Baguio: An urban Lazarus
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2019 - 12:00am

Millions of Filipinos who love Baguio City formerly known as the City of Pines have long mourned the slow decay or death of the country’s “Summer Capital.” They often say “Sayang” or “What a loss” referring to one of the country’s top tourist attractions. There was a time when Baguio City’s biggest problem was having too many tourists. But today, that is hardly the case. What Baguio City has too much of are: air polluting PUVs, too many houses, too much construction that violate building code, too much garbage, and too much conflict of interest or vested interest at the expense of this once beautiful and historic city. Compared to the city you walked in the ‘60s to ‘70s most who dare to visit Baguio now limit their activities to the Camp John Hay premises, the Loakan area because the over commercialization and “illegal” urbanization of Baguio City has rendered it practically dead.

But beginning today, there is hope that Baguio City might just be able to become the equivalent of an Urban Lazarus that could rise from the grave or grave state that it’s in. A new mayor steps into City hall today namely Mayor Benjamin “Benjie” Magalong who made a name for himself in the Philippine National Police as head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) as well as the lead investigator on the Mamasapano Massacre where 44 uniformed men of the Special Action Force (SAF-44) were massacred in Mindanao. Weeks after winning the election, many business people and residents of Baguio City have responded positively to the entry of Magalong. People I know have said that they are going to volunteer their help and resources to Magalong because Baguio is in desperate need of resuscitation after years of neglect. Many in fact applaud the announcement of Magalong that the first official meeting of the city leaders will be held right at the Irisan Garbage Dump “so city officials can experience the stench and see the trash” that has been ignored for more than a decade”.

The greatest challenge of Mayor Magalong will be making the real people of Baguio  understand that it is their place and therefore they should be the first to take ownership of the problems, admit that they have been part of the problem and the resurrection and rebirth of Baguio will happen through them and not through Magalong or the millions of Filipinos who are from the lowlands but whose love for Baguio lead them to call themselves “Baguio Boys” or “Baguio girls”. The situation reminded me of a time in Boracay some 25 years ago when I joined local business and property owners on the island and they were warned about selling their heritage to foreign or “Manila-based” investors and abusing the environment. The locals pushed back with a tinge of pride claiming their right to self-determination and one islander going so far as saying “We born here. We have the right to do what we want and we will die here.” Twenty five years later it took a hard line President to cleanup the mess and now he has to sort out who are the legal owners, dummy owners and dummy corporations that have turn “Paradise” into a center of commerce on white sand!

While writing this column, I tried to figure out how a “low lander” like Mayor Magalong could possibly handle the proud people of Baguio and for some strange reason the memory of another tough cop and former Baguio Councilor came to mind. He is none other than the former police chief and former councilor Bobby “Bungo” Ortega and his nom de guerre “Markang Bungo” refers to his legendary reputation of being the angel of death for hard core criminals who use to reap terror and mayhem in the streets of Baguio and nearby vicinities. The true residents of Baguio come from a proud race of warriors and they honor men and women with noble intent, who possess wisdom, who bring visions and solutions to the table with respect and more importantly one who is resolute in the presence of “warriors”.

Having spent many summers and evenings with “local relations”, I have learned that in Baguio City, things get done through “the tribe and their Elders” whether it is clans, barangays or business groups and especially churches. Many lowlanders don’t notice it and folks in Baguio tend to take it for granted, but Baguio City probably has one of the biggest number of Christian churches in the country, they have many radio programs on radio daily, and their members form a large population of Baguio city. As Mayor, Benjie Magalong may now be the Chief among all chiefs, but he must sit down with each chief, give him the honor to lead on a specific project and let all of Baguio know that Chief so and so and his tribe is in charge of the project or the problem. By so doing the honor is given, the reputation is on the line and the challenge is made public.

If the good Mayor would allow me, just one more suggestion, on the matter, he should move heaven and earth to organize, consolidate and incorporate as many women of Baguio to be directly involved in the many redemption projects for the City. As a “Baguio Boy” Benjie Magalong would know that in Baguio, the men talk but the women lead, the women push, they’ll even nag, but they get more things done than most men. In the Ilocano nation, the power is with the woman!

As for all of us Low Landers who Love Baguio, try to help out through social media, word of mouth prayers or volunteerism. Join tree-planting projects, give money or create a fund or start up your own project to help restore Baguio City so we can pass on the legacy to the next generation. If Mayor Magalong gets to read this piece: Please count me in!

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