I WAS at my mother’s womb when the Pagasa Weather Station officially recorded the coldest temperature of Baguio City at 6.3 degrees Celsius on January 18, 1961. Four months before I breathed my first air on April 12, 1961, the Russians took an early lead in the space race with the Vostok 1 spacecraft piloted by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbiting the earth.
Years later when I learned to blow my whistle as a cub scout, I saw the constructed wooden replica of the Apollo 11’s silver Lunar Module at the Baguio Tech’s Elementary School along Bonifacio Road where I spent a year as a third grader. The University of Baguio at that time was taking the lead in technological and vocational courses and the school’s sports and band house was just within our neighborhood in Holy Ghost Proper. When news broke that US Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached the moon, we joined the American residents in jubilation and Christmas in our place was truly memorable because we usually receive fruit pies from them whenever we go caroling at their doorsteps. The fourth of every July was a special day in the city not because of the presence of many Americans but WWII veterans especially the members of the USAFIP-NL along with city officials usually had a colorful civic parade along Session, Magsaysay and Harrison Roads ending up at the Melvin Jones football grounds. The most awaited and applauded was the American chef of the John Hay Air Base who dressed up as Gen. Douglas McArthur complete with his signature airman shades and corn cub cigar pipe.
As among the youngsters of the 60s and 70s, we carved Baguio stones into ashtrays and made rattan baskets and fruit trays for school projects. We shined shoes and sold newspapers to augment our school-day allowances and to be able to buy movie tickets without asking money from parents. Some kids gather chayote from the neighborhood and sold it at the city market for as low as 10 cents per kilo.
These are some of my childhood’s recollections to let readers understand how Baguio was like when scents of pine permeated the air we breathe and when lesser passenger jitneys plied the streets.
The Burnham Park has always been part of Baguio’s historic past from the zoning plan of Architect Daniel Burnham, the mass of Pope John Paul II and as evacuation ground during the 1990 killer quake.
Today’s city skyline now includes structures that are taller than pine trees. I once heard a zoning ordinance stating that structures shouldn’t be higher than the tallest pine trees but that was ignored when engineers disputed it invoking scientific findings such as geologic tests as a more binding basis for high rise constructions. In my recent social media post, I mentioned that Baguio’s central business district and adjoining Barangays are perfect examples of what an educational city and tourism destination shouldn’t be. I also asked “Don’t we have right-minded urban planners anymore who can speak out in behalf of the residents and lovers of Baguio? Whatever happens to the visions of Team Baguio?” My post elicited many reactions and commenters expressed dismay over a proposed mall or hotel with parking spaces to be built right within the Burnham Park area. Just to let everyone know, Team Baguio was convened by civic minded stakeholder’s and concerned citizens that drew out a recovery and reconstruction plan few weeks after the July 16, 1990 earthquake.
Back then, our rescue Huey choppers and Uncle Sam’s Chinook cargo helicopters weren’t able to land at the city’s central business district because open spaces like the Melvin Jones football ground of Burnham Park and the athletic oval already became a tent city crowded by evacuees. Luz Galia, now a retired senior teacher at Baguio City National High School recalls that they led their students and advisers to these open spaces when the great quake struck Baguio.
My wife was pregnant and about to deliver our first child on that fateful day. The 7.8 tremor practically flattened tall structures including the Hyatt Terraces, Nevada and Crown Hotel taking many unfortunate lives. Four days after the tremor, we were eventually airlifted out of Baguio on a helicopter from Loakan Airport to Poro Point in La Union to Villamor Airbase in Manila on board the Department of national Defense Fokker plane. From there, we were finally transferred to the Lourdes Hospital in Sta. Mesa because my wife had to be operated via caesarian section.
As one who underwent trainings on Mass Casualty Incident (MCI), Incident Command System (ICS) and Airport Emergency and Evacuation as a result of my involvement with the Disaster Risk Reduction Committee, I see the value and importance of open spaces for air-rescue, relief, and evacuation purposes. I hope that our city park administrators and city officials review past incidents and realize the importance of having wide open spaces.
I’d like to liken and compare our park to Manhattan’s Central Park that is the most visited city park in the United States which in April 2017 was also placed on the tentative list for UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Ours may be miniscule in terms of land area but let us come to realize that even our athletic field may no longer be used for emergency purposes because it was already rubberized and confined to athletics and organized performances.