Saturday, September 05, 2015

Remember us

There is a place in Kiangan called the Million Dollar Hill. It is not actually a hill but a raised barren mound. It used to be a hill, old people there said. Seventy years ago, to be exact. It used to be a forested hill until American planes bombed it into submission. So the hill became a mound. The Americans bombed it with; you guessed it, a million dollar worth of bombs. That's the Kiangan joke for you. Maybe the source of the Kiangan humor.
The Americans bombed it to force the Japanese into submission. It was the last true stand of the Japanese forces in the country as the rest of the Japanese forces were just remnants.
After Kiangan's Million Dollar Hill, Yamashita and his men were brought to Baguio and made to sign the surrender papers. The place of the signing is the present Ambassador's Residence inside Camp John Hay. Tables were dispatched to form the long table for the signing papers. Some of the tables in the area as well as those in Brent School were used. Clean sheets were set and the signing was done at past noon in September 4, 1945.
Present there were Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, fresh from the prisoner’s camp, and other military officers including British Gen. Arthur Percival whom Wainwright gave the privilege of having Yamashita surrender to him as years before, it was Percival who surrendered Singapore and Burma to Yamashita.  
The Ambassador’s Residence was Yamashita’s headquarters during the War. Bedroom Number 5, facing the road, was his bedroom so he was familiar with the bullet-riddled mansion then. He surrendered his sword as well as the swords of his other officers. Days after, he was hanged.
Seventy years ago, 19 year old Pvt. Sabas Hafalla was recuperating in Mankayan as he was hit by grenade shrapnel. Nineteen year old Graciano Clavano was in Negros Oriental, providing security to the Americans, not knowing that at that noon, the war has ended.
Seventy years ago, they are beside US Ambassador Philip Goldberg in the same spot where Yamashita surrendered. Above them is the Amorsolo painting of the same scene.
In Kiangan, Challanao Maguiwe, 101 years old, recalled how he helped defend Banaue from the Japanese. He was the squad leader of his group. “Remember us,’ was all he can tell the present generation.
In this time when balikbayan boxes, the symbol of the present Filipino heroes, the OFWs, are being forcibly opened for reasons only the government knows, isn’t it about time we open this valiant chapter of our history.
Without these soldiers, our ancestors, we cannot imagine what became of us.
“This is not a celebration but a commemoration of a solemn and central event in the history of our two countries,” Goldberg said. He said that we continue to benefit from their sacrifices.
Or are we? Did our soldiers not die in vain? This is a balikbayan box that needs to be open for debate. But the biggest lesson is what the squad leader from Ifugao said: remember us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Month of the hungry ghosts or hungry men?

FRIDAY, August 14, is the start of the Ghost Month. If we go by the Taiwanese version, it means that ghosts will haunt the Philippines with the first day of the month marked by the opening of the temple gates (a.k.a. The Gates of Hell!). Never mind that Dan Brown in his novel, Inferno, referred to Manila as the gates of hell. During this Ghost Month (which ends on September 12), incense and food are offered to the spirits (to discourage them from visiting our homes) and spirit paper money burnt as an offering. Also during the month, people avoid surgery, buying cars, swimming, and going out after dark. It is also important that addresses are not revealed to the ghosts.

There are more caveats regarding this ghostly month (Please see our centerfold in this week’s issue of the Baguio Chronicle). But the greater question in this world of flesh is: Should we be afraid of the ghosts or the men?

We brought this to forth because August 13 is this year’s Earth Overshoot Day or EOD. This means that last Thursday is the day when humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate these resources. The EOD is also known as the Ecological Debt Day. This started in 1987 by the Global Footprint Network or GFN to draw on the Earth’s very finite resources and how fast we are overshooting our consumption.

The GFN also came out with an equation to calculate this year’s EOD which is: World Biocapacity divided by the World Ecological Footprint multiplied by 365. In 1987, the WEOD was December 19. In 1990, it became December 7 then down to November 21 in 1995. By 2010, it was August 21 and last year, the deceleration slowed down to August 21. Last year, it was August 19. Now it is August 13.

What did you do last Thursday? Probably, nothing if you are in Manila because it rained and the rains flooded the roads and traffic put us on a standstill. In Baguio, there was nothing much to do because school in the college just started and students were just getting to know each other. This is the dead season for tourists so there were a few of them in the city.

If ever there was a celebration, it was The Big Bang in Tianjin, China last Wednesday night when a series of explosions from a warehouse of dangerous chemicals killed at least 50 people and injured more than 400.

It is said that all of humankind now needs 1.6 Earths. The Philippines needs 1.9 Philippines to consume within this year, almost the same as that of the United States. The United Arab Emirates needs 12.3 UAE to support its residents, Japanese need 7 Japans and Chinese need 2.2 Chinas.

All of us here on Earth would need two Earths by 2030. Is that why we are trying to colonize Mars and why we are reconsidering Pluto?

We wonder how many Baguios Baguio residents need for its consumption. We would expect a lot because that is what BLISTT is trying to remedy already. It’s been decades and nothing’s happening on that concept. But eventually, we would be outpacing our resources as well.

Let us try to go on the old-fashioned ways to tip the balance to our favor or advantage. Let us plant more trees and other greens, use renewable energy and, most of all, moderate greed --- our never-ending and insatiable greed!

Are you with us?*

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wedding in the burial cave

LAST month, a couple from Manila decided to have their honeymoon in Sagada. Nothing wrong with that as Sagada has become a favorite honeymoon destination for many Filipinos, especially after the movie “That Thing Called Tadhana” came about.

What made the couple famous, however, was when they recreated their wedding in Sagada, posing in the now-famous Kiltepan sunrise spot, the rice terraces on the northern side of the town, and in Lumiang Cave. The cave is an old burial cave and the couple decided to hold their post-nuptial shoot among the wooden coffins.

The photoshoot passed quietly in the Internet until it made it to a Sagada Facebook page. That’s when the issues came out of the cave. The reactions we saw at random in some of the comments include crazy, what were they thinking, desecration, shameful, ignorant, death wish, disrespect and stupid. Some called for the heads of the photographers, the newly-wed couple, tour guides, owner of the inn where they stayed, tourism officer and tourism committee. Almost all were angered by the photoshoot while some took a sardonic view saying that maybe they wanted a corpse wedding theme and the guides turned their hanapbuhay into a hanap-patay.

The biggest victim of all these, of course, is Sagada. Not only the place but the idea of Sagada. Even before “That Thing Called Tadhana” came about, Sagada has been turning into the city it was long compared to: Baguio. It has always been said that Sagada is Baguio fifty years ago, and then the time comparison was pushed to thirty years ago then twenty years ago.

Now Sagada is fast catching up with Baguio. On any long weekend, some of those who go to Baguio proceed to Sagada. The Kiltepan sunrise, once the secret of the town, has become a wide open secret. Three hundred would converge there on sunset, a far cry when only the movie couple had their “hugot” dialogue there.

Now this. After the photographers were condemned for their audacity, the fingers were blamed on the tour guides. The inn where they got the guides was identified. The inn said that the guides, mostly students, knew what they were doing and were not the ones.

The “real” guide was later identified but the old issue of the rival tour guide associations was again brought up. Also their inadequacies on some of the histories of the places in Sagada were discussed. As it turned out, only a few of the guides and residents were able to watch the Tadhana movie so how could they respond to the tourists’ requests for the “Tadhana” tour. There were talks about the tourism officer and how he is also the executive secretary so how can he fully do his specific job since budget is limited? If we call for the heads of all these people, will the problem cease?

A wedding photographer, especially with the scale of what the couple had, is not alone. Or a couple, as their business name implies. At the least there were five including the ones in charge of the klieg lights, because the cave was flooded with lights. So a production as major as that was not noticed by the people near the caves? Was it so hush-hush that no one in Sagada knew until it came out in the Internet?

If Sagada has to learn from Baguio, it has to learn not from its success but from its mistakes. Does it equate tourism success with the number of tourists? Then by all means, stuff the caves with people. Let the tourists do what they want to do. They are always right, you know. Have fast food franchises everywhere. Build parking lots and multi-level parking spaces. Build a shopping mall. Let the tourist pose with the hanging coffins right there in their inns.

But if the Sagada residents value their culture more than the tourists, then this is the right time to do what’s right. It has to acknowledge the limits of hospitality. Taboos of the forefathers had their reasons that are not be thrown away like heathen idols. In fact, it is these “heathen idols” that made Sagada Sagada. If you again look at the post-nuptial  photos, look at it semiotically: that it means marrying commercial tourism with the death of the culture.    

A sort of a dap-ay should be formed to address the invasion of tourism in Sagada. Get lessons from other tourist areas in other areas of indigenous peoples as guides. It has become easy to come to Sagada with the good roads but it doesn’t mean we have to make it easy for them. Let them learn your culture and know what’s appropriate or not. Let them appreciate Sagada for what it is not what they want it to be. You should not build bungee jumping sites just for them to touch the hanging coffins.

Where do broken hearts go, goes the blurb from the Tadhana movie. Maybe it is in Sagada. But the broken hearts should not be the hearts of the Sagada residents.*

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The unmentioned

MUCH has been said about the last State of the Nation Address or SOCA of President Benigno Aquino III.

For one, it was more than two hours long. There were 85 applauses, we heard. We downloaded the English translation and there it was: 45 pages and more than 17,000 words. It was already a novella or the equivalent of Bob Ong’s novel.

Would President Aquino have written the whole thing? Hardly. It took a village to make that speech and it was done for more than a week. It was his valedictory address. His report card. It was his crowning glory.

But as it turned out, it was a speech known for what were not mentioned. Minutes after the speech, it was the consensus among the so-called pundits in the social media. There was no mention of this, no mention of that. At 17,000 words, he could have created the whole weekly newspaper but there was no mention of many that were bugging our local papers.

So we did what most decent journalists now would have done. We downloaded the whole speech (something you can’t do with Marcos, even if there already was an Internet at that time) and relied on the “find” feature.

These were the initial words not mentioned: "Baguio", "Cordillera", "autonomy". There were three matches of "NCIP" but all because it was inside "priNCIPles" and NCIP and principle are sometimes strange bedfellows. These were the same problems with the last SONA. So is it safe to say that Cordillera autonomy will not push through? There was no mention of FOI either and only one of freedom (freedom from corruption) and three mentions of information. There was no mention of Ilocos either or Cagayan and one mention of the vote-rich province of Pangasinan but only under TPLEX. So our neighbors did not fare as well too. There was one mention of Cebu but only in the context of its earthquake. There were four mentions of Manila.

There was no mention of human or mankind. There was one mention of animal but only in relation to Moros. And the Church would not like the SONA either because there was no mention of religion or Catholic. There was nothing on politics but two mentions of politicians. Binay was mentioned but it was in the first part when Aquino acknowledged the bigwigs. Roxas was mentioned but it was a whole paragraph honoring him. There was one mention of Yolanda relating to the life-changing typhoon and one Yoly for Yoly Ong who is part of the Aquino cabinet. There was, of course, a paragraph for dear Yolly, who is the yaya of P-Noy.

There were two mentions of energy but one was on solar energy and another for the Energy Minister. No mention on environment, pollution or trees, which is reflective (we thought) of his non-emphasis on nature. Nature was mentioned once but only as “not my nature to brag”. So there.

But so who and what groups were treated well by the SONA? Not the Christians because they were not mentioned either. Nor INC or Iglesia. God was mentioned only twice. ASEAN was not mentioned.

The terms frequently mentioned then were poverty (eight times), poor (6), love (5) and peace (4). Health was mentioned 17 times but nine times with PhilHealth. Economy was mentioned eight times but OFW only twice. There were 31 matches for help, 17 for deliver and seven serves. The most frequent were country with 54 mentions, Philippines with 27, and Filipino with 40.

We cannot list all the words but you get the drift. It was all about the country, which is OK. We can always say it’s not the number of mentions but the actions on them. And how can you work on something unmentioned? Unless the president is a silent worker which, at 45 pages, he wasn’t. He mentioned selfie once but no Facebook.*

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Eighteen days

LAST Sunday was a blessed day for all of us in Baguio simply because the sun shone. Because before that, it rained continuously for eighteen days!

There was no typhoon --- just monsoon rains --- but the amount of rain was so tremendous that landslides were recorded on all roads leading to the city. Two people were killed when a landslide fell on their commuter van along Kennon Road just above the Lion’s Head. Other landslides in several areas in Baguio and Benguet also prompted officials to evacuate residents immediately.

Last Sunday, a shotcreted portion along Badiwan (Marcos Highway) finally gave way, causing visitors getting out of Baguio (it was a long weekend, after all) to be caught in a long jam that lasted for three hours.

There were longer periods of continuous rains in Baguio. Who can forget the ten days of the returning Typhoon Pepeng in 2009 which brought two meters of rains and killed hundreds of people, particularly in Little Kibungan?

Who can forget the forty days of rains in 1972 when typhoons hit Luzon from July to August, killing hundreds and inundating Central and Northern Luzon for months?

But the longest recorded continuous raining in the country was 47 days in Baguio in 1919 when it rained nonstop from July 17 to September 2.

Continuous rains are no longer new in Baguio, even in this era of climate change. But what makes it very different a century ago? There were much fewer people but much more trees 100 years ago.

We have replaced our vegetation with concrete and we now are under the administration which actually encourages cutting of trees after typhoons because they pose danger to people? Really now? Isn’t it the other way around? That the people pose danger to the trees? They don’t see that kind of logic because trees don’t vote.

But a bit of a lecture now. Runoff has been rapid in Baguio because of our high intensity rains (we are the 2nd rainiest city in the world). The Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation showed that the soil erosion (A) is equal to rainfall factor (R) times soil erodibility factor (K) times length of slope factor (L) times slope factor (S) times cropping system/ground cover factor (C) times management practices factor (P).

We cannot do anything with R, K, L and S but we were responsible for C and P. Even without man’s interference, soil erosion is already evident but C and P are the most crucial.

Vegetation has the so-called raindrop buffering effect, soil channeling effect and reservoir effect. Plants reduce the impact on the soil by intercepting the raindrops and absorb much of the energy. They channel the soil because of the root systems and the canopy which lead the rain to the stems. Ground covers are also portable reservoir, delaying its absorption to the ground.

But because we have greatly reduced C and P, what is 18 days of continuous rains now has the same effect as 40 days in the past. True enough; the same number of landslides in 1972 manifested itself in the recent 18 days of continuous rains.

What we have to do now is to decrease the C and P factors as soon as possible because climate change has already dealt us an unfortunate trump card that prayers for a strong card may no longer be enough.*

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Pambansang Photobomber and Baguio's own

JUST last year, National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) head Felipe de Leon met with some Baguio residents (including us) at Mt. Cloud Bookshop. He mentioned about huge buildings in Istanbul, Turkey that threatened the view of its western district of Zeytinburnu’s majestic silhouette of domes and spires that has remained unchanged for centuries, particularly the 400-year-old Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia.

De Leon said with glee that the Onalti Doyuz Residence, a trio of condominium towers of 27, 32 and 37 storeys, already called the Turkish photobombers, were ordered demolished by the Turkish Council of State after they approved a ruling by an Istanbul court that ordered the buildings’ demolition.

De Leon said that they will do the same with the DMCI Torre de Manila, which is being built near the Luneta and already distracting the view of the Rizal monument from the sunset horizon. He said that the NCCA was one of those which have called for the demolition of the Torre de Manila because of the distraction. It was already called the National Photobomber then.

We then admittedly like his dedication but we honestly believe it will not happen. How can you stop a multi-million peso building that would help in the alleviation of unemployment and would bring in millions of pesos in tourism, if we go by the usual rant? And it is much taller than the Onalti Doyuz as it plans to reach 46 storeys.

Well, we were so wrong! The Supreme Court ordered last week DMCI Project Developers, Inc. to stop the construction and development of its Torre De Manila condominium project.

Voting 8-5, the high court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) in favor of petitioner --- the Order of the Knights of Rizal --- which filed their petition in September 2014. And to think the justice most likely to rule against the Torre de Manila, Baguio boy Justice Marvic Leonen, was even out on-leave.

The Knights of Rizal filed the petition, saying that the Torre de Manila violates the constitutional provision on the conservation and promotion of the country's historical and cultural heritage: Republic Act (RA) No. 4846 (also known as the Cultural Properties Preservation and Protection Act) and RA No. 10066 (also known as the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009), as well as the Manila Zoning Ordinance. NCCA added that the building will cheapen the value of the surrounding historical landmarks, including the Rizal monument.

So what would be the implication to Baguio? A lot. We are a city of views. The Department of Tourism’s most favorite constructions are the viewpoints. They create viewpoints and then followed by restrooms. Look what they did with the Highest Point in Benguet. They created the viewpoint nook and in the process, successfully destroyed the view.

Look at what they and the local government allowed to happen with the Mines View Park. They destroyed the view by allowing the stalls to mushroom and now wanted to make the stalls into a multi-storey mall selling nothing but Baguio souvenirs.  

Look at what the city is helping to do with the football field. It wanted to raise the field into a multi-storey mall so we can have a nice view of the lake. So what did we do to the lake? We make it chocolate brown by allowing more buildings to pass their sewage there. Chocolate-brown looks better on selfies, right?

What did the LGU do with the last pine hill at the central business district? They allowed the cutting of the trees so we can have an unobstructed view of the city.

Yes, city hall has become the anti-photo bomber. It helps tourists take unobstructed view of themselves and the concrete buildings. So you mean tourists come here for the pine trees and the fresh air? That’s so baduy!

But wait! Today being Rizal Day, let’s look at our own Rizal Park and see what is obstructing the view? Yes, the city hall. The anti-photobomber is Rizal’s photobomber in Baguio.

Let’s have it demolished --- including its occupants --- if they don’t shape up? What do you think?*

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Pope Effect in Baguio

SADLY, the Pope Effect in Baguio manifested as early as Thursday morning. The central business district was already clogged that time. Queues at the Ketchup Community were long and winding. Marcos Highway experienced heavy traffic similar to the last Christmas holidays. Funny but most of the traffic was at the forgotten fork at Marcos Highway leading to the Baguio Dairy Farm. Yes, it is another reprise of La Presa fever. As for Kennon Road, here’s the text we got: Nakakaasar dito sa Kennon Road, bro. Ang daming sasakyan ng taga-lowlands na either tumirik dito or nakatambay lang along the highway na nagse-selfie, sobrang grabe tuloy ang traffic jam all the way to BGH.”
Because of the three-day “holy days” imposed in Manila because of the visit of Pope Francis, a huge chunk of the populace again went up to Baguio. As we said earlier, the reasons were: vacation, the opening of TPLEX until Urdaneta, cheap gasoline, hot weather in Manila and La Presa. Add to this the faithful throngs in Manila and other parts of the country hoping to see Pope Francis.
This is NOT the Pope Francis effect we should be getting. Here is a pope who comes from a Third World Country and seemed hell-bent to change the Catholic Church or the perception of the Church. “The most powerful yet the humblest,” as one Filipino writer tweeted.
Pope Francis preferred taking the bus instead of the chauffer driven car. He wore black shoes instead of the red designer shoes preferred by his predecessor. He slept in a small flat. In the Philippines, he decided to stay in the Nunciature instead of Manila Hotel. He refused to kiss the hand of PNoy when he arrived. He asked that the huge tarps of him be torn down, preferring the focus on Jesus.
His time as pope has been marked with themes of love, reconciliation, humility and a less-doctrinal tone of papacy. He washed the feet of the disabled and the sick during Easter time. He embraced and blessed Vinicio Riva, a disfigured man who had been shunned for his deformity all his life.
He asked, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about his position on gays. Because of this, some of the gay Filipinos wore T-shirts printed with “Who am I to judge” when they waited for him on the streets. Myke Sotero, a pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church wrote: Dear Pope Francis. Welcome to the Philippines, I am gay and I have a gay partner, Jojo. We thank you for looking at us differently from how other Catholic bishops see our love. We have been hurt for so long by the church. I believe your positive and loving ways can make a difference in bringing a more accepting and loving atmosphere in the church. Thank you for giving us something to hope for.”
This is the Pope Francis Effect we want in Baguio, please. Not the mountains of trash and the smell of clutch from our Manila visitors again. Not the wanton disregard of our local laws and culture. Are you, the tourists going to spend PhP2,500 a day per tourist, as the local tourism board insists? If so, please use it wisely by shopping responsibly and locally.
Pope Francis was on one mission actually: to help the poor. That is the core of the Pope Francis effect and the rest only fell into place.
In this regard, may we also bring to focus our local politicians to follow into his footsteps. Do not use the alibi that you are of different religion. That is also the alibi you use for not your political parties. Remember, those are not your concerns. Your concern also is to help the poor.  
I am inspired by what our friend, a Manila writer and teacher who decided to join the exodus to the city. She wrote: “The joy of the people for their pope filters through the static of the TVs near Burnham. Such pure joy. I feel the energy of our faith as I take my daily walk, and cannot help but raise my eyes to the sky and send a prayer, words of thanks, a wish.”*

Standing on the shoulders of warriors

"IN his weekend communique, Gen. Douglas MacArthur included the dramatic story of non-Christian Igorot native tribesmen who --- in an offensive over rough, matted terrain --- mounted U.S. tanks like so many half-nude jockeys to direct American drivers inside.

When the attack was over,” MacArthur wrote, “the remnants of the tanks and of the Igorots were still there; but the 20th Japanese Infantry Regiment was completely annihilated; when you tell that story, stand in tribute to those gallant Igorots.” This was how Time Magazine reported about the Bataan Battle in March  1942.

We take comfort again in the idea of the "gallant Igorots" after 13 of them died in a skirmish over the weekend in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Thirteen of the 42 Special Action Force officers, or roughly one-third of those who perished were from the Cordilleras.

Like Time,  when we tell the story, we have to stand in tribute to those gallant Igorots because there is no other way. The other stories: Why and how they died are something to be debated for the next weeks. Even what to call the incident is a question of heroes: misencounter, battle, ambush, trap, bounty hunting. All of these diminish those who died.

This being the time of selfies, yes, even in time of war, we saw videos from both sides, the SAF and the MILF and BIFF during the time of the incident. In one of the videos from the MILF, they were more relaxed, sniping and then chatting then sniping again. We cannot understand what they were saying but we grasped one Tagalog phrase, malayo pa ang umaga. Meaning the dawn is still far away. Meaning, this will take time.

Meanwhile, the video from the BFF was more of hell-fire shooting, losing bullets and one young SAF apparently injured and taking the video as a last resort selfie.  You can see a mixture of fear and courage in the SAF video.

And that is nothing to take away their gallantry. As a character from the popular TV series, A Game of Thrones, had it: "Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' 'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”

“Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They're just braver five minutes longer," said the late US President Ronald Reagan.

But the battle went on for eight hours. That is an extra pack of heroism going there.

Senior Police Superintendent Jesus Cambay, the former Baguio City Police Chief, said that many police recruits would rather join the SAF rather than the regular police force because of the idea of the Igorot warrior.

The Cordillerans repulsed the Spaniards for three centuries. We knew of the beheadings, ambush and strategies made by the Igorot warriors on these Spaniards who tried to invade in search of gold. But we also knew about Spanish officers who showed cruelty to subdue but were later driven off as well. By the time the Filipinos started the KKK, the Igorots in G-strings were among those who joined the Malolos Republic, having helped start the Candon Republic months before.

We also heard the stories of the gallant Igorot soldiers in the World War II and how  they nailed the coffin on the Japanese forces in Benguet and Ifugao.

Let us not say that these gallant Igorots died in vain. “Nobody who says, ‘I told you so’ has ever been, or will ever be, a hero," said Ursula Le Guin.

We are all keyboard warriors now, as one journalist said.  And we are just basking in the sacrifices of these gallant Igorots. To them, we offer our respect.

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