

"Walking tours are the best tours one could get in a place like Baguio where everyone has a habit of walking," he adds.

Walking tours in Camp John Hay, Teachers Camp and Diplomat Hotel complete with all the Old Baguio costumes would spice up every tour similar to Ghost Tours as Henares has seen in Quebec, Canada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In Teachers Camp alone, every hall or cottage has a history. That would make tourist enjoy more of the place, he said.

With all these views of Baguio from the point of view of Lamangan in his twenties and Fernandez and Henares in their thirties, who would say that the youth isn't concerned with Baguio?

As UNESCO Regional Adviser for Culture in Asia and Pacific Richard Engelhardt once said "the falsification of authenticity in favour of tourism is a very serious issue."

And in that, this writer agrees.