BAGUIO CITY: SITE OF THE 2010 REGIONALLY CENTRALIZED CORDILLERA DAY CELEBRATION
February 23, 2009
This year’s regional celebration of Cordillera Day will be hosted by the Tongtongan ti Umili, the Baguio City chapter of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
Baguio is the only city in the Cordillera Administrative Region. It is about 250 kilometers north of Manila. It is located within the province of Benguet, at an elevation of roughly 1,500 meters above the mean sea level. The average temperature is 18.3o Celsius,but actually ranges from a low of 8 oC on the coldest mornings of February to a high of 29 oC in the hottest noons of May. The incidence of rainfall is high and can reach 1.8 meters in July or August.
Baguio is a growing urban center, with a weekday population of more than 350,000. This reaches 450,000 during weekends and holidays due to the arrival of tourists. During the yearly Panagbenga Flower Festival, which lasts from late February to early March, the number of people in Baguio sometimes approaches a million. Yet Baguio is a small city, with a land area of only 4.9 square kilometers. The main languages spoken are Iloko, the lingua franca of Northern Luzon, Filipino, and English. Inibaloy, the language of Baguio’s original occupants, is now spoken by less than four percent of the population.
Baguio was originally occupied by small Ibaloy communities who lived on swidden farming, wet-rice cultivation, cattle raising, and the trade of gold that was produced by their small-scale mining neighbors in what are now the municipalities of Tuba, Itogon, and Tublay. After American imperialist forces defeated the Benguet contingent of the Filipino revolutionary army in 1900, they hurriedly established a headquarters in Baguio from which they could launch politico-military as well as mineral-prospecting expeditions into the ore-rich areas nearby. This set off Baguio’s development as a major center of government and business activity throughout the succeeding century.
Because of its temperate climate, Baguio was also chosen by the American colonial government as a summer capital, and a rest and recuperation station for US soldiers in the Far East. In post-colonial times, the Philippine government carried on the American practice of relocating its capital to Baguio every summer; it also allowed the United States to maintain Camp John Hay, in the southeastern corner of the city, as an R&R haven for American servicemen.
Along with many public figures, Filipino sugar barons, as well as American captains of the Philippine mining industry, established posh holiday residences in colonial and post-colonial Baguio. They bought up land in those parts of Baguio that were expressedly segregated for the affluent by the architect whom the United States commissioned to design the city, Daniel H. Burnham. Although his plan allowed relatively vast acreages to be occupied by a summer training camp for teachers, a constabulary school, and a military institute, in addition to Camp John Hay, Burnham primarily envisioned Baguio as a resort for the elite. The Burnham plan did not take into account how the development of the mining industry in Benguet would inevitably turn the only city here into a crossroads for workers, clerks, and professionals; a market for food producers and small entrepreneurs; and an educational center for the children of the working classes and the petty bourgeoisie. Accommodating the masses who have flocked to Baguio since mining’s heyday has thus been a haphazard affair.
Within the vacation housing districts outlined in the Burnham plan, the empty villas of the rich are surrounded by tall pines, sprawling lawns, or luxuriant gardens. Meanwhile, middle class and urban poor neighborhoods that had no place in the Burnham plan are tightly congested. And except for those of the Philippine Military and National Police academies, school compounds and student dormitories are bursting at their seams.
Since the 1980s, when most mines in Benguet started to get played out, education has become Baguio’s leading “industry”. More than 40% of all students in the Cordillera are concentrated in Baguio and the adjacent town of La Trinidad, which hosts the region’s prime institution for agricultural development studies. Baguio’s colleges also draw in students from other parts of northern Luzon and, indeed, from all over the country. Hundreds of South Koreans enroll in the score of schools that their countrymen have established here for the study of English as a Second Language. Students are now the primary patrons of the city’s commerce in goods and services. It is this commerce from which the majority of Baguio’s permanent residents now derive their wherewithal.
To the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera, Baguio is not only a center of education but also a refuge – from tribal war, from the state’s war on the countryside-based insurgency, and above all, from rural unemployment. Agricultural production resources are extremely limited in the harsh mountain environment of the Cordillera. Agriculture has thus been unable to absorb the region’s steadily growing labor force.
In Baguio, most of the surplus labor from the Cordillera countryside may not be able to find steady urban employment, given that the city hosts only a few small factories. But they can eke a living as sidewalk vendors, street sweepers, gardeners, laundrywomen, artisans, stonewall-builders, construction workers, etc. About 35% do find work in commercial establishments, handicraft production firms, and the Baguio export-processing zone, but usually on a casual, contractual, or piece-rate basis.
In 1984, indigenous Cordillerans who had established urban poor communities in Baguio federated with the Organisasyon dagiti Nakurapay nga Umili ti Syudad (ORNUS), affiliated with the CPA. The federation is aimed at building the collective capacity of the urban poor sector in Baguio for attaining their basic rights, common interests, and welfare. It has been engaged in a continuous battle against the demolition of homes and, indeed, entire settlements whose establishment their occupants have not been able to legalize because of the city’s outdated regulations on land-use zoning and land acquisition. ORNUS has served as a vehicle for the various sectors of Baguio society to address common issues such as corruption in the city government and the program that the national government launched in 1992 to privatize utilities, social services, and public facilities, including the city market.
Already halfway towards completion, the privatization program has resulted in the sky-rocketing of charges, making access to electricity, water, and hospital care extremely difficult for the urban poor and even the lower-income brackets of the middle class. It has also resulted in widescale retrenchment of staff, particularly from public hospitals.
Corruption has provided at least one racketeering outfit entry into the privatization program. The outfit is Jadewell, into whose hands the city council once surrendered the management of pay-parking along the streets of the city’s central business district. The small entrepreneurs whose stores lined these streets worked hand-in-hand with TTU members and other consumers to oust Jadewell by means of citizen action.
Corruption has also funneled precious funds from the national treasury towards unnecessary and environmentally hazardous infrastructure projects, such as the construction of the Marcos Highway fly-over, whose foundations are being driven through one of the city’s major groundwater sources.
In hosting the 2010 celebration of Cordillera Day and situating this in the heart of Baguio, CPA and TTU hope to reach out to political parties and candidates with the call to Advance the Politics of Change in the light of the local and national elections in May 2010, where many Filipinos, including indigenous peoples, hope for reforms in government and response to the burning issues they face. It is also a call to the broad public to support political parties and candidates genuinely espousing the politics of change.