A Baguio diary

Friday, December 10, 2010

Broken Cane and Dreams

I never really thought much about what dreams meant before, except those that almost ushered me out of this world – bangungot. I get those a lot.

For those who are lucky enough not to know what I’m talking about, it’s usually like this: the dream begins just like any other dream, then it slowly gets weirder and weirder and scarier and scarier and then you find yourself, in the dream, in a situation where you’re either being choked, strangled, suffocated, and then you start having a hard time breathing, then you’re there somewhere between two dimensions – the dream and real life, and in both places, you can’t breathe. The dream continues, with you not being able to take in air, you’re aware of that, and in real life not only are you not breathing, you also can’t move. To hell with Big Bang theorists, but I am grateful that I am naturally equipped with self-preservation instincts, and I believe that that’s by intelligent design – in the dream I start trying to get myself out of that situation that’s preventing me from taking in air, and in real life my body’s doing everything to wake itself out of the dream.

A lot of times, I wake up just in time. I know that if I stayed in that in between state for a few more seconds, I’m outta here.

It’s Nightmare on Elm St., the reality show. I’ve gotten so used to these nightmares that at times, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, I know if I’m gonna have one that night. I remember one particular nightmare I had years ago. I wasn’t living here in Baguio yet, but was staying at one of those old cottages in Camp John Hay just before they bulldozed those down in the late 90’s to make way for those luxury log cabins up in Scout Hill. We were shooting a film here and I was sharing a two-bed room with a fellow actor. It was one of those times when I felt like I was gonna have one when I fall asleep. Sure enough, after staring at the ceiling for some time, I fell asleep, and in my sleep, I dreamt that I was staring at the same ceiling, in the same room, in the same bed. It was as if the what was happening to me in real life was moved into a different dimension – just like a touring play where they the whole stage set-up to a different venue for the next show. Suddenly, a woman appeared through the ceiling, grabbed me by the collar and started pulling me up towards the ceiling. The sensation of levitating was so real, then I looked down and saw my roommate across the room, sound asleep in his bed, and myself (my other self?), asleep, right below me. Then it came – I started having difficulty breathing and when I looked down at myself again, I saw my body struggling for air. I (the one being pulled up towards the celing) tried to scream, but no sound came out. I remember ordering my body to make a sound loud enough to make my roommate wake up. Then I realized, that I, up there, and I, down there, are one, though at the time mysteriously separated. And I thought, I, up there, may not be heard by my roommate screaming for I, up there, is in another dimension, but if I try hard enough, my actions up there can move my body down there to do the same. Did that confuse you? It was so clear to me that night. Then, after struggling for a few more seconds, I, up there, actually heard myself, down there, scream, it was loud enough to wake my roommate up. I actually heard the sound, saw my roommate being roused, seeing me, getting up, walking towards my body down there, and shaking it and then I woke up, gasping for breath. I up there and my body down there were one again.

I wake up in the middle of the night a lot, gasping for breath. Medical websites tell me it’s sleep apnea. So perhaps the bad dreams were just coincidental. I for sure am still now sure whether it’s the sleep apnea that triggers the nightmares or the other way around. Then lately, during these episodes, I realize that dreams aren’t nightmares anymore, rather seemingly regular dreams of open spaces, sunsets, smiles, laughter, trees, loved ones - and yet I still find myself in between dimensions – in a dream not being able to breathe, and here in this world, paralyzed in bed, unable to move nor make a sound, struggling to stay alive, or here.

It’s been almost a year since I injured my knee, I tore a ligament, according to a couple of doctors I consulted. It’s gotten better several times, and I’ve re-injured it as many times. My wife bought me a cane a few months back when I started really having a hard time walking. I’d pick that cane up every now and then whenever I twist my knee the wrong way again finding myself unable to walk unaided. The other night, I dreamt about that cane being broken in half. Oddly enough, the mere sight of the broken cane in my dream brought me to that half-asleep, half-awake state again, unable to breathe.

Luckily, for the nth time, I woke up just in time to catch my breath. I found it hard to go back to sleep that night, thinking about that broken cane in my dream and though I’ve formed my own conjecture, the next day, instead of my usual morning fare of coffee, cigarettes and browsing Facebook for anything interesting happening on and beyond my computer monitor, I found myself searching the world wide web for anything that could tell me what it meant, or maybe confirm my speculation.

Typing in “search: ‘broken cane dreams’” brought me to Dreammoods.com which told me that, “To see or use a cane in your dream, suggests that you are in need of some support and advice. The cane may also represent someone you trust and can rely on.” I thought so, it’s pretty obvious what a cane may represent.

Let’s see, what are the canes in my life?

Family – my children, my wife. My life revolves around them. And while I do all I can to provide for them, it’s really me who lean on them a lot. To rephrase an oft-quoted line from a movie, “they complete me,” in so many ways.

Family – my parents, two surviving grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins. At the end of the day, they let me know that I’m not alone in this journey, that I belong.

My art – in all the forms I express it. And like the ripples a tiny pebble makes in the vast ocean, my art lets me know that I matter in this universe.

Friends – all of them, all my life. From that friend I sang songs all afternoon up a tamarind tree as a child; and
the one I fashioned masks with to fight all evil and become superheroes; and that one with whom I crossed that threshold between childhood and being a grown-up; and the rest who remained and the ones who left and returned. And yes, even those who believed bridges were burned, if only they knew that in certain cases, some of them never actually needed a bridge in the first place to get to the door, which, for better or worse, never really closes.

So what’s with the dream? A broken cane – not some manananggal strangling me, nor was it anything remotely scary at all, yet how come that image turned into a nightmare that left me almost out of breath?

And if it did mean what it supposedly meant, which cane in my life was it about? Ahh, there you go, see, breaking any one of those canes is indeed more terrifying than anything else in and out of this world.

Did I break the heart of a loved one, a friend? Did I compromise the integrity of my art in some way?

The broken knee has gotten better, since I hurt it, sigh, again, a couple of weeks ago. After a day with a cane, I can do without it again. Whenever this damned knee gets better, I always feel like I will never have any real use for that cane again. It gets tucked away somewhere out of sight, neglected, forgotten. And then something happens, and I find myself almost totally helpless without it.

I must take care of that cane, no matter what, for better or worse. Not only because I may need it again sometime in the future, but also if only to show my gratitude for all the times it propped me up when I’m down, or helped me move on, climb up steps or get down on my knees.

It’s comforting to know that as long as I catch my breath, when I wake up, a cane’s there to always help me get out of bed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One less car

*a repost of my Nov. 21 column in the Cordillera Today

The signs say – “Motorcycle and Bicycle Ban Along Session Road Is Strictly Implemented. Violators Will Be Apprehended.”

In recent days, police visibility along Session Road has multiplied, particularly during afternoon rush hour. I’m sure this will help drive away so-called petty criminals such as pickpockets and snatchers (hopefully out of the city, and not just a couple of blocks away from the heart of the city), it’s quite obvious that their top priority is the apprehension of motorcyclists in the area as two-wheeled vehicles are banned along Session Road. I am wondering though if this only applies to private (i.e. non-commercial) motorcyclists as the delivery morotcyles of the numerous fastfood restaurants there are still around at all hours of the day. They’re the ones who should be banned for I am sure I am not alone when I say that a lot of these fastfood deliverymen are notoriously reckless with their motorcyles, weaving in and out of traffic dangerously, swerving between lanes carelessly, making u-turns at pedestrian lanes, etc. I believe the among the reasons for the ban are the added noise and air pollution these two-stroke engines produce.

And now, I just learned, that there is also a bicycle ban in place too. Er, huh?
While the rest of the sensible world, in this age of ozone layer depletion and global warming, are advocating the use of bicycles as an environment-friendly, not to mention healthy, alternative to oil-powered modes of transportation, here we are banning its use. Just a few weeks ago the debate was how to reduce air pollution at least within the Central Business District, now the talks are about why were discouraging one of the things that can actually help do just that. For every cyclist prevented from bringing his bike to Session Road, that’s one more commuter who would be forced to either ride a smoke-belching jeepney or taxi to get to the center of town.

One of the comments in an online forum said that the ban is actually anti-poor, for while those who can afford to buy motor vehilces can freely drive around town, it deprives those who can only afford to buy a bicycle their right to use the city’s roads. That’s also true.

So instead of promoting, encouraging the use of an alternative more of transportation that can help ease the traffic congestion, air and noise pollution along Session Road – they ban it. Just like that.

How did such a ban come about? I really don’t know what the rationale behind it is. But take a look at our city officials – top to bottom – do any of them bike? Right.

You want to ease traffic along Session Road? How many vehicles parked and double-parked along that road carry only one person? Can you imagine if most of those persons rode bikes instead? How much less space their parked bicycles would occupy?

And I write this column after seeing a photo in of our local newspapers of a police officer removing the license plate of a vehicle apparently belonging to our good congressman for double parking alone Session Road.

Ay, apo.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It’s two-way street: look both ways

*a repost of my Nov. 14 column in the Cordillera Today

In one of our performances of a play here in Baguio years ago at a school gymnasium, there was a group of students who obviously did not come to watch a show but to be the show instead. While the show was going on, they kept on heckling, making unnecessary noises, doing all they can to disrupt the performance and catch attention. After some time, I stopped in the middle of a line, dropped the character, and addressed the audience directly. I apologized for the disruption, and for not being able to go on with the performance anymore due to the aforementioned group’s behavior. I then turned my attention to the attention-seekers and reminded them that for P50.00, the price of the ticket to the show, they only earned the privilege to experience a theatrical presentation, and not the right to disrespect both the artists and the rest of the members of the audience. That’s what our posters and other advertising materials promised: buy the ticket, and you can come in and watch the performance, and for our part, we commit to professionally perform with all our hearts and minds. While we do remind our audiences during performances that they cannot eat, drink nor smoke during the show, we did not have a dress-code written at the back of those tickets, neither did we need to specify that they should not disrupt the show. Common sense dictated those.

I am reminded of this incident now as I read about the incident at the Manila Hotel where one Moshe Dacmeg was prevented from entering the premises because he was not wearing the appropriate attire for the occasion. That occasion, dubbed “Embracing Our Common Humanity, had the former U.S. President Bill Clinton as speaker. First arriving at the venue wearing more conventional clothing, after breezing through the entrance to the hotel, Dacmeg later changed into a traditional Cordillera g-sting which prompted the event’s coordinators, as well as the U.S. Secret Service assigned to Clinton, to deny him entry. Tickets to the event did not come cheap, with most expensive pegged at P25,000.00 and general admission at P2,000.00.

The online community is expectedly again filling up with outrage and hate messages, most decrying the perceived “discrimination” that Dacmeg suffered, particularly atthe hands of white men that were members of Clinton’s security detail. Ifugao representative Teodoro Baguilat reportedly said “a man in a g-string is not a terrorist but an honorable man,” and asked, “Why? Does wearing G-string constitute a threat to Clinton?” Mr. Vladimir Cayabas, administrator of the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) and to whom Mr. Dacmeg was reported to be an aide, also said, “We went there using our tribal gear to represent our region. We went there to participate and learn, and not to be labeled as terrorists or suspects.”

I don’t think that Dacmeg was prevented from entering because he was perceived as a threat to Mr. Clinton, or suspected of being a terrorist. I simply think that they (the organizers and the Secret Service) never expected to encounter a half-naked man at the event. Nope, they were not being disrespectful towards indigenous cultures and traditions, they most probably had no idea that what he was a wearing was a traditional Kankanaey attire. To them, he was simply dressed inappropriately for an event where people were expected to attend dressed in more conventional attire. Mr. Dacmeg was asked if he could at least put on a shirt, to which the reply was that putting on a shirt would dishonor g-string, and that the g-string “must never be mixed with other attire”, according to Mr. Cayabas. But he did later say, reportedly, that “it was cold so I allowed Moshe to finally wear the shirt.” Among my memories of Sagada are old men in g-strings and coats walking around town.

Bottom line is, it was Clinton’s, their, show - their show, their rules. In the same way as when they come to yours – your show, your place, your rules. While we must respect all cultures and traditions, indigenous or otherwise, we must also not impose our own on others. A lot of establishments here in Baguio would not allow a person wearing only a g-string to enter their premises too, you know.

Respect is a two-way street. We must always look both ways before holding up a placard and shouting, “Damaso.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lost and Found in Natonin

The saddest thing is that when I first came here six years ago, the roads were in exactly the same condition. It took an hour to cover 10 meters six years ago, it took us an hour, or so, to cover 10 kilometres now. The good thing is that the place itself looked almost exactly the same as it did 6 years ago.
We arrived in Paracelis, Mt. Province, on our way to the next town, Natonin, last night after close to ten hours on the road from Baguio. We were advised by friends at our stopover not to even attempt to bring the same van we arrived in on to Natonin, there’s no way it can make it. We first thought of going against their advise, but luckily we heeded it in the end, and hired a tried and tested local jeepney to take us to our final destination.
To cover a distance of a little over 22 kilometres, it took us three hours. Four of us from our entourage of academics, artists, journalists and NGO workers sat on the roof. But of course. So in the darkness of a Mt. Province evening, we made our way, over rocks, mud, rushing waters and in the case of us on the roof, protruding branches.

I joined the trip mainly because of our NGO worker-friend, an adopted son of the town who’s been working hard to help in the town’s development, and who’s been raving about the town for the past few months. I dragged another friend to help me document the trip on video and in photos. We arrived late at night so I still had no idea what our friend has been raving about. After a hearty, albeit incongruous, dinner of paksiw na bangus, we hit the sack, hoping to wake up at the crack of dawn.
Dawn cracks rather early in these parts that by 6AM the sun was already brightly shining. I asked around for the best spot to get a panoramic view of the town, and we were accompanied by a good Samaritan to a place called To’or – a hill right in the middle of the valley. We could see that hill from where we were staying and I figured it couldn’t be that far – perhaps a 10-15 minute walk. But there are no straight lines here, so the winding uphill trek to the view deck actually took an hour or so, and this Baguio City slicker hasn’t been on a trail in a very long time – I think it took longer to catch my breath than the actual trek.
But it was worth it. Still and video cameras and tripods on our backs, we reached the top of the hill and there, in 360 degrees, the beauty of Natonin unfolded before us. It wasn’t the thought of another hour‘s trek that made me prolong this fool’s stay on top that hill but rather the golden morning rays on brilliant shades of green painted on mountain sides, rice terraces, tree tops, occasionally interrupted by huts that housed the land’s bounty. So this was Natonin, perhaps among the Cordilleras’ best kept secret havens.
The walk back to the town center was much more pleasant. The people we said good morning to on our way to the hill were still where they were on our way back: the mothers sunning their babies; the store keeper who was preparing her shop for the day earlier was now attending to the day’s first clients; the man shovelling dirt out of the way on the road was now taking his first break chewing moma under a shade. We were particularly amused by the numerous lost and found signs on the walls of several sari-sari stores: lost and found money, lost and found bag, lost and found pustiso. Yup, someone must have left his false teeth at that store the previous night.
I figured, nothing gets lost here. In Natonin, whatever it is you lost, it will find its way back to you. I would love to find my way back here some time again soon.
And I think I wouldn’t mind if things remain as they are here for the next six, or 20 years.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Haunted Tree

If only the rest of Baguio’s pine trees were like the concrete one that once proudly stood at the top of Baguio’s most popular thoroughfare, insulting people’s sensibilities for years. Why? Nothing can kill it. It never dies. Not even with sledge and jack hammers and wrecking balls. As the song says,“they stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast.”

Due process is what it’s all about, said city’s father during a press conference -- that thing was government property, and you don’t just get rid of it without going through the proper process. I’m sure they can show proof that the construction of the concrete pine tree actually went though “due process,” But I doubt if it can be said though that it went through some thought process. He lambasted the people behind the stone installation that replaced their beloved “monument to corruption,” as another former Mayor called it, for not coming out in the open to take credit for putting it up. He even said that perhaps ghosts put those up. One day the concrete pine tree was there, gone the next, replaced by something the good janitor says he doesn’t even know represents what.

Just for the record, the days after the concrete pine tree was replaced, the news was all over local media. Local cable TV hosts and their guests alternately praised and ridiculed it, so did columnists and radio commentators, and it was all over the local papers. It wasn’t ghosts that did it, it was “designed and executed by a group of volunteer architects and engineers headed by Architect Elvis Palicdon, local sculptor Gilbert Gano and other Baguio residents who contributed to this effort by lending a hand, sharing their thoughts and donating in kind whatever they could to help make this project a success,” according to a news report. The same press releases also said that “The stone pillars symbolized the eight commissioners of the 2nd Philippine Commission that held its sessions in 1904.” So unless our government officials don’t read the papers, or watch TV, or listen to the radio, I doubt if they really don’t know how the installation came to be. But then again, maybe they only watch, read or listen to what they want to see or hear.

As to which is “better,” the concrete pine tree that had a sign that said “plant me, protect me,” or Gano’s installation-art piece, it's a matter of taste, I guess. The only way to find out how the community really feels about it is to hold a plebiscite. We don’t want to go that far. But as to the artistic value of the art work, perhaps the artist should have spoon-fed his audience by actually making life-size realistic representations of the commissioners, ala Madam Tussauds’, then they wouldn’t have to use thought process and their imagination to appreciate the work – there’s evidence that those two do not flow abundantly inside that building filled with people who call themselves honorable.

There are so many talking points about this issue that I don’t know where to begin – but allow me to focus on one: how it amazes me to see elected officials passionately defending that concrete pine tree, while real trees do not get the same amount of concern from these same people, some of whom even caused the demise of living, air-cleansing, life-sustaining trees. While we’re still talking about the demise of their beloved concrete tree, these are yesterday’s news, forgotten, hardly talked about:

- Pine trees felled to make way for an unnecessary flyover
- Pine trees murdered to make way for log cabins (built using “imported logs” – ahhh, the irony)
- Government allows the “transplantation” of around 400 trees to accommodate the expansion of an industrial site, knowing that the last time a mass relocation of trees was done in the city, it only had a 15% success rate, meaning that potentially around 340 of those trees will die

Now why can’t some of our elected officials show the same concern for these trees as they do for that damned concrete pine tree?

Or maybe it’s not the famous tree in Loakan that’s really haunted, it seems like the concrete pine tree harbored more ghosts than any other -- and it looks like it will continue to haunt us for a while longer.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The House Always Wins

The promise is this: risk a small amount for a chance at a fortune. One for a thousand, 10 for a hundred thousand, a hundred for a million. The “less small” the amount risked, the bigger the potential earnings. In the land where the majority have less, with no clear chance at having more in the horizon, next to leaving the country, gambling provides the most promise at a better life. Gambling lords have a better chance at striking gold in this country than in one where the life is so much easier. And people get addicted to it believing that they can beat the odds.

Here’s the catch – while the gambler can believe all he wants that he can beat the odds, the gambling lord designs his business in a way that the house always wins. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? And that is the point - the house always wins, whatever design that house may have: a slot machine or a black jack table at a casino, a bingo social for a church benefit, a neighborhood mahjong-an, a sports arena that’s actually a sabungan, or hidden jueteng operations.

And if the house wins, who loses? That’s right.

Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, at left. Photo by Jojo Lamaria.

And in these houses, who are home? The owners of course. Parents who run it and make sure it runs smoothly and that the end result is achieved: the house wins. Then there are the children who help with the household chores – card dealers, bet collectors, etc. And if it’s an illegal gambling operation such as Jueteng, the children run the bigger risk of getting in trouble with the law, they’re the ones who are out there in the streets, in alleyways at the market, passageways in between shanties, collecting coins and dreams. And the parents? Well, they’re safe behind the walls of the house, away from view, away from trouble. And the children get their paltry allowances every single day, and the parents get to keep the rest.

And if the children get in trouble, it compromises the whole house, so they do exert efforts to keep their children safe – by buying out the trouble, in this case, the law enforcers. Now this is a tricky undertaking: you pay off the foot soldiers, you will have to pay off the ones commanding them. You pay off the commanders, you will have to pay off the ones supervising them. You pay off the supervisors, and the money will have to somehow reach higher and higher up. There’s so much coins to go around, anyway, coins that put together can make for quite a comfortable house, buy guns for protection, and souls to play with like puppets.

In the meantime, dreamers’ dreams remain unrealized. Maybe they do get a taste of comfort thanks to some winnings that will buy a lechon manok for the day and a few pirated videoke DVDs to sing the blues away for a few days. But at the end of the day, they still live in a shanty on borrowed land.

The rich don’t play jueteng, they don’t need to, they eat six times a day and do not have to line up for a jeep ride home in the rain. Their children go to schools in crisp, clean uniforms and on weekends they can all watch a 3D flick at the mall.

So never mind what the political implications are of having the name of our good Mayor dragged into this whole jueteng mess, this will only result in efforts to “clear his name.” Never mind empty pronouncements such as “I have created a task force to address the problem,” or “I am directing our police force to go after all forms of illegal gambling,” etc., these are nothing more than space fillers for newspapers. Never mind cheap political tricks like “maybe they were referring to the previous administration,” it’s really cheap. And don’t blame the dreamers by saying “e kung wala namang nagsusugal wala namang magpapasugal” - they’re hungry, and desperate, and the government has failed to give them hope. For us to believe the denials, all you need to do is to eradicate jueteng, and maybe the way to go is to make this city a place where people can realize their dreams, a place where honest, hard work is rewarded with just compensation. Make it possible for its people to become heroes and realize their full potential as human beings. Show them that graft, corruption, unlawfulness and immorality are wrong, and not the norm. And all of this can only happen with principled, clean and honest public service.

Give them hope.

With that, the house of cards would come tumbling down, and the city and its people will win, finally.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Now what?

In the months leading to this year’s elections, Baguio produced an extraordinary number of experts in public administration and local politics. They commented criticized, damned, commented on practically every issue – the Athletic Bowl hysteria, the garbage problem, the traffic schemes. They all professed their love for Baguio – in the wonderful virtual world that is the world wide web, in fact, it was as if there really was a competition as to who loved Baguio the most. They were vigilant, their words were impassioned. They went to Burnham Park to pick up plastic cups, have pinikpikan picnics and plant some seedlings. For a moment it did feel like Baguio’s renaissance was in sight.

They did all they can to shape public opinion, not being totally aware that they were also writing Baguio’s history in the early stages of its second century.

Scheming, aspiring and/or come-backing politicians took advantage of the prevailing public sentiment, and jumped on the bandwagon. Facebook status updates became campaign slogans, blog entries became platforms of government on newsprint campaign flyers. People didn’t want some Korean-led consortium to spearhead the development of the Athletic Bowl, and the politicians said they have a better alternative. People were getting impatient about the garbage crisis, and they said they will solve the problem within 60 days if elected. People were getting tired of the traffic situation within the Central Business District, and they vowed to immediately improve the situation.

And we bought it, lock, stock and barrel. Lapped it up, got lost in the hysterics. We let bygones be bygones – the sly attempt to put up a gambling haven in the city; the controversial suspicious and utterly one-sided pay parking scheme that was rammed down the people’s throats that had motorists coughing up twenty pesos every time they stopped their cars practically anywhere in the city. We ignored the fact that a lot of the problems that Baguio is facing today were created by the inaction, ignorance and indifference of the same people who were now positioning themselves as the city’s saviors.

And it’s been said that there were people too, both private citizens and those in public service, who took advantage of these politicians’ desperation to regain and/or hold on to power and accepted the envelopes that promised them a few days’ worth of cheap alcohol and instant noodles in return for what supposedly was their sacred vote, uncaring, unaware, that the envelop bought way more than that: the dignity of this glorious city.

I know, it’s too early to criticize the newly installed administration, I accept that. But this early, we are being told that we can’t afford the rehabilitation of our parks, after all; that there really is no solution in sight in the near future for the city’s garbage problem; and that one of the solution to our traffic problem is to reconsider bringing back that much-hated pay parking scheme that we rallied and fought against not so long ago.

And the flash-in-the-pan pundits and Baguio-lovers have been quiet. Save for the occasional “no to Beneco’s planned development of a property along South Drive,” Baguio net-izens have been posting really nothing more than the usual cut-and-paste quotations, amusing YouTube videos, what they had for lunch, what movie pirated DVD they’re watching tonight, and online relationship status updates. It’s complicated. In the meantime, the garbage continues to pile up and nobody’s picking up trash on weekends anymore.

Now more than ever, experts on and defenders of Baguio, we need you. We began writing this part of Baguio’s history last May 10, 2010 – now what?

Monday, August 23, 2010

If “Murder, as defined in common law countries, is the unlawful killing of another human being with ‘malice aforethought’, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide (such as manslaughter),” from a certain perspective, it may be said that the 42 people who died may have been murdered. According to another online legal dictionary, “the term malice aforethought did not necessarily mean that the killer planned or premeditated on the killing…” So what and who caused the death of those innocent people?

The thought of last Wednesday’s bus accident in Sablan still send shivers down my spine. I could’ve been on that bus, perhaps on my way to San Fernando to meet with a client which I do once in a while, or for a day at the beach with friends and family. And what about the reported passenger who boarded the ill-fated bus just minutes away from the site of the accident? What a tragedy - 41, some reports say 42, people died. Reports also say that the driver survived and will be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide. The operators will probably be included in the suit. The company’s franchise will most surely be suspended for some time, the whole fleet grounded. Sadly, in a month or so, and this is perhaps the bigger tragedy, everything will be back to business as usual. What business?

We have been told that the bus lost its brakes causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle causing it to fall into a steep ravine causing the death of 42 of the passengers and injury to some 8 or 9. But, also according to some local media persons, when the conductor was first interviewed, he narrated that they did notice much earlier, when they were just leaving Baguio, that the air pressure for the vehicle’s braking mechanism (the bus had air brakes) was slowly going below the prescribed or standard level. They were once again reminded of this when they picked up that one passenger just minutes before the crash. But they decided to go ahead anyway. Typical pinoy driver “kaya pa ‘yan” or “ok lang ‘yan” thinking. Their vehicle’s spewing out poisonous black smoke? “Ok lang ‘yan.” One or both headlights aren’t working? “Ok lang ‘yan, kita ko pa naman yung daan e.” Brake lights aren’t working? “Ok lang yan, meron namang DISTANCIA AMIGO sa likod e.”Their vehicle’s tires’ treads are dangerously worn? “Kaya pa ‘yan, di naman flat e.”What if this driver was among those who seriously believe that a seat belt is nothing more than a nuisance and should only be worn on when there are cops around to avoid being cited and fined for not wearing his seatbelt? What if he’s among those who got their licenses through the “palakad” system wherein for double or triple the usual amount paid to get a valid driver’s license, one wouldn’t have to go through the mandated traffic safety seminar, written and actual driving tests, and at times even the required drug test?

I know of a person who bragged about his numerous fake licenses under different fake names and the lengths he had to go to acquire them, and I wondered why he never bothered to go to the same lengths to acquire a genuine one instead. I know of a person who has failed the written test required to get a driver’s license who, instead of exerting more effort to study and learn what he needs to know to pass the exam, is exerting all efforts to find someone who knows someone at the Land Transportation Office (LTO) who can be bribed so he wouldn’t have to take the test at all.

And now another news report tells us that the operator of the ill-fated bus, Eso-Nice, “is one of the 807 franchise holders that appear to have irregular documentation,” according to the Department of Transportation and Communication, and that the franchise issued to Eso-Nice, according to the DOTC Cordillera director the same news report says, “violates a 1996 DOTC circular that imposed a moratorium on franchises covering Baguio City.”

So, what if the owners of the bus are among those who operate illegally and without the proper authorization? Or those who pay off authorities to forego stringent maintenance requirements? Or among the greedy ones who subscribe to the “pwede na ‘yan” mentality and the pinoy’s penchant for “remedyo" and would go ahead and put their vehicles on the road knowing that certain parts are defective or replaced with inferior spare parts just to save on maintenance costs?

The measly hundreds or considerable thousands of pesos that changed hands in illegal transactions at the Land Transportation Office or at Land Transportation Franchising ad Regulatory board may have killed those innocent people. Legitimate transport operators would have had their vehicles undergo periodic maintenance keeping their vehicles safe and sound. Honest and vigilant government personnel would not let any unregistered and unlicensed bus on the road, and ensure that those in operation legally are really road worthy. Uncorrupt government personnel would have ensured that only qualified and educated drivers are given licenses and a qualified and educated driver would not knowingly put his and the lives of his passengers in grave danger.

Graft and corruption kill people. Knowingly engaging in corrupt practices can result in the death of people. We know that. And that, for me, falls under “malice aforethought.” That, to me, is murder.

Friday, July 16, 2010

In Baguio, when it rains

We just had our first typhoon, and I’m very thankful that PAGASA got it wrong again – what they forecasted as a typhoon that would hit Baguio directly only brought about moderate winds and gray skies for a day, it was actually nice.

While known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines – originally literally when the American colonial government declared this highland paradise as the official seat of government of the country during the dry season, I have always loved Baguio even more during the rainy season. Having less tourists during that time may be one of the reasons for that.

Now as in when I was growing up, summer for our family meant the going to the beach, so way before I chose Baguio to be my home, my mother would bring me with her on her numerous trips to visit friends here usually during the rainy season. We used to take the Pantranco bus from Quezon Avenue, I’d sleep off the first few hours of the journey and wake up just as the bus perilously starts to make its way up Kennon Road, I’d keep the window open to feel the gradual drop in the wind’s temperature as the bus climbs higher and higher.

Coming here then was like entering a theater to watch a play. Open house starts at the bottom of Kennon Road, with house music provided by the sound of the rushing Bued River. That music slowly fades out as curtain time nears – and you know that the magical Baguio experience is about to begin when the curtain of fog closes, gradually hiding everything from view. The lowland flora slowly exits the scene and a new cast of highland greenery takes its place, waiting in the wings behind the clouds to make their entrance. The air gets colder and everyone in the audience of tourists, students, Baguio folks on their way back home, change costumes – out come the thick jackets and sweaters and scarves and bonnets – back then it was cold enough to wear gloves or mittens.

And the performance begins – the curtains are drawn to reveal a majestic sight of towering pine trees, mossy rocks and thickly vegetated mountainsides. It is a multi-sensory experience – the wind chills and gently moistens the tip of your nose as you stick as much of yourself out the window to take in as much of the ongoing performance as you can, you take a deep breath and smell the unique scent of pine, and your eyes feast on the one of the most beautiful skylines you’ve ever seen. And it’s only the beginning.

A gentle drizzle would complete the overture as the bus enters the center of town. The bus slows down and even before it comes to a full stop people would be getting off their seats already, picking up their bags from underneath their seats or from the overhead luggage rack and start making their way down the aisle. You get off, and Act 1 of Baguio in the rain begins.

In Baguio when it rains, you don’t rush to hide from it like you do elsewhere. Here, you look up towards the heavens and take it all in, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

In Baguio when it rains, walking around Burnham Park is like being inside a watercolor painting where all the colors seem to feather into each other, flowers cross-fading into leaves into earth into people’s faces.

In Baguio when it rains, the lagoon across the Mansion House and the pine forest beside it are a Zen garden.

In Baguio when it rains, artists gather for an exhibit opening and later around the fire to make music; around a table for a warm drink; every establishment along Session Road provides a welcoming, warm sanctuary; the cold brings people closer together.

In Baguio when it rains, you breathe out and make a cloud.

In Baguio when it rains, at night, the lights of the houses in the distant mountains are like fireflies.

In Baguio when it rains, at night when you call it a day, the mountains sing you a lullaby and beginning with your toes and the tips of your fingers, numbs you to sleep, a welcome intermission.

In Baguio when it rains, the next morning when you wake, the sun comes out and the world is young again.

So one rainy day more than a decade ago, I decided to never be elsewhere again but here, in Baguio, when it rains.
Saturday, July 10, 2010


I usually start at the fish section, the Baguio Public Market isn’t exactly as organized as a boring supermarket – though there’s only one area where they sell coffee, the other sections recur in different places.
“Tatlong lingo ka nang hindi nag-uulam ng tilapia,” my suki scolds me at the top of her voice when she saw me approaching from a good 50 meters away. I didn’t plan to buy tilapia that day, but to appease her, I get a kilo. Her sister in the next stall silently smiles at me – from her I buy three pieces of boneless bangus. I call them Ms. Tilapia and Ms. Bangus. “Ang galing talaga ng mga taga-Baguio, ‘no?” I raise both eyebrows, not exactly knowing what she’s talking about. “Biro mo, tatlong taga-Baguio ang nakapasok sa Pilipinas Got Talent.” Ahhh, ok. I smile and agree with her. “Mabait na bata ‘yang si Karen,” she continued, “bata pa lang ‘yan kilala ko na ‘yan. Kapitbahay kasi namin sila sa Quezon Hill.” I paid for both the tilapiaand the bangus, and I turned to go. “O, baka tatlong lingo na naman bago ka bumili ulit sa’kin!” Ms. Tilapia chided me. I smiled at her and, “Malamang,” I said.
Behind them is where I get other varieties of fish – tuna, blue marlin, maya-maya. Today’s batch didn’t really look fresh, so I moved on to where I get my chicken where I picked a whole chicken big enough to feed all five of us at home but not too big to fit in our rotisserie. I get another kilo of leg quarters for adobo too. “Hindi ka ba kukuha ng liver?” Why not, so I told her to give me a quarter of a kilo, and politely told the little boy offering big plastic bags to put all my purchases in that no, thank you, not today, I have my bayong.
I walk past the first vegetable section, I prefer buying my greens from the hangar vegetable section. But I do stop by “GrandFa’s” for a few blocks of freshly made tofu.
Just a few paces further, I buy a bunch of bananas and some avocado and along that same row, I get my ingredients for laing – dried gabi leaves, stalks, and a bag of niyog. I smelled basil while waiting for the guy to finish grating the coconut, just behind me was lady with whole sack of basil leaves. P40 per kilo, that’s whole lot of pesto!
At the coffee place, I placed my usual order of half a kilo of Benguet coffee, fine ground. I also got a bag of muscovado. While waiting for them to finish grinding the coffee, the coffee lady asked me to come closer, and amidst the din of roasted coffee beans being pulverized in an industrial coffee grinder, she said, “Huwag kang titingin kaagad, pero ingatan mo ‘yung walletat cellphone mo, kanina ka pa minamanmanan nung dalawang lalake doon sa kanto.”Discreetly, I turned to look and true enough, there they were, I looked them in the eye, and they immediately turned around and pretended to look at the merchandise right behind them. I stuffed my wallet in my front pocket and moved on.
Ice lettuce, regular lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and garlic, some carrots and broccoli and a bag of shitake mushrooms. My bayong was almost full already, and much heavier. Time to check out the ­ukay-ukay at Hilltop. There were bags, shoes, pants laid out on the road – ladies’ leather boots in good condition selling for P50.00. I wasn’t sure if they’re my wife’s size, but I get them anyway. If they don’t fit her, then we can give the boots as a gift to a friend. Cleats for the boys, football jerseys for the girls. That’s enough for now. I buy a couple of strips of rubber for the leak in our pipeline.
I walk down to where I started – just above the fish section is where I get my meats - I get some porkchops, some ground beef to go with the 3 kilos of tomatoes I got (atP10.00 per kilo!) for the pasta sauce I wanted that night, and some beef for nilaga (and asked the butcher for a few extra slabs of fat, which he gives to me for free).
Last stop, a bouquet of rosal for the bathroom and newspaper. There’s a long line at the jeepney stop, but in just five minutes I was already seated inside a San Luis jeep, reading the day’s headlines on my way home.
The Baguio City Public Market, one of Baguio’s treasures.

Sunday, June 6, 2010
As luck would have it

As we were loading the bags back in the car at the end of the day, my wife, RL, thought out loud: maybe when the car suddenly wouldn't start the previous morning, it was a sign.

So since the car won't start last Sunday, we asked a friend if we could rent her dad's cab for Gabriela's birthday party at a beach house in Binloc, Dagupan. On her way to our place with the cab, the neighborhood mechanic did his magic and managed to get the car to start. But since there were a lot of us - total of 11 kids, 14 or so adults, instead of the others having to commute down, we decided to just bring the cab too anyway.

Everyone got to work right away as soon as we got there - I stopped by the roadside market in Damortis to get something that can be cooked fast for lunch (I went for chicken adobo); kids immediately took off their clothes and put on sunblock, etc. We’ve been here too many times it’s almost like a second home.

Later that afternoon, after a quick dip in the water (which was deliciously warm), I went to the Dagupan market to get something to add to my daughter’s birthday pasta dinner - inihaw na karpa at bangus, ensaladang talong, kamatis, arosep at bagoong. In the meantime, my son Leon and his gang of friends fiddled with his Ipod and the little girls watched a movie on gab's laptop while waiting for the food to be ready. I took pictures in between fanning the inihaw and reheating the sauce.

While of course there were some drinks, there was really no heavy drinking later that night. But there was much storytelling, that after the kids already claimed their spaces on both the living and dining room floors for the night by 10pm, us grown-ups stayed up ‘til way past midnight. I went to bed at around 1am next to my wife who went to sleep an hour earlier. The rest stayed up until about 3am.

I could hardly understand everything our friend Rose was saying (it was barely 6am), but I did pick up the words "wallets", "found", "outside." I understood that we were robbed. I got up and the first thing I checked out was the area where I placed the laptop the night before. It was gone. RL's bag which was next to it that had both our wallets and our phones - gone. The next minute everyone was awaken by the commotion and we all looked around some more to see what else was missing. I got out and walked towards the beach hoping against hope to still see a couple of guys running away from the house with our stuff. I saw our friend, Tolits, instead, sprawled on the beach. My heart stopped, the first thing that came to my head was that he probably woke up to discover the house being robbed and the robbers stabbed him and dragged him away from the house. I hesitated for a while before calling out his name. He got up and I started to breathe again. He was gonna sleep in the tent for the night but when it got too hot, decided to just sleep right under the stars. He immediately went to the tent to get his phone, it was gone too.

The kids woke up because of the commotion, and RL broke the news to Gabriela. Silently, she cried.
The laptop was a Christmas gift from Grandma, so was Leon's Ipod. Never mind the phones, but I distinctly remember the day RL and I traveled down to Manila to finally buy a DSLR after a long time of putting away a little money every now and then to be able to do so, plus some additional money from a friend who thought it was worth lending us some additional cash for a decent camera. It wasn't really a high-end, pro-quality DLSR, but we did what we could with it. At least we didn't have to rent or borrow anymore everytime we needed a camera. With it, we've documented conventions, weddings, and lots and lots of performances... and even more picnics and roadtrips and rainy days in Baguio. That's gone too. Plus some cash that may be not much, but is worth millions when you don't have that much.

They must have sprayed us with some gas, they said, that's why nobody woke up. Whatever. But the worst thing those thieves did was not to walk away with all of the above. Those are easy to let go. What I can't forgive them for is breaking Gabriela's heart the morning after her birthday.

We stayed in the warm waters of Binloc the rest of the day, and just before sundown, God treated us to a magnificent show... while the last of the day's rays shone, the site of dark clouds and falling rain far in the distance was magnificent. And on the other side, a beautiful sun-kissed sky. I took a few pictures with Gabriela's pink Kodak point-and-shoot. Good they didn't take that one.

On our way home we passed by a terrible accident. People died. I tried to distract the children to look the other way so as not to see the bodies being laid down on the sidewalk.

We're so lucky, afterall. We're so, so lucky.

Posted by KMA at 7:53 PM

Sunday, June 27, 2010

We lost, baby

Since it started way past my daughter’s usual bedtime, she couldn’t keep her eyes open and she fell asleep about ten minutes into the game. That’s why she missed Slovakia’s first goal against Italy in last Thursday’s do-or-die match. The Italians played like amateurs the rest of the first half – no rhythm, no organization, it’s as if there were only 11 individual players and no team playing against the Slovakian Team. At halftime, after posting my disappointment and frustrations on both my Twitter and Facebook accounts, I carried my sleeping daughter to her room so as not to get disturbed by the occasional bursts of verbal cheers and jeers from me and her mother. My latest online status update at that point: “I don’t think I can stand another 45 minutes of torture.” They’ve been to the World Cup finals 16 out of 18 times, have won the Cup 4 times, the last time just four years earlier, watching them fumble in the first 45 minutes was just heartbreaking. The score stood at one to nil, things can still get better in the second half.

And then Slovakia scored a second goal in the second half. I gave up on Italy at that point. But then, by some miracle, they slowly found their game and finally scored a goal – 2 to 1, the score now stood. It’s wasn’t over, after all. And then that brief flash of brilliance turned out to be a fluke for soon after, Slovakia upped their lead once again with a goal. With just around 10 minutes left in the game, the defending champions were behind by 2 goals. It was already clear in the minutes that followed that the Italians would be leaving South Africa sooner than the whole world expected. And despite scoring a second goal, the Slovaks simply had the win and the right to move on to the round of 16 within reach – all they needed to do in the dying minutes was make those minutes die as fast as possible.

And then the referee blew the final whistle. One of Italy’s younger players dropped to the ground and cried his heart out, and a veteran walked over pull him back to his feet. He put his arm around the young player as they walked out of the stadium – the young man would probably have another chance to be part of a champion team four years from now, while the veteran knew that this was his last World Cup. Italy was only of the so-called big teams who everyone thought had realistic chances of making it to the top in this World Cup to be booted out in the eliminations. France was also sent home early, no thanks to their players who thought that their personal issues and attitudes were bigger than their country’s aspiration.

The next day, the whole of Italy mourned their team’s loss. "It was the darkest and most terrible day in the history of Italian football," according to the editorial of Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta.

Here, most Filipinos were intoxicated by the Game & win by the L.A. Lakers over the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association finals, which, to rest of the world, seemed more like an unwelcome TV commercial in a month-long main feature. Most Filipinos, when asked why they’re not into football, would say that the sport is boring since most games don’t go beyond having 2 to 3 goals made, some even end in a tie at zero. Unlike basketball, they say, where you are treated to a goal – a dunk, a triple, a fade-away, an impossible lay-up - every 24 seconds. But that’s the beauty of football, it is so easy to play but not too easy to score. Each goal requires so much to make – strategy, skill, stamina, speed, cunning, anticipation, improvisation – that not one involved takes it for granted. Not the players, not the coach, not even the people in the stands. And when a goal is finally made, unlike in basketball where you’re bombarded with anywhere between 40-60 goals in a game but hardly remember any one particular shot after, a soccer goal can stay in your head forever. It can push you into extreme sadness or elation, depression or excitement, depending on who kicked that ball in between those posts, every time the image of it pops into your head, hours, days, weeks, months or even years after it happened.

As my wife said our goodnights to the children, our daughter woke up as her mother tucked her in tighter under the blanket in her bed. “Who won?” she asked. “We lost, baby,” her mother said. Almost the whole family chose Italy as their top team in this World Cup (Our eldest chose England instead). She started crying that we decided that for that night, she could sleep with us in our bed.

I wonder how it would be like when the time comes when our own country would finally make it to the World Cup, and we’re actually rooting for our very own team? But that would take a while yet. See, we’re too busy waiting for Darwin’s law of natural selection to be repealed so that Filipinos would be genetically competitive in basketball, that we fail to realize that there is this one sport where we can actually really excel. Because in football, height doesn’t really matter, much less skin color. Its number one requirement is heart. And we’ve got plenty of that.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Can't buy me love

Our theatre group, Open Space, merited a one liner in an article in a national daily about local talents. It’s been months since our last production (KAFAGWAY our musical on the history of Baguio was last performed at the Rose Garden, Burnham Park last December), so I decided to reprint here an article I wrote about the group some time ago hoping it will get us fired up enough to once again tell a story onstage.

CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Complex – a sprawling haven for culture and the arts located along Roxas Boulevard that includes several world-class theaters, museums, galleries and home to the country’s supposed best arts and culture companies.

CCP Complex - Also a psychological condition that makes the afflicted believe that any artistic output that comes from beyond the boulevard and the breakwaters of Manila Bay is inferior.

I must admit I too once had the aforementioned condition, until I stage managed a production that toured the whole country for a whole month and got exposed to the artworks in the regions, from Baguio to Marawi. I knew then that I would get out of CCP soon after the tour. And I did. And I moved to Baguio , around (15) years ago.

Last night a colleague informed me of a group’s interest to feature our productions in a local institution that’s being re-packaged as a cultural and educational destination – they’re interested because it would be much more cost effective to hire a local group to stage a play rather than bring a whole production from Manila . Though I’d rather hear that they’re interested because they believe in what the local artists can deliver, beggars can’t be choosers. And this is among the reasons why I left Manila more than a decade ago to live in Baguio – I just couldn’t stand the arrogance of Manileños in their belief that the best things in this country can only be found in Manila , and everything that comes from beyond the toll gates of both the North and South Expressways are inferior. You patronize artists in the regions only when the budget can’t afford the Manila variety.

They probably haven’t heard the compositions of Ethan Andrew Ventura, and the way he plays his guitar. His work, setting Rizal’s Me Ultimo Adios to music, to me is a classic. Or perhaps they haven’t been to a jazz jam session at Overtones, one of many places in the city that houses exceptional local talents. Too bad, most of them never get to sit down and listen to Emerald Ventura, Ro Quintos, Jef Coronado, Cholo Virgo, Yoshi Capuyan, Arkhe Sorde Salcedo, Ramirr Grepo, Jenny Cariño, Sunshine Gutierrez, Mary Raquel, Ron Ruiz, Patchi Viray, SLU’s Glee Club, the reggae bands in Baguio, or the folk, rock and rock ones in nearby La Trinidad, and many others whose music can blow you away.

Perhaps they’ve never been to an exhibit by the Tahong Bundok group at the Baguio Convention Center – watercolors of a beautiful city that hypnotize, or an ongoing exhibit at the Café by the Ruins – coffee on paper, different shades of sepia that calms the spirit, or the photography of local lensmen on Multiply.com that can rival those that hang on Manila’s expensive gallery walls, or the VOCAS group’s multimedia explorations that challenge and provoke the mind.

They’ve never sat in a local writers’ group’s open mic session. They’ve never been to an SLU musical. They’ve never seen Tropang Paltok’s street theater performances. One pays good money to hear the now Manila-based Pinikpikan perform something one could normally hear for free at the steps of La Azotea or the Dap-ay of Café by the Ruins. Manila charges hundreds to thousands for what one could get into on less than a hundred bucks’ ticket price, or in most cases on a complimentary pass, as in most local theatrical presentations.

And the sad thing is, the community encourages the discrimination against local artists whenever it turns to Manila for most major artistic or cultural outputs in the city. But maybe that’s precisely the reason why the local artists continue to produce great art despite the situation: the main thing the fuels them is passion, and just like love, all the money in Manila can’t buy that.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The whole night we talked about nothing else but Baguio. Our newfound friend was Baguio-born and -raised, and in the last three decades since he left the city, he has only visited Baguio thrice.

I myself have been living here for 15 years, but as a child has been a regular visitor to this haven nestled up in the mountains of the Cordilleras. Talking about Baguio, sitting at the table by the sidewalk in Rumours on Session Road, as expected the conversation turned into a nostalgia trip for from where were sitting, we could get a vivid moving picture of what the city has become - a hundred and one years since Dean C. Worcester and Luke E. Wright informed the US Philippine Commission that yes, this rancherria was indeed the perfect site for a hill station.

We asked him, why do you keep coming back? He said, despite all the negativities being said about Baguio, there is still something about Baguio that makes one keep coming back. Or something like that.

He asked, after hearing about our adventures and misadventures, successes and disappointments in the past 15 years, why are you still here? I ended saying the same thing. And I add, my relationship with this city has become some kind of a marriage – for better or for worse. Perhaps, even ‘til death do us part.

Not so long ago, Baguio had fewer people, but we had more friends. One thing a lot of Baguio folks miss is walking down Session Road and surely bumping into someone you knew, for these days one can spend a whole day there surrounded only by strangers – strangers whom you see carelessly throwing a plastic cup, or a cigarette butt, or spitting just about anywhere. What do they care? They have no history with the city, and they have no idea about the history of this city.

That’s probably why we also can’t blame the seemingly prevailing xenophobia among the Baguio citizenry – a true Baguioite would do no harm to this beautiful city. There’s this thing that has been going around on the internet that lists the reasons that make one a true “taga-Baguio.”

Well, you’re “taga-Baguio” because you know that the people in Baguio are courteous, and that’s why you won’t drive around town like a maniac; that’s why you would stop at a pedestrian lane; that’s why you would let a car coming uphill pass. You know that this city was once the cleanest and greenest city in the country, that’s why you won’t dirty it, you won’t desecrate its beautiful surroundings, that’s why you won’t build anything that would scar the land, that’s why you won’t indiscriminately cut down trees. You know that Baguio was founded in this place particularly exactly because of its natural beauty, and so you know that if you are here you have to live your life in harmony with that natural beauty. You know that Baguio was a health resort, and that’s why you’ll do anything to keep its natural environment healthy; you will make sure that you won’t add to the already worsening air, water, land, noise and yes, moral, pollution.
And because you’re “taga-Baguio,” through thick and thin, through good and bad weather, through world wars and earthquakes and devastating storms… amidst criticisms and so-called “uglifications”… you’ll stand by Baguio, you won’t go out there to slander her, you’ll do something to make things better.

And that’s probably why that after 30 years, our newfound friend plans to return to the city of his birth. And that’s why we’re still here.

And Baguio will surely hurdle all these obstacles today – because its people won’t have it any other way.

Saturday, March 6, 2010
Congratulations, Baguio!

(article published in Cordillera Today last March 1, 2010)

By the time this sees print, the infamous concrete pine tree at the top of Session Road would have been felled already. The reactions we’ve heard so far were mostly praises, although there are still a few who actually continue to defend it and its creator. So what’s the big deal about the damned tree that made that has continually made it the topic of coffee shop and online talks, particularly during election time?

While on one side people are celebrating, on the other side they are trying to wash the hands of the root of that concrete monstrosity, some have even tried to direct the anger toward the current administration, even going as far as saying that it is them who are grandstanding, keeping it there to be used as political leverage in the coming elections. Maybe, maybe not, but while we do wonder why it took this long to finally rid the city of this blight, we must not forget the people who erected this monument to graft and corruption. We must remember that this concrete pine tree was just one, albeit the most prominent one being situated right at the top of the heart of the city, of a string of questionable “concretization” projects in the past. We are not talking about chump change here, the concrete tree alone cost more than a million pesos to build (perhaps enough money to do some substantial rehabilitation work at the Athletic Bowl without the need for foreign investors).

Approve without thinking, spend the people’s money without shame. And why? Who in his right mind would erect a concrete pine tree in the land of pine trees? What were its proponents thinking? Wasn’t there even one person in that circle who could’ve raised the alarm and said, “sir, that’s a stupid idea.” And in a city once famous for its natural beauty, who in his right mind would build something that is fake, a pathetic, ugly, repulsive imitation of a beautiful thing? Really, would anyone put up fake snow in Aspen or Styrofoam pyramids in Giza?
The concrete pine tree was the perfect epitome of a rotten political system – hard-earned taxpayers’ money being spent on something ugly, illogical, totally unnecessary, just so someone can satisfy his megalomaniacal tendencies. What a waste.

One actually cried foul over its demolition saying that getting rid of it is such a huge waste of taxpayers’ money. No sir, keeping it there and not doing anything about it just reminds us of how acquiescent we have become that our elected officials can commit such dastardly acts with impunity knowing that they can get away with it.

The money was already wasted when they built that thing, keeping it there is almost like a declaration that we don’t mind that the people’s money is wasted on useless pieces of (s)crap.
Now, an installation using river stones will be put in its place, the creation of local artist, Gilbert Gano, in collaboration with a group of architects and engineers. An artwork that aims to remind us of the historical significance of Session Road, and perhaps of the city’s entire glorious history. Now, that one makes sense. Knowing where this city came from and how it got to where it is now, perhaps we will be more vigilant in the future and never allow a concrete pine tree to be erected in Baguio ever again.

It’s a small step towards the right direction, a small one, yes, but a step forward nonetheless. And for that, congratulations, Baguio!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dear John

I once wrote a piece for Cordillera Today's Lifestyle page called, “So you wanna be an actor?”In it, I talked about what I believe are the fundamental prerequisites to becoming a performing artist. I had to go back to it recently, if only to remind myself why I chose to be in this unforgiving field that is theater, after receiving a rather emotional and venomous retort online regarding the way local artists have once again been sidelined in what is now touted as the country’s number one festival. A certain John whom I don’t remember having ever met, who also asked not to have his comment deleted in the “interest of free speech,” invaded the rather cryptic conversation between me and a friend on the matter, and called it sourgraping.

I agree with him. But for different reasons.

Theater artists are the epitome of the term “starving artists.” They often start with a production with nothing more than sheer passion for the craft and the burning desire to tell a good story to an audience. That’s probably why theater continues to thrive despite the dismal situation it’s been in, it was never about money, not for most Baguio-based artists anyway.

In the almost 15 years since our first production here in Baguio, things barely changed: very talented local artists still play second fiddle to big name ones from Manila. The small increase in honoraria over the years is due more to inflation rather than improved circumstances. They are still virtually ignored by major local institutions, unless talents are needed and bringing name artists from elsewhere cannot be afforded. But year after year, all over Baguio – in a rehearsal hall in a school, at the basement of the Baguio Convention Center, out in the open in public parks, Baguio’s local theater artists come together come rain or shine, to pool talent, resources and passion for the craft together to come up with a presentation that they believe will not only entertain the audience, but hopefully change the way they look at the world around them forever.

On stage in a school auditorium or on the sidewalks of Session Road on a foggy afternoon, or on rare occasions when they can afford to pay rent at the Baguio Convention Center, they tell their stories. And it doesn’t matter whether they tell it in a theater filled to the brim with students, or to an intimate audience of 10 people, they will tell that story the same way: with utmost sincerity.

They choose their stories carefully, the intention is not merely to entertain and impress, but to compel, provoke, freeze a moment in time so that the audience can step out of life’s daily struggle for a while and step into the magical world of that art form that allows for real human interaction. In theater, you not only hear or see the actors, you feel what they are feeling for they are sincerely feeling it. You feel their pain because they are in pain. You share their joy because they are truly joyful inside. You fall in love because they have sincerely fallen in love. And all that happens not because they’ve put on great make-up or a fabulous set onstage, that happens because the artists’ passion and pure intentions have broken through the fourth wall of the theater to reach deep inside you right there in your seat, taking you out of the dark and onto the reality happening onstage and that, dear reader, is the wonderful experience, where artist, artwork and audience become one, that they call theater.

Contrary to popular belief, all those elements – the stage, the props and costumes, the make-up, the lights, the music, the poetry, they are not there to deceive, they are there to tell the truth. Or A truth. Every single thing on that space, that performance space, is there for a reason, a real reason – even a mere handkerchief sticking out of an actor’s front pocket is there to tell a story.
And so they never, ever dare to deceive their audience – whether they are Baguio’s or Manila’s 500, or 500 pupils from a public elementary school, or five ambulant vendors – they deserve nothing less than a performance that is a product of the artists’ utmost sincerity, passion and love for the craft.

And that, dear John, is the reason why we’re sourgraping. Not because we weren’t called on to save a production in shambles like they did last year, but because theater is a sacred art form, and since time immemorial, from the time the Greeks went onstage to pay tribute to Dionysus, to the time Macario Sakay staged senakulos to inspire his audience to rise up against the colonizers, legitimate theater artists have preserved the sanctity of the legitimate stage.

And because the Baguio audience deserve nothing less but a legitimate performance by legitimate artists on a legitimate stage.
Whether the performance cost hundreds of thousands to put together, or nothing at all.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


1:30am, a couple of hours ago the editor sent me a text message saying he needs all articles in first thing tomorrow morning. He wants to go to press earlier tomorrow. I just had a long week… no, I’m still having, struggling through, it - it’s not over yet. Anyway, back to the slowly filling up page on my computer screen.

This is usually how I come up with my pieces here, at the last minute. I have tried writing my piece much earlier, sometimes I get hit by an idea a full five days before the deadline. But somehow no matter how hard I try to my thoughts down that far away from the deadline, I just can’t – I just always end up writing this weekly article a couple of hours before I really have to submit it (which means I am actually writing this down way too early).

I am stalling, I’m stumped. So I ask myself now, why do I do this? Never mind that my articles here are gratis, for like most of the things I do, I don’t do primarily for money anyway. Just like whenever I go onstage, or fiddle with the piano or guitar, or frame life in a still or moving camera, I just want to tell stories. And express how I feel about those stories.

I tell like it is, the way I see it, the way I feel it. Sometimes, in the process, I step on some toes, some sensitive toes. But then, though I do at times take a moment before clicking “send” to email my article in, and think whether a particular story really needs to be told. If it saw print, then I felt that it did. I do like writing about happy, positive stuff, too. But sometimes to show how bright something is, one has to illustrate what darkness is like.

You probably know how it feels to, say, see a really well-made movie, and you just can’t wait to tell your friends about it. Well, for me it doesn’t have to be something as grand as a Hollywood blockbuster. I am easily amazed by, and I wonder about almost everything around me. I can write about the number one festival in the whole country, or about an obscure talent competition tucked away in a corner at the park. I can write about who I believe is the best candidate for the presidency, or about the best vendor to get your boneless bangus from at the city market.

And, while I do listen to suggestions, advices, I’m sorry but, no, nobody can tell me what to write. Neither would I allow anybody to tell me what not to write. In one article I wrote where I apparently stepped on some conceited toes, those toes’ friend called me to ask me to retract what I said, even reminding me that those toes were connected to a fat ass that I’ll do better kissing. I’m sorry, ma’am, sir, but I do not live my life that way.

As Edmond Rostand said, through Cyrano de Bergerac, “Scratch the back of any swine / That roots up gold for me? / Tickle the horns / Of Mammon with my left hand, while my right / too proud to know his partners business / takes in the fee? No thank you!”

And, since I cannot possibly express it any better than he did, I quote Rostand further, “in a word, I am too proud to be a parasite… And if my nature wants the germ that grows / Towering to heaven like the mountain pine / Or, like the oak, sheltering multitudes - I stand, not high it may be - But, I stand alone!”

So why do I do this? Now, I click “send.”
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Stop and smell the roses

Stalls selling RTW, miscellaneous export overruns, and shoes from Marikina. Big tents set up by telecom and cigarette companies and those nifty gift items they give away and amusing promotional gimmicks they come up with to grab the attention of passers-by. Rows and rows of food stalls selling shawarma, sweet corn-on-the-cob, and barbecue.Free rock concerts that hopefully won’t result in brawls between intoxicated under-aged members of rival gangs.

Sure, there’s the occasional stall actually selling plants and flowers, usually outnumbered by stalls selling plastic flowers and other fake plants.

Because of the way it has evolved through the years, these are the things that usually come to mind when you mention Panagbenga, or the Baguio Flower Festival. Sadly, it has ceased to be a celebration of Baguio’s natural beauty and has become a mere month-long tiangge. It seems like the only thing that somehow still relates to anything floral are the parades, and even those now showcase fake flowers made of plastic and crepe paper.

Add to that the sight of politicians, since according to the guidelines issued by the organizers, political parties will actually be allowed to participate in the float parade as long as they “don’t shake the hands of spectators so as not to disrupt the flow of the parade.” Great.

If this trend continues, then we might as well stop calling it the Bagiuo Flower Festival and call it simply, the Baguio Festival, or maybe The-Festival-That-Just-Happens-to-be-Held-in-Baguio.

A century and a half ago, when the Spaniards finally succeeded in conquering this part of the Cordilleras with the intention of getting their hands on the area’s riches, particularly gold, they were stunned by Benguet’s sheer beauty: its magnificent skyline, its healthful climate, the presence of plants, flowers and vegetables that do not grow elsewhere in the country, all of these made the colonizers turn their attention to the creation of a health resort, or a hill station in what was then known as Kafagway.

So you would think that a festival called Panagbenga would be a celebration of that distinct natural beauty that captivated our colonizers more than a hundred years ago - those sunflowers that begin to blanket the mountainsides in November, the roses that grow so succulently all year round, the marigolds, snapdragons, carnations, daisies, lilies that can be found all over Baguio.

Or maybe at least call attention to the simply beautiful but sadly slowly vanishing Benguet Lily, endemic to this part of the country, which dies when taken out of its natural environment (very much like the city itself).

Not so long ago, we took a walk around the city’s downtown area to take photos of whatever flowers we may find along the way, and were amazed by the number of different species, as shown in the photos, that can be found just within Baguio’s Central Business District.

Yup, they’re there, taken for granted, mostly unnoticed.

Which makes one think, why do they keep on coming up with “new, innovative ideas” that are supposed to make the festival better, when Panagbenga’s, or the Baguio Flower Festival’s supposed raison d’etre can be found all over the place? Stop and smell the roses that are right under your noses.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Misdirected Initiative of Energetic Lumbermen

The news was certainly enough to make your blood boil: the Baguio Athletic Bowl being rented out for a measly 100k a month to a Korean investor who will put up, as alleged in several blog entries, among other things, the following in the area: a commercial complex, a hotel and a golf course.

I wanted to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so I made it a point to attend the next morning’s “Ugnayan” with the City Mayor. The mayor began the morning's session with an update of what has happened in the last days of 2009 and the first few days of the New Year, and towards the end he attempted to shed light on the Baguio Athletic Bowl issue.

There is a proposal to develop the Baguio Athletic Bowl, he said, and yes, the main proponent is a Korean national. And yes, the proposal is for a 25-year lease. And although halfway though the press con I was already lost in semantics and drowning in government-ese, what I understood from the Mayor’s statements was that the MOA that was signed between him and the proponents was only meant to get the ball rolling, pursue/study the proposal, which he said was only the first step (Grade One) in getting anything done at all.

And as to the details of the proposed development, there is simply none yet, but he did venture some conjectures as to the alleged chismis spreading like wildfire in various online forums.

The proposed rehabilitation and development of the Baguio Atheltic Bowl, he added, which has been in existence for years now but never implemented because of lack of funds and certain administrative issues, has always included: a dormitory for athletes to be located below the bleachers (and that, he said, was blown out of proportion, hence the rumors about a hotel); a driving range (a golf course?) and coffee shops / snack bars / shops that will service the the athletes/users of the facility (a commercial complex).

He thanked everyone for coming to that morning’s forum to get the “real picture” and not rely only on “online chismis” in online social networking sites.

But, chismis or not, the good thing is that the heated discussions on Facebook.com, Multiply.com and various blogs reminded the powers-that-be that they are being closely watched and that the people of Baguio have become much more vigilant.

For me, though, another issue here is that word, "development," and it scares me. As I have said in the past, Baguio's raison d'être is its natural beauty. Anything, as in ANYTHING, you add to, erect, build in Baguio will definitely take away from that natural beauty - whether it's a mere house (no matter how beautiful that house is, it would still scar the land), or a ridiculously huge mall (bye, bye beautiful skyline). Take away as little possible from that natural beauty, I say. Less, in Baguio, is definitely a lot more.

And that's why the word scares me, because in Baguio, development means building "something", and given the track record of our city officials, that could be anything from a totaly unnecessary flyover or a horrendous concrete pine tree. Or a "shed" over a park. The list goes on.

The development of the Baguio Athletic Bowl should be limited to its main function - a center for athletic events. Improve the oval, maybe, rehablitate the bleachers, beautify the surroundings, but its development must not go beyond improving it as a sports facility.

And, seriously, another golf course? For a small city like Baguio, we have too many of that already.

Daniel Burnham was right when he said:

“Unless early protective measures are taken,
the misdirected initiative of energetic lumbermen
will soon cause the destruction of this beautiful scenery.”
As of yesterday, the update on the issue was that the Korean proponents were scared off by the fast growing opposition to their proposal. So for now, those online status updates, blog entries and other online forums serve well as early protective measures, or perhaps as early warning devices.

Let’s keep our eyes open.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Memorandum and Scare Tactics (in stereo)

The first photo (the skating rink taken from, well, SM) was taken a few years ago, and the second one just a few months ago. Development?

On the one hand, the controversial Memorandum of Agreement is being downplayed as nothing more than an understanding between two parties, the City Government and the development proponents, to pursue and study the possibility of developing the Athletic Bowl. When the MOA was brought to the attention of the public via online status updates and blog entries, we saw how quickly our “honorables,” not unlike Pilate, washed their hands. One “honorable” declared that the whole thing was suspect and did not follow the proper process – of course he didn’t now this when he signed the endorsement and there was still no public opposition to it. Another “honorable” lucky enough to be absent when the MOA was deliberated upon by the City Council and who has done nothing significant at all for Burnham Park in the last two terms suddenly positioned herself as the “only one taking a valiant stand” against this controversial MOA. Bull. There’s a fine line between taking a “valiant stand” and positioning and scoring PR points. It’s election time, after all. (And in case you haven’t noticed, I always place the word “honorable” in quotation marks).

On the other hand, you have the opposition, some of whom are themselves guilty of twisting facts to suit their own agenda. We don’t need to resort to that, really. The fact that there was an attempt to railroad a development project is enough reason to protest. The fact that it was allegedly endorsed by the City Council in record time is enough reason to create some noise. News reports and op-ed pieces condemning the deal and purposely omitting some of the city government's clarifications on the issue were praised to high heavens, but when the issue was reported by another local daily, howls of protests were heard online calling that paper’s, which happen to be partly owned by the mayor’s father, reporting biased. I read the news report in question and found out that it presented the same facts as what the other papers did, except that equal space was given to both sides of the argument.

Let me reiterate and go on record first: I am against the development of the Athletic Bowl, or Burnham Park as a whole, into something that it is not. The Athletic Bowl is a sports facility. A hotel and commercial complex have no place there. And we don’t need another golf course in this city. Daniel Burnham reserved that largest piece of level-land in Baguio for the masses, and to serve as the lungs of the then future city. Let’s keep it that way. Or develop it that way. I jog there, once or twice a week. My children play there, at least thrice a week. I will do whatever I can to help keep it that way. Or develop it that way.

For while you would want to keep it the way it is, the sight last week of Baguio’s young athletes doing the hundred meter dash barefoot was heartbreaking. When I asked a couple of teachers who were supervising that morning’s competitions about it, I was told that while it‘s true that some of the city’s athletes cannot afford to buy a decent pair of running shoes, others decide to do away with shoes during competition for one’s bare soles provide better traction on the track’s dirt surface. No question about it, the place needs to be rehabilitated.

The good thing about the whole Athletic Bowl brouhaha is that it brought to the fore the current state of our city’s main park. The discussions online have spilled over the perimeter of the Athletic Bowl to the now privatized skating rink to the ongoing fencing project. But the sad thing is that facts are being twisted, blown out of proportion and purposely taken out of context by both sides.

“Are you scared? Are you very scared? Well, you shouldn’t be, because you’re on Scare Tactics!” So goes the line from a reality television show where they create make-believe scenarios to scare “victims” usually set up by a friend, a relative or a colleague.

I turn off the television and go online and there it is: Scare Tactics, in stereo.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Have cane, will go places

One step at the wrong time on the wrong spot, the earth beneath shifted and my left knee twisted too far towards one side, way farther than the ligament in there can handle – a sprain and no, I did not hear any sound that would indicate any dislocation.

The twisting itself wasn’t that painful, but I knew that whatever movement I make thereafter would be, so there I was halfway up the knoll behind the house that I was cleaning up the morning after Christmas, frozen. I ventured a small movement, and the pain was almost unbearable.

Naipitan ng ugat, a friend ventured that evening. He said it may have to be “snapped back into place,” and I almost fainted when he tried to do just that. No more snapping of anything back into place.

I reached for a wooden walking cane that was once used as a prop by an 80-something character in a play years ago. And for the next few days, the cane I went places.

At the mall, I got to park the car (thank God for automatic transmission, I could still drive) at the space reserved for the differently-abled, which meant a shorter walk from the car to the entrance. Nice.

Limping and walking with a cane, the security guard at the mall entrance for once didn’t think I’m up to no good and waived the S.O.P. of frisking me and poking inside my bag with a wooden stick. Nice. The limping even merited a rare bow and smile from him. Nicer, and odd.

The next day, again at the mall but this time without the car, I fell in line for a cab, and the guard offered to put me ahead of the twenty or so people in front of me. Cool, but I declined.

Day two, I thought the sight of the cane would afford me some consideration from motorists going down Session Road. Besides, cane or no cane, motorists are required to go to a full stop at pedestrian crossings. No luck. It’s still a game of patintero. If only that cab that just sped inches from me was going any slower, I could’ve used the cane to smack a window or a taillight.

No, it’s not gout (not yet, anyway), I told the familiar faces in Luisa’s. Really, it’s a sprain. That same evening, next door in Rumours, I again had to disappoint familiar faces… it’s not gout and neither is it arthritis. Yeah, sure, whatever, one replied (the place isn't called Rumours for nothing, you know).

A week or so since that fateful and painful morning, I’m wearing a knee brace, the knee’s getting better, no more swelling and pain has subsided and we’re at the beach. The next morning, I woke up my son for a pre-sunrise walk along the shoreline of Canaoay, San Fernando, La Union. Not paying much attention to the sand underneath my feet (we were totally amused by the ongoing power play between two rival gangs of dogs both trying to protect their respective turfs), that injured leg fell into a hole in the sand which made me want to bite a chunk of flesh off my arm. But some five minutes later, the knee actually started feeling much better. Cool, maybe that “snapped some misplaced thing back into place.”

Later that day, I even went for a short swim and the knee did just fine.

Back in Baguio, I was back in the garden. And for an instant, to pick up a potted plant, I totally forgot about the injury and knelt down, putting all my weight on what turned out to be an un-completely healed left knee. The pain was back. And now the wife’s on my back – go see a doctor!

I did the next day. He bent it this way, that way, sideways, and yes, it’s a sprain, and it’s quite bad. A torn medial collateral ligament with grade 2 symptoms. A 5-day therapy was prescribed.

First day, four electronic thingamajigs were attached around the damned knee – twenty minutes of electrocution (that’s how it felt anyway). Then twenty minutes of ultrasound treatment followed by a 10-minute massage. On the third day, some stretching exercises were added to the regimen. On the 5th day the therapist rested.

I saw the doctor again on the 6th. Though its condition improved a lot, he prescribed another five days of sessions with the hospital’s lone physical therapist. Doing what this time? The doctor said he’ll forward his recommended treatment to the therapist himself.

The next day, the therapist was surprised to see me. The doctor told me to go for five more. Did he tell you what exactly we’re supposed to do? , she asked. No, I thought he’d tell you that himself. So we did what we did last week. What exactly does that electronic thingamajig does? Relieve pain (but it wasn’t painful anymore). How about the ultrasound thingy? It’s a notch or two better than just a hot compress, it speeds up the healing process. So a hot compress would do. And I can do these same exercises at home. And my wife, who just bought me a nice new cane (the handle of the other one cracked, I need to lose some weight), can do that same massage you’re doing (even better).

The therapist reminded me to keep on using my cane even if I could already support myself on that injured knee, just to make me not forget that the knee wasn’t completely well yet.

Better parking, a smile and a nod, and I can get ahead of the line, so – sure, my pleasure. I paid the second week’s first session and went straight to the market to buy new plants for the garden.

Gout? The person manning the store where I buy pots asked when he saw me limping. Nah, I just really like this cane.

Posted by KMA at 5:42 PM

Friday, December 4, 2009

Open Forum

We recently wrapped up Open Space’s tribute to the city on its centennial year, BC09AD, held last Dec. 2-3, 2009 at the Baguio Convention Center. The event was a collaborative effort of the Baguio-based multimedia arts group and featured performances of the aforementioned musical, a visual arts exhibit that captured the different facets of this cosmopolitan city and screenings of two documentaries on Baguio. The first three matinee performances were attended by elementary and high school students from various schools in the city, while the lone gala performance had some college students from UP Baguio and St. Louis University together with some friends in the community.

In that two-day event, we exhibited a hundred images celebrating the beauty of this city, or what’s left of it. We held the history of this city up high and projected it on a screen and froze moments in Baguio’s journey from being a mostly uninhabited pastureland to a highly-urbanized city for everyone to see. We sang songs that asked, “ano ba’ng tama, kasaysayan o titulo?”; “ano ba’ng plano niyo sa Baguio?”; “pang-aabuso sa kalikasan, kalian niyo kaya ito titigilan?,” that told its audience to: “ang mithiin ng Baguio, isapuso, isulong at itaguyod mo.” We also reminded them that: “ang kailangan ng Baguio, ikaw at ako.”After each matinee, we held an open forum where the students can direct questions to the cast and artistic staff or make comments about the performance. Among the questions thrown to us were:

“What was your intention in staging this event and what do you intend to accomplish with this undertaking?” I remember the excitement the filled the Baguio air when we greeted the year 2009 – this was our centennial year, a once in a lifetime event. I looked forward to the grandest celebration this city has ever seen – I was expecting festivities way bigger than whatever they had here when the then townsite was declared as the official summer capital in 1903, or when it was chartered as a city in 1909; parades that would be way more grander than any Panagbenga parade; a Charter Day like no other that would definitely be etched in the minds of us lucky enough to havelived within this lifetime. September 1, 2009 came and went. Poof. And I, together with the members of Open Space, thought that the city deserved much more on its 100th year.

So, despite the lack of sponsors and other means of support from both the government and private sector, we went ahead and put together this multimedia tribute where we can tell the story of our city to as many people as we can, and hopefully reawaken our audiences’ sense of history, culture and their sense of community as we write Baguio’s history in the next 100 years today.

(photos by RL Altomonte, Eunice Caburao and Jojo Lamaria)
“How long and what did it take you to put this together?” A month of brainstorming, a few months of 4-hour rehearsals everyday, a hundred photographs and ten paintings, lots of scrap jute sacks, a hundred hours of video footage, and an unlimited supply of love for this city from the group’s members.

A high school student asked, “What inspired you to stage “Kafagway: Sa Saliw ng mga Gangsa?” I answered, “You.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

That concrete pine tree, seriously now

Would you offer fake snow in Aspen? How about plastic tulips in Holland? Papier-mache pyramids in Egypt? The concrete pine tree at the top of Session Road just doesn’t make sense.

And it has to go.

The reasons for keeping that cement tree doesn’t hold water at all (pun very much intended). While we don’t really want to antagonize and insult the people behind it, we also don’t want to antagonize the sensibilities and insult the aesthetic sense of the community by having a fake concrete pine tree in what is known all over the world as the City of Pines.

And just because millions were spent in erecting that phallic monstrosity does not mean we should grin and bear it and turn a blind eye to it. In fact, that’s precisely the reason why the city must be rid of that eye sore. It is a monument to a former administration’s, its proponents and protectors, lack of aesthetic sense, an unforgivable offense in a city known for its natural beauty. Baguio is not just like any other roadside municipality who can only boast of a Pamilihang Bayan and colorful tricycles, not at all. Baguio is a distinct national treasure and government projects such as a concrete pine tree with a sign that says “plant me, protect me” is laughable at best, and deeply insulting, nonsensical and even humiliating at worst.

As to what to replace it with, so many inspired suggestions have been floated – among them, which I personally endorse, is to transfer there Benhur Villanueva’s sculpture, Builders of Baguio, from the Botanical Garden. But according to a Centennial Commission official, that’s out of the question. Sayang. That could have been the beginning of the transformation of the now unattractive Session Road to a Central Business District made beautiful by the creations of the city’s world-class artists that could be at par with the various streets in Europe that feature sculptural works by the masters.

But we can never run out of ideas on what to replace that hideous thing with – that same CenteCom official suggested a light fountain, a brilliant suggestion. Most people have said that they would want a real pine tree there, another good one: maybe a pine seedling that the community can take care of and leave as its legacy and something that can tell the future generation that hey, despite the fact that this generation let the rape of Baguio City happen, at one time we did plant a real tree. But a blogger called our attention to the fact that pine seedlings have a low survival rate and with the pollution in the area, that pine seedling as almost sure not to survive. A pocket garden? A water fountain?

Or nothing. Yes, nothing would be better than that something. It’s never wrong to admit and apologize for one’s mistakes - nothing personal here, really, but seriously, to the creators of that… thing… did you, do you still, honestly believe that right in the heart of the City of Pines, in a spot where almost everybody pass and see almost every single day, that distasteful monument to lack of aesthetic and even common sense should stay?

Seriously now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


A lot of people have been clamoring for it, the capitalists won’t hear any of it. Ladies and gentlemen, the City of Baguio presents: the proposed pedestrianization of Session Road.

A few years ago, my wife and I journeyed to the country’s photography and videography hub in Quiapo, Manila – Hidalgo St., to purchase a piece of equipment. On our way there, anticipating the traffic, noise and air pollution in the area, we told ourselves to look for the camera we want as fast as we can and get out of there just as fast. After checking out several shops for options, we found what we wanted within an hour.

It was already lunchtime by then, and we decided to grab a bite before finally making the purchase. We walked a couple of blocks looking for a place to eat and found ourselves right below the LRT’s Carriedo station and while I remembered the place to be very congested, dirty and noisy, we were surprised and awed by the sight that greeted us – a nicely paved promenade, landscaped pocket gardens and towering potted plants, comfortable park benches and instead of carbon monoxide-spewing vehicles, we saw families taking walks, children running around playing, an old couple seated on a park bench reading the day’s paper, etc. We were confused for a while, we thought we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up anywhere but in the notoriously polluted Avenida. We easily found a place to eat and after having a hearty lunch of good Chinese food, we forgot about the camera for a moment and checked out the different establishments in the area.

By the time we remembered to purchase what we went there for, we have added several items to our original shopping list of one – sunglasses, a few shirts and pants, toys for the kids, a tool box full of tools, etc.

Fast forward four years later 250 kilometers up north – a proposal has been made to close the once lovely, pretty and cozy, but now notoriously congested, polluted and not-so-pretty Session Road to vehicular traffic. A lot of people are looking forward to it, majority of the businesses along the famous road are opposing it.

They have so many reasons for going against the plan, among them having to walk to their place of business instead of parking their car right infront of it, but it all of it fall under one consideration – less revenues. Let’s discuss that.

Four years ago, in Avenida, we were set to buy only what we went there for, but the beautiful and relaxing atmosphere made us stay longer than we planned to in the area and ended up buying way more than we have intended. Today, we try as much as we can to avoid staying long anywhere in Session Road for the heavy traffic there, which we only used to see once in a while during peak tourist seasons, is now an all-day, everyday occurrence, it’s heartbreaking. As an entrepreneur doing business in Session Road, unless you’re a car repair shop or a gasoline station, you don’t want cars on Session Road, you want people, and that’s what the pedestrianization of the road would bring.

And so what if it does result in a slight cut in your business income? Think also of the thousands of people who will benefit from it: without the toxic fumes emitted by dilapidated colorum taxis and other vehicles, maybe plants and trees would survive along the road, the air our children will breathe will be much healthier and our city will start becoming beautiful again. You can’t put a price on that. Besides, plants and trees are much prettier than your imposing commercial billboards.

And between a handful of businessmen and the health of thousands of residents, the choice is clear.

And in the meantime, while we’re waiting for the pedestrianization of Session Road to happen, turn off your loud speakers outside your establishments, it’s bad enough that you’ve contributed to the road’s “uglification,” don’t add to the noise pollution anymore.

Today, because the current administration of the City of Manila decided to open up Avenida to vehicles again, and it’s back to being one of the country’s most polluted areas. Damn politics.

I hope our city officials would start thinking of the greater good instead of the interests of the elite few.

Saturday, November 21, 2009
Fostering a culture of caring - what do you care?

There is no other time more fitting, this is it: the perfect time to get the community, particularly the youth, interested in the history of our city.

No sir, ma’am, we don’t want your students to merely learn about and memorize dates like June 1, 1903 or Sept. 1, 1909 or December 7, 1941 or July 16, 1990. But we do want to let them know about how hard the Igorots fought for their independence that had the Spaniards declaring the people of the Cordilleras as the “most unconquerable of all the natives of this country.”

Roads named Cariño or Kennon or Bautista or Salvosa, or parks named Wright or Burnham, or barangays named Tabora or Forbes, aren’t enough if the we don’t know the story behind those names and their significance in our city’s history – Malcolm is not merely a small park where one can have his shoes shined, we must know that it was named after George who wrote a charter envisioning a city free from petty politics.

Mateo Cariño isn’t just some guy in a g-string, he is some guy in a g-string who filed a case against the most powerful nation in its highest court, and won, and whose case has become the basis for defending the rights of indigenous peoples all over the world.

We don’t want our children growing up thinking that Halsema is just a landslide-prone highland highway, we want them to know that Eusebius was the mayor who brought about a fully-developed city that’s in harmony with its natural environment.

Sir, ma’am, we do understand that in the classroom, your students must learn about how Magellan lost his way in the Pacific and accidentally found himself in Mactan. True, we must all read the Noli and the Fili, know what games little Pepe played as a child, when and why a bunch of natives gathered one night to tear their cedulas, what the Treaty of Paris meant, what McArthur promised and who really shot Ninoy on that tarmac.

But, see, sir, ma’am, whenever your students practice juggling bottles to learn about what your institutions believe is an integral part of learning about hotel and restaurant management, they end up leaving broken pieces of glass all over the Melvin Jones grounds unmindful of the dangers it poses to the children who play there. And perhaps they wouldn’t be as uncaring if they knew that Minac, as the area was once known, is the largest piece of level land in Baguio that one Daniel Burnham thought was best left as it is for the enjoyment of the masses. Your weekend NSTP sorties where you have your students pick up litter in Burnham Park are an empty undertaking if on other days these same students go around town spray painting walls and gates with graffiti.

We understand that majority of your students are out-of-towners, they are not from Baguio, but perhaps it is precisely because of this that they should be educated about the city’s culture, its history, and maybe they will start caring more about Baguio. Isn’t that what we all agreed to advocate in our city’s centennial year – fostering a culture of caring?

Hearing you say that “Baguio’s history is irrelevant to the students’ education” is appalling. But not surprising. Because looking at what has become of what was once the one of the most beautiful hill stations in Asia, we can say that since there are people who live and make their living off Baguio who think that learning about the city’s history is irrelevant, we now know why the city is reeking and covered with mounds of garbage – because these same people don’t really care about Baguio.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Homeless in Baguio, ca. 2009

He first came to the city about three years ago – lonely, dirty and hungry. To him, everything must have seemed so big in this city: the mountains, the trees, the buildings, even the stairs leading up to the cathedral seemed absurdly steep. He was drawn by the tolling of the bells towards the church, and later drawn towards the park by the sight of this family of four who have just attended mass have decided to spend some time under the afternoon sun out in the open. A part of him envied the sight of the father carrying the boy on his shoulders while the mother walked hand in hand with the younger girl.

His early years were a blur – he has no memory at all of the first five of his 13 years. He must have been born already a five-year old for that was his earliest memory – waking up in the streets of Dagupan already with the knowledge that he was five years old, with no father nor mother, with nowhere to go.The other part of him saw the two young children as opportunities, the boy a reason for the father not to feel boy’s hand picking his wallet from his back pocket, or the mother not noticing him running off with her purse. A couple of long hours later, after intently but discreetly watching them waiting for that opportunity, he gave up on them just as they were making their way to the jeepney station to catch their ride home. On his first night in the big, cold city, he slept hungry under the stars.

Three years later and he’s still homeless, but not alone anymore. He has found two other boys whose stories weren’t unlike his own. He has found a family. They’ve been walking around the central business district all morning looking for a woman who they believe stole the precious blanket the three of them share at night. It is already November in the City of Pines, and the evenings have become much colder. They had no idea that the woman was not anywhere there at all but has been going around the park all afternoon and like them, has been waiting for an opportunity to deftly pick up an unattended mobile phone or bag, or maybe bump into a generous tourist willing to part with the last half of a sandwich.

Except for moans of pain at night when the woman ends her day again on an empty stomach, or threatening grunts directed at the young boys old enough to be her own children who constantly fight with her over rummaging rights to the garbage bin of a restaurant at the park, she hasn’t spoken a word in ten years. She feels she has nothing left to say. She beat them today to the garbage bin. She is staring blankly at the tourists seated at the tables outside, and noticing her, a group of tourists instinctively reach for their bags and mobile phones giving each other knowing looks. Already carrying several bags of plastic bottles and cups, she wasn’t thinking of their bags and mobile phones at all, they just caught her in one of those moments where she stops dead in her track, her eyes wide open but her mind totally blank, a convenient pastime of those who have nothing and nobody in this world. She hopes to be able to sell the plastic bottles and cups to a junk shop and earn enough money for a piece of bread for dinner.

A couple of hours of walking around these busy streets they already know by heart takes its toll on the patience of the young boys, and with no pockets ready for picking, they head for the park talking about getting into a fight with the first group of high schoolers they see, to pass the time.

They get to the park and were excited by both the sight of a group of tourists seated at the tables outside the restaurant… and the woman. The hunt for high schoolers can wait for now. They first approached the tourists seated at the table to beg for some left over food and some loose change, but a waiter appeared out of nowhere who barred them from coming near his customers. They turned their attention to the woman and demanded her to turn over the blanket they were sure she stole. The woman was awaken from her stupor, and with a grunt, shook her head to say both that she didn’t have their blanket and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. The boy from Dagupan raises his voice while his two friends flank her. She glares at them, picks up her bags and turns to leave. The two boys stop her from leaving while the other grabs her arm and starts cursing at her. She swings her arm free from his clutch and accidentally hits his face with her bag full of trash – he heaves back and throws a well placed punch right in her face. She runs toward the table of tourists to grab a soda bottle to defend herself with while the boys continue to take turns kicking and punching her. The tourists jump away from the table while the restaurant’s waiters try to stop the fight – afterall, the sight of dirty, lonely, hungry vagrants fighting within their property isn’t good for business. While the boys were being driven away by the waiters, the woman frantically looks for her slippers that must have accidentally gotten off in the melee. She can’t afford to lose anything at all.

Suddenly they were all gone, the boys, the woman. The tourists go back to their seats.

The boys have gone to the park’s skating rink to look for that group of high schoolers, while the woman have picked up a piece of wood. She is determined to find the boys. She has lost her slippers, and she can’t afford to lose whatever little she has in this world.

Welcome to Baguio, ca. 2009.

Friday, October 2, 2009
Tempest on that pale blue dot

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Carl Sagan said that. He was talking about a photograph taken by that NASA space probe, Voyager 1. The photograph, perhaps unless explained to its viewer, may not make sense at first glance: a dark background with a scattering of tiny specks and a ray of light that runs vertically through the middle, and barely visible somewhere on that ray of light, is a pale blue dot: Earth. That space probe was launched in 1977, originally with the primary intention of visiting Jupiter and Saturn, but currently on an “extended mission to locate and study the boundaries of the universe.” Upon Sagan’s constant prodding, and after completing its primary mission, on Valentine’s Day, 1990, NASA decided to command the probe to turn around for the last time and take a photograph of our home from 3.7 billion miles away. And there was home… “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

It does put things in a different perspective, doesn’t it? Zoom in on that blue planet, zoom in further on the biggest continent in that planet, and zoom in even more on that collection of roughly 7,000 islands – somewhere in those islands, in a place they call Metro Manila, hundreds died and thousands were left homeless.

A weather disturbance that occurs here and there and every now and then on this pale blue dot brought in so much rain which resulted in unprecedented flooding in the area. It was, on that Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, a great equalizer. It did not spare anyone, it did not choose between rich and poor, good and bad: powerful politicians, celebrities, common folk, it didn’t matter. Everyone was helpless.

You may think so highly of your position in government, or your popularity as a celebrity, but in the eye of “Ondoy,” you’re just one of billions of this mote of dust’s inhabitants, and in that instant your life mattered just as much as your neighbor’s noisy mongrel. So the next time you are deluded into believing that you are so great and powerful, privileged and untouchable, remember that during that one stormy day, you felt the same way everyone else did: small and powerless against the power of… what? Just a combination of some amount of warm and cold air spinning in one direction and coming your way.

After collecting donations and distributing all those relief goods (go ahead, put a sticker with your name on it if that makes you feel good about yourself), after caring for someone other than yourself for one brief moment, and after getting our lives back together again, remember that just some hundreds of meters above and your face cannot be recognized anymore. A few kilometers away from earth and your home cannot be distinguished from everyone else’s. Just a little beyond the earth’s atmosphere and you’re not even a dot anymore. And from 3.7 billion miles away?

Carl Sagan further said, “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate… Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand… It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

There’s something, someone, out there that, who, is so much bigger than you are and will ever be. Call it what you want… I believe it’s God. And if there’s one lesson that can be learned from all this, for me it’s this: Remember your place in this universe. There’s so many ways you can make your short visit on this pale blue dot matter.Saturday, October 10, 2009
Bringing out one of Baguio's greatest treasures (and it isn't the longest longganisa)

In the last 13 years since I made Baguio my permanent place residence, I have lived in various parts of the city – three times in three different houses in San Luis Village along Asin Road. During one really strong typhoon in 2001, San Luis was inundated with landslides, one of which brought down a house killing several persons. The house we were living in then was also hit by a landslide, but fortunately the slide, which buried the driveway in 3 feet of mud, stopped right at our doorstep. We didn’t have electricity for days and water was scarce since water delivery trucks couldn’t come near our house. This had the whole family carrying buckets and whatever else can contain water trooping down the road where there was a spring to collect water. But despite all that, at the height of the typhoon when I braved the weather to get some supplies from town, the sight of our Barangay officials armed with shovels and what-have-you immediately clearing out parts of the road that’s been blocked by a landslide, or evacuating families living in danger zones was comforting.

I must mention that I was also really impressed by then San Luis Barangay Captain Corazon Arizala. Back then, Kapitana, as almost everyone called her, was always seen out in the streets directing her people in cleaning up the Barangay, sweeping the streets, painting the sidewalks. On that stormy day 8 years ago, I saw her right in the middle of the street, her raincoat barely doing its job of keeping her dry, screaming at the top of her voice that there would be no merienda break yet for the volunteers who were clearing out the debris from the landslides for there they still had much to do. And then she proceeded to get her hands dirty by directly helping out in the clearing operation.

Seeing our barangay officials at work made tragedies such as what just befell our city a little bit more bearable.

Last week, even before Pepeng wreaked havoc in the city and while Ondoy was putting much of Metro Manila underwater, my wife was driving down Asin Road on her way home when suddenly there was a traffic build up just some meters from our house. A motorist on his way up the opposite way stopped and informed my wife that a landslide just blocked the road 50-100 meters down. When my wife reached our house, I got into the car to go to town, expecting traffic along Asin Road. But as soon as I got out of our driveway, I was surprised to see an empty road with hardly any cars in it. Curiously (just like any “usyosero”), I went down the road instead of up towards town to see exactly what happened, and there they were, just minutes after the landslide: San Luis’ valiant barangay officials (wasn’t sure if they were tanods or kagawads) and some volunteers shoveling mud and chopping down fallen tree branches out of the way. I believe Kapitana is not our current barangay chair anymore, but the tradition of public service that she initiated surely lives on.

Then Pepeng came and last Thursday. My wife and I were on our way to town to get some groceries and knowing that the kind of rain that the city was getting that day would certainly cause a lot of damage, we brought our cameras to document whatever came our way. At the bottom of Quezon Hill’s main road along Naguillian Road, the sight of the City Camp lagoon underwater made us stop to take photos of the area. Seeing that cars were still making their way down Queen of Peace, we decided to get a closer view and drove down towards the lagoon and on our way down, we saw several men in uniform yellow raincoats making their way down the same road. After taking more photos of the flood, we decided to go around town first to look around before making our way to the supermarket. Earlier that day, we heard that Marcos highway had been closed due to landslides and we saw video footages of the rampaging Balili river. Off to Marcos Highway, but after reaching the turning point in Green Valley, we were met with really heavy rains and strong winds that shook our car, so we decided to turn back towards the city. We proceeded to the area where the footage of a raging Balili was taken and we were really impressed by the presence of so many ambulances, rescue vehicles and police along KM 3 in La Trinidad. Balili frighteningly raged on but there they were, the city’s Samaritans, clearing our blocked roadways, assisting and evacuating people, sans tv cameras, sans relief goods with politicians’ names stuck to them.

This we can say: the damage Pepeng inflicted on Baguio will never get as much attention as the havoc Ondoy wreaked on Metro Manila. We didn’t have celebrities on rooftops waiting to be rescued, and that’s probably why while last week my Facebook wall was flooded with calls for donations and volunteers for relief operations to help the victims of Ondoy in Metro Manila, at the height of Pepeng in Northern Luzon, those same calls, this time to help victims in the Cordilleras, were buried under the usual clutter of Mafia Wars invitations and inane online quizzes.
Our deepest condolences go to the victims and their families up here, and our gratitude goes out to to the city’s rescue volunteers, the police and certain barangay officials who, as I said, helped a lot in making this calamity a little bit easier to bear.

But, if there’s a silver lining to all this, I must say that this tragedy brought out one of Baguio’s greatest treasures: its sense of community.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And so the people behind the 21st Philippine Advertising Congress decided to ditch Baguio for Subic. This comes at a time when the city and its neighboring communities can really use some much needed push to rise up from the devastation caused by typhoon “Pepeng.” “Ito ang tama!,” a beer commercial says.

A number of reasons have been cited for this insensitive, selfish decision – the safety of their delegates, the much longer travel time to Baguio because of the damage to roads brought about by floods and landslides, etc. They gave up on us so easily, when these are the same people who told us, in a garments commercial, that “Impossible is nothing.”

“Is it in you?,” an energy drink slogan asks. Obviously, it’s not in them. It’s beyond them to walk the extra mile (or in this case, drive the extra few kilometers in their flashy SUVs) to really put some meaning to the words “Corporate Social Responsibility.” They sit behind those desks for hours waiting for that most memorable slogan to come to them so they can put a human face to that corporate logo, and then turn their backs on this real opportunity to really do something noble. Didn’t they tell us, in a car rental ad, that “We try harder?” No they don’t, and they won’t, in this case, they obviously didn’t.

Sure, some roads leading to Baguio are currently damaged, but didn’t you see the city rise from the ashes after the carpet bombing of the city during the liberation of Baguio from the Japanese, or get back on its feet after the 1990 earthquake? “We’ve got it all for you,” as that mall chain slogan says – a healthful climate, breathtaking scenery, efficient world-class facilities, and of course, the city’s greatest treasure: its warm, hospitable, friendly people.

Fine, “Have it your way,” as a burger joint tagline says. But really, can’t you take it from that ice cream brand slogan, “Follow your heart?” You people know how much help this congress will bring to the City of Baguio and its neighboring communities, how much it will boost the morale of its people struggling to get over the tragedy of losing their loved ones, their homes, their means of livelihood, and yet, just like that, you walk away from this opportunity to show us that those catchy one-liners aren’t just empty words. To paraphrase a softdrink brand slogan,“Magpakatotoo kayo!”

Well, at least now we know that there’s one slogan out there that you really do practice, “Think small,” as one compact car advertisement says. To the heartless people behind the 21st Philippine Advertising Congress who chose not to hear the pleas, turn a blind eye to the destruction, and not see this golden opportunity to show that they actually care at all, wala ba kayong “Haplos ng pagmamahal?” Because really, “It’s all in your hands.”

As for Baguio, I say “Nasa dugo lang ‘yan” and let’s “Just do it,” and “Keep walking.” We just need to “Think different.” Let’s “Fill the air with love” and soon, we shall see, to paraphrase that airline catchphrase, “The beauty of Baguio shining through.”

Baguio has the heart that’s “Simply amazing,” and that’s among “Some things money can’t buy.” “No more tears,” and believe in the “Power of dreams,” and start “Turning dreams into reality.” Baguio will soon get back on its feet, really, because, see...

... “I can feel it… yeah!”

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And on on the other side of the AdCon coin...

I have read the article on AdCon Overall Chair Margot Torres’ rationale on the decision to move this year’s Ad Congress to Subic, and while I still do not agree with the decision, I must admit I see their point.

For all of us up here, the reasons behind the AdCon pullout are baseless: students have gone back to school, the malls, restaurants, sidewalks, etc. are once again filled with people, transportation systems to and from Baguio have gone back to normalized. While we can still see evidences of Pepeng’s destruction in certain areas, things have certainly begun to normalize in the City of Baguio. With everything in place, add to that the hard work already put in by those directly involved, Baguio’s ready and very much capable to host the 21st AdCon. But sadly, that’s not how they see it.

Or more accurately, that’s not exactly how things are presented to the rest of the them over there 250 kilometers away. Examples:

Heard on a TV news report: “90% OF BAGUIO IS IN DANGER OF LANDSLIDES.” Ninety percent! From our house, I look at the five houses up the road and the other four down, and I’m thinking – which one of these ten houses would probably be left standing should a landslide occur? Out of the city’s 129 barangays, which 12 or 13 are lucky enough to be free from potential danger?

Net-izens are also talking about another news report that said residents of Crystal Cave were being evacuated, when according to someone who actually lives there only those whose houses happen to be situated on sinking areas are being asked to evacuate. But a whole barangay being evacuated does make for a better sound bite than just a few houses, doesn’t it?

Headline online: “PEÑALOSA OPENS HIS GYM TO PACQUIAO AS ‘RAMIL’ KOs BAGUIO CAMP.” KO as in knock out? I pass by Coyeesan Hotel Plaza, where Manny Pacquiao has spent the last few weeks training for his upcoming fight, I have even been buying supplies at the hardware store located there – the place pristine, fully-functional, in fact in our area it’s the only structure that continues to enjoy electricity even if there’s a blackout because of its industrial generator that can power the whole building.

Oct. 11 headline: “REPORT: RICE AT P60/KG, FUEL STOCK RUNS LOW IN BAGUIO CITY.” On that day, I went to the city market, and while there were some rice stalls that were obviously running low on stock, I bought 5 kilos of that “aroma” rice variety at 40/kilo. And while there were some gas stations that have closed down, I was able to fill up the car with P500 worth of gasoline.

The story that had “VICTIMS RELOCATE TO MANSION HOUSE” as headline turned out to be a mere photo op, and the supposed evacuees were allegedly sent back home as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. To add grave insult to grave injury, we even learned that some of those who were bused there to receive relief goods later found out that inside those bags were tattered rags.

That’s just the way it is… “dog bites man” takes the inside pages while “man bites dog” takes the front page. We all know that media relies on advertising for revenues, advertising is all about reaching as many people as possible, and sensational headlines promise a wider readership/viewership.

Think about it, why would the organizers go on with the planned staging of the 21st Advertising Congress in a city where according to the headlines, there’s only roughly five square kilometers of space that can be considered safe in this city with a total land area of 49 square kilometers? Or where a gym has been “knocked out,” which to me brings to mind the images of a collapsed building? Where prices of commodities have doubled? Where even the president’s official residence has been turned into an evacuation center?

So much has been said about this issue showing that this particular coin has more than just two sides, and I believe that one of those sides shows the ugly face of sensationalism in media as among the reasons for this brouhaha.

Saturday, September 5, 2009
Isang Daan

In the early 90’s, the Baguio Arts Festival, then run by the Baguio Arts Guild, was among Baguio’s biggest tourist attractions, drawing both participants and audiences from here and abroad. But sadly, the annual holding of one of the country’s most successful art festivals seized with the last festival that was held back in 2002. Since then, no major artistic and cultural even has been held in the city. Or maybe there were, and I just missed them.

Baguio has always been an art haven, it is a fact that the city is home to many renowned artists. As another matter of fact, its artists are among Baguio’s greatest treasures. I’ve said it before, our city officials often mention this fact in their speeches and pitches, yet nothing much is really being done to develop and promote the local art scene. I really believe that only the artists themselves can revive the vibrant artistic and cultural skyline of Baguio.

I am dreaming of holding a week-long arts festival within Baguio’s Central Business District. The festival shall feature various artistic and cultural events with the various business establishments and institutions along Session Road and its environs as venues. The festival aims to promote the local art scene and at the same time help the local economy by attracting audiences/visitors to the city.

I am dreaming of photographs and paintings and installtion art pieces in banks, bookstores, hardware shops, poetry to go with your coffee, music to go with your family dinner, films out in the open, different stories that hopefully will provoke its audiences, the community, into taking a more active role in making Baguio a better place.

I dream that the festival may open with a parade along Session Road by the participating artists. With the local performing and visual artists at the forefront, this parade promises to be a real multi-sensory experience. I dream that during the festival proper, the community will be treated to exhibits, theatrical performances, performance art pieces, book launches & poetry readings, film showings and concerts held in the various establishments along Session Road as well as out in the open.

I dream that in closing, the last day of the exhibit, hopefully with Session Road closed to traffic, may feature a grand outdoor exhibit and performance.

I dream of all this happening right in the heart of Baguio City - Session Road.

Isang Daan – The First Session Road Arts Festival, a collaborative effort between the private sector and the city’s creative minds, joining hands to express the beauty, the dreams and sentiments of a century-old city, reviving the once world-renowned arts and culture scene of Baguio City.

Isang Daan – one hundred.

Isang Daan – a road.

Isang Daan – one common goal.

Hopefully, the city will wake up one November morning to find this dream becoming a reality.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mediocre at best

It was the administration party’s own version of the primaries – the frontrunners, nay the only runners, were Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando. While Fernando has been virtually campaigning since last year (I base this statement on his “performance” in a convention held in the city last year where he promoted himself, not so subtly, as the next president of this country), he was the underdog in this skit for just a couple of days earlier, Teodoro was endorsed by a majority of local government officials belonging to the administration party.

With the way both the Republicans and the Democrats ran their respective primaries, I thought that we may have learned something from the most recently concluded U.S. presidential elections. What I saw on TV was embarrassing. Though the Defense Secretary performed a tad better than the “pink fencer” when two were questioned by the party’s executive committee (or perhaps more accurately, the latter performed worse), their responses to even the most fundamental questions on governance were devoid of any substance. Motherhood statements. Empty. Nada. Mediocre at best. I sure hope someone from the opposition can offer something much better, or we’re doomed, again, for the next 6 years.

***Mediocrity – and while we’re at it, here’s another one: the upcoming attempt by some people to produce the longest longanisa. This comes to us after the recent presentation of the biggest pizza. We’ve also had the biggest salad, the biggest strawberry cake, shake, etc. And all of these feats, according to their respective organizers, are attempts to put Baguio on the map (what map, I’m not sure), to make a world record, to boost the city’s tourism industry.

We live in a city gifted with one of the most beautiful topographical layout, and we want to be known as the city with the longest longanisa. We are blessed with a cool climate, and we go out there as the city with the biggest pizza.

Don’t get me wrong, all of the above may be fun undertakings, but please don’t put these out there as something that Baguio can be proud of. 300,000 residents picking up a broom to clean the whole city, now that’s a world record we can be proud of. Or maybe a city with not one “colorum” taxi. How about a city government with zero corruption? Why not put all that money and effort that go into stuffing hundreds of meters of pork intestines into programs that would get our youth out of the streets and gangs? We have money to waste on an irrelevant undertaking such as the longets longanisa, but no money to put up a police station near Nevada Square to stop the gang wars that regularly occur there that have resulted in a number of deaths.

Baguio was once considered the most beautiful hill station in Asia, the cleanest and greenest city in the country, and instead of working hard to get those titles back, some instead choose to put all their energy into slaughtering hundreds of pigs to “promote the city.” Pearls to swine, indeed.

Wasn’t the rape of Session Road enough when it was turned into an ugly epitome of crass commercialism earlier this year, must you now cover it in blood in an inane effort to “promote local tourism?” With all the expensive lunches and dinners and tourism junkets, this is what you can come up with? The longest longanisa?

On my online status update a few days ago, I quoted film director Joey Reyes, "nobody is more dangerous than a mediocre mind who is made to believe that he/she possesses genius by sheer coincidence of power and position given to him/her." Daniel Burnham, forgive them, for they seem not to know what they’re doing. Sorry for messing up your beautiful Plan of Baguio.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Love for sale

The posh hotel was quite impressive, I should've worn shoes instead of rubber slippers. The coffee did not taste burned (well, at least the first cup didn't) and the sandwich came with a tiny umbrella.

"We need your brain." All 8 or 9 or 10 of them said in perfect unison, and the man seated at the head of the table wolfing down a rather long longanisa looked up and smiled at me as if to say, "aren't these people great?

I said, What?

"We need some stuff in your brain for this things we're working on." What is this thing you're working on? "A beauty pageant." (Cue: Yanni music fades in).

A beauty pageant. I paused for a while (Yanni music up), wolfing down my 300-peso snack and thinking why I didn't order a 500-peso lunch instead like everybody else, it was past lunch afterall. and I thought they called me for a project that would present relevant social and cultural issues that could make the world a better place, or stop global warming.

"A beauty pageant can do that," said the man in between longanisa bites.

Sure, what's in it for me?


Nothing. Sounds fair. But wait, this stuff you want... from my brain... you're just borrowing it, right? I mean, it's my stuff afterall.

"Er... yeah." (Music crossfades from Yanni to Mike Francis' "Lovely Day").

The man wasn't halfway through his longanisa when the first meeting ended.

So that night with a sterilized ice pick, a cuticle remover, a teaspoon and a plastic bag with ziplock, I picked my brain. They were nice people, and they were nice about it, so the pain was worth it (which wasn't much anyway), although it wasn't easy picking through the rubbish inside my head. Some brain stuff kept splashing on the heap of bond paper on my desk - I'll use them later for something. I carefully placed them inside the ziplock bag and went to bed, dreaming about tiny umbrellas and fog machines with pine-scented oil.

The next day, I hand over the ziplock bag to them (there were more of them, actually their numbers kept growing as we kept on having more meetings). This time I ordered for something in between a snack and a lunch - tapsilog here is served without a free bowl of soup like every other tapsilog place does, but that's ok. I should have ordered a longsilog.

"Hmmm, nice stuff," said one while sniffing the bag. Another opened the bag and dipped his finger in it and licked his finger, "would you have something in there to season this stuff a bit?"

You mean right here, right now?


Good thing I brought that faux Swiss knife I won in a Christmas raffle. So right there, while everyone was enjoying either their grilled prawns or Caesar's salad or minestrone, I picked my brain. I added a bit of this and that into the ziplock bag and the bag was passed around and everybody dipped their fingers into the bag and then everybody licked their fingers and in perfect unison, just as the man at the head of the table who continued to eat his rather long longanisa from yesterday licked his fingers, they said, "Hmmmm, this is good. Take two bottles of freshly ground pepper and we'll call you in the morning."

I left feeling quite dizzy.They didn't call the next morning, but two mornings after. They wanted another meeting, and they wanted me to bring them more of that brain stuff. Like Clarisse Starling, I trustingly and blindly obeyed. This brain picking makes me hungry, and I was hungry on that third meeting, so I ordered something two notches classier than the soup-less tapsilog platter. The man still had that rather long longanisa from days ago.

As they passed around the new batch of stuff around, and just as I was picking through the extenders in my goulash, one of them, "there's one more thing we need."


"Your heart."

My heart?

"Yup, we'll pay you."

How much?

"Your brain stuff's good, we're sure you heart's fine too, so name your price."

You do understand that if you take my heart I'll die, right?


Really. So here's the deal, I can give you a taste of my heart and let's take it from there. But bear in mind that I will never allow you to take all my heart away from me, you may use if for your... er... pageant, but it must always remain inside me, ok?

Again, in perfect unison, "ok." I forgot to cue the music for this scene.

We had 10 lunches after that, and on the 11th one which came after a breakfast, we stared at each other for hours until it was time for dinner and I was about to order something only to find out that they've alreay ordered something for me.

Pink salmon.

"Your heart's too expensive."I almost choked on the salmon I just put in my mouth, as if it's a rather long longanisa. Speaking with my mouth full of fish, I said that I wasn't selling my heart, I was merely letting them use it.

"But using it entails costs for us that we find too prohibitive, the equivalent cost of 6 luncheon meetings mean so much to us you know. And besides, we were just wondering if you'd actually sell your heart to us, but you won't, though renting it is fine with us too since we wouldn't need it anymore after the pageant and after we've taken our curtain calls."

I take a sip straight out of the Coke Light can. So what now?

"Actually, we don't really need a heart, all we need is an extra pair of hands... how much are those?"

They're not for sale.I left in such a haste that I forgot to retrieve the brain stuff in that ziplock bag. But that's ok, there's more where that came from. Like that rather long longanisa.Sunday, August 23, 2009

Keeping warm on a cold, rainy night

First off, what is a gang? Dictionary.com provides a few definitions, one of them is “a group of persons working together; squad; shift: a gang of laborers.”

Our gang of performing artists just had a successful premiere a few days earlier so last Saturday, we celebrated that with some food, drinks, music and lots of laughter. The night ended and we left our host’s house in Scout Barrio and were driving home at a little over past midnight towards Nevada Square when upon reaching that last curve before getting to Nevada Square I was quite surprised by the empty road that led to the rotunda at the end of Loakan Road – it was a Saturday night, and usually the very young clientele of the bars located at the square would be spilling over to the road. The sight of some groups actually having their alcohol fix right on the roadside was not uncommon.

“Tahimik a,” I uttered to my passengers in the car which included my wife, my son and a couple of friends. It was the calm before a storm for as soon as I said that, the silence was broken by the sound of glass breaking.

Another definition for “gang” that Dictionary.com offers is “a group of youngsters or adolescents who associate closely, often exclusively, for social reasons, esp. such a group engaging in delinquent behavior.”

My son is at that age when he’s very impressionable – and what parent wouldn’t be worried when your child chooses gangsters as role models. One can’t help but start to worry seriously when you see doodles in your child’s notebook that look exactly like the images you see spray painted on vandalized gates (including ours) and concrete fences all over the city. You worry even more when you find out what particular gang those images belong to and what that particular gang’s raison d’etre is. We’ve had a lot of talks with our children telling them of the violence that’s usually associated with these groups. My son would try to make it appear that he understood what we were trying to tell him during these talks, but I could also feel that he didn’t fully believe the stories of young boys and girls ending up in hospitals, or worse, dead, as a result of mostly senseless rumbles between gangs, of one gangster getting killed by another simply because he or she belonged to a different gang. I could sense that he probably thought that to discourage him from getting into these gangs, we were making up these stories.

A lot has been said about the very serious problem of gang wars in the city, but we could see that whatever is supposedly being done by the authorities is not enough.

From a distance I could see several young boys spilling out onto the road throwing whatever they could get their hands on towards the direction of one of the establishments in the area. I immediately stepped on the breaks. All of us froze for a moment. More rocks, bottles, and boys with lead pipes, behind me the line of cars were getting longer, not one car dared to go through the war zone. And then gunshots were fired: it wasn’t clear where the gunshots were coming from, and since there were no policemen in sight, I hoped they were warning shots being fired by the security guards in the area to break up the rumble. And then the thought of stray bullets entered my mind, so I started turning the car around to get away from there as fast as I could. As we drove the other way in total silence, I looked at the rear view mirror and saw my son’s shocked face, his eyes filled with terror. I asked him if he was ok, he lied and said yes. I asked him what he thought of what we just witnessed, and he admitted that until then he never thought that the stories we told him were true and that those rumbles really do happen.

It was a cold night, a slight drizzle was starting when we got home. We made some hot chocolate to calm ourselves and brought out mattresses and camped out in the living room for the night. After finishing his cup and getting under the covers, my son hugged me and said, “this is so nice and warm. It’s nice to be home on a rainy night like this.”Saturday, August 29, 2009


And so it all comes down to Tuesday, September 1, 2009.

Today, Session Road is slowly filling up with butterflies, and a mother wearing a shirt with that same butterfly leaves her son in Burnham Park for soccer practice while she rushes to join the throngs armed with tarpaulins, staple guns, squeegees and soapy water, to help the city to put the best face it could for its 100th birthday.

Never mind that there seem to be nothing much lined up for that day by the organization that was put together to make the celebration a meaningful and memorable one. If there’s one really good thing that this centennial fever brought about, it’s the sudden interest in what Baguio has become today and what can and must be done to bring back Baguio’s lost glory. Baguio’s old glory, of course, must not be confused with the Baguio of old. That’s been lost forever. Because bringing back the Baguio of old would mean kicking out everyone who are not Cariños, Camdases, Caranteses, Suellos, Molintases, or direct descendants of Baguio’s “original” settlers, and that would perhaps mean ejecting more than 90% of the city’s current population. Or bringing down all those concrete structures whose builders totally ignored their creations’ effect on the city’s beautiful skylines, and that’s easily over half the structures we see in Baguio today.

Perhaps what can be done is figure out what the essence of that old glory was, and do all we can to recreate that within the realities of today’s Baguio. Whatever we do today, we can’t expect that to miraculously, instantaneously, easily transform our decaying city back to its old beauty. The only way we can achieve something like that is with cosmetics – dust up here and there, repaint this and that, and no, that won’t work. We would have to be patient, and accept the fact that within our lifetimes, this will be the Baguio that we’ll get.

But the thousands of pine seedlings that we would plant to day would mean thousands of full grown pine trees that would purify the air that our children and their children’s children would breathe in the future. If we’re going to build something, we should keep in mind that these structures would be heritage sites in a couple of generations.

We marvel at the sight of Mansion House, we are doing everything to preserve what’s left of the Diplomat Hotel, we are awed by the magnificence of the way Camp John Hay was laid out, the breathtaking views of Kennon Road… what would our children say about that concrete pine tree? Those flyovers? That short-time motel that’s being erected right across our City Hall? We inherited a beautiful hill full of trees and we erected a concrete mall on it. We inherited a beautiful public park and we want to put up buildings on it. We inherited clean air and we poisoned it. We inherited the best quality of life one can enjoy in this country, and we’re throwing all that away, all in the name of ________? Fill in the blank. Progress? That’s what our city officials say. This isn’t progress. We are regressing. We messed it up. We messed it up real bad. All we’ve done is obliterate what Baguio is really all about: beauty, and we are doing all we can to make Baguio what it is not.

But it’s not too late. Now’s the time to correct those mistakes. We have two choices: the first one is for us to simply do nothing and let Baguio decay right before our eyes, and not give a damn about what kind of city we’re passing on to our children. Or, the other choice is to grab this renewed sense of caring for Baguio and use that to make the people realize that we cannot accept what Baguio has become today, and rally the community to work together, and hard, to recapture the essence of Baguio so that a hundred years from now, Baguio’s bicentennial celebration would be real celebration of this generation’s legacy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

To see what to see at the BCC

There’s an art gallery inside the auditorium, though since we started rehearsing there a few weeks ago, I have never caught it open, nor have I come across any announcement of an upcoming or ongoing exhibit. Beauty pageants, singing contests, the occasional music concert and once every couple of years, a stage play or two – but lately, it’s been cold and quiet at the Baguio Convention Center, and I’m not so sure if the looming takeover by the Government Service Insurance System of the property has anything to do with it, or rumors about the plan to turn the property into a condominium complex. Even the Soroptimists International of Pines City office tucked in a corner sheltered by pine trees oftentimes feel empty, only the presence of the Guardians in the tents behind give any indication of activity at all. How sad.

In the meantime, the most vibrant exhibit venue these days is a mall’s basement. Baguio-based National Artist Bencab’s museum isn’t as easily accessible being down in Asin Road seven kilometers away from the city proper, and the P100 admission fee doesn’t help. Tam-awan Village too, Bencab’s first baby, has been quiet. The last time I visited the Greenhouse Effect Gallery, the late Santi Bose’s brainchild which he worked so hard for, there wasn’t really anything happening there except for some artists working on some props for Anthony de Leon’s musical extravaganza, Panagbenga’s Phantom on the Lake. Events at Kidlat Tahimik’s VOCAS, located at the top floor of La Azotea Bldg. on Session Road, have dwindled too.

A couple of non-government organizations have complained about the pathetic state of the city’s major tourists attractions, among the reasons for the decline in the number of visitors to the city, and have called for action from the government. Good luck with that.

Back inside the Baguio Convention Center – the stage, the halls, the offices in the basement, the lobby: the whole place is perfect for the city’s very own cultural center. A full art season may be put together, making it easier and more cost efficient for the artists to organize exhibits and performances. It could be run by an arts council, run hand in hand by the city government and local artists. It could be the center where all artistic and cultural activities in the city emanate from. The offices inside the hall may be turned into intimate film screening rooms where people wanting to take a break from the usual commercial fare at the malls can go to experience the works of independent alternative filmmakers. Every month a new play opens on center stage, while the lobby hosts a new exhibit by a local artist. You walk down the stairs to the basement and wouldn’t it be nice to hear the sounds of various musical instruments coming from the rooms, budding musicians rehearsing for an upcoming recital or recording an original album. In another room a visual artist in residence works on his canvass while students linger to see the artist at work. I’m sure a room or two may also be reserved for a library.

Given the opportunity to have a home, I’m sure most local artists would work hard to keep the place vibrant, alive, bringing Baguio City’s soul back to life, and surely the soul of a city is a better tourist attraction way more than a week-long tiangge or putting together the world’s longest longganisa.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the city’s youth exposing themselves to the works of city’s artists instead of to the elements in the dark corners of the city’s streets at night, or even participating in and expressing themselves through art instead of brawls and vandalism. Wouldn’t it be nice if parents can bring their children to a storytelling session, or a film showing on weekends for hours of art and culture instead of the arcade for hours and hundreds of pesos of noise?

We can’t bring back to old Baguio, that we know. The efforts of our congressman to amend the city’s charter, with the primary aim of empowering the local government to distribute public lands, if successful, will perhaps put the final nail in the coffin of the Baguio we all once knew. The view of mines is gone, so do the scent of pine, the sunflower-covered hillsides, and others that made Baguio, Baguio. The artists are still here, though, and all they need is a home.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

14, 100

Our 14th year, no precious stones, no grand getaways, just an evening with friends, an evening of whisky and brandy and chicharon, at an exhibit opening and at table number one in Luisa’s on Session Road. A beer brought over from Rumours next door. Acquaintances slip in and out. Monsoon rains raging outside.
“Really?” asked Pigeon, this paper’s editor-in-chief, asked in between brandy refills, “14 years? This calls for a toast!” And so we raised our glasses for the sixth or seventh or eighth time last night. We have been raising our glasses to Baguio, our dreams for Baguio and our resolve to realize those dreams, all night.

Nung una kitang makilala, aking mahal
Ang aking puso’y nabihag ng ‘yong kariktan
Magmula noon, ‘di ko na kayang mawalay sa’yo.
Kafagway sa yakap mo ako’y hihimlay
Pinapawi mo’ng lumbay na aking taglay
I wrote that song, and in my mind the word Kafagway and my wife’s name crossfade.
So there, it’s been 14 years since the day we decided to spend the rest of our lives together, and that life has been closely intertwined with Baguio's last 14 years, or perhaps the last one hundred.

Halimuyak ng mga pino nariyan na
Nagsasabing ako’y malapit na
Isang daan, patungo sa puso ng Cordillera
Daang malapit sa mga ulap, puno ng talinhaga
Dugo at pawis ang gumuhit ng ‘yong kasaysayan
Walang sawa kong tatahakin ang ‘yong kagandahan
It’s been quite an adventure – we’ve lived in a rundown apartment tucked away in a corner in Campo Sioco (named after one of the fathers of the city), in a friend’s house in Mines View (which once offered a glimpse of Baguio’s gold rush in its early years), in Gen. Luna and Gen. Malvar streets (reminders of Baguio’s role in our nation’s struggle for independence), we now live in Asin Road, a stone’s throw away from the Ifugao carvers’ village, and just a little further down the road is Asin’s famous hot springs (which has drawn visitors since the time of the Spaniards). For 14 years we have walked the streets of Baguio, saw the construction of tall buildings and flyovers that ruined the beautiful skyline, the transformation of Camp John Hay and the deterioration of the Baguio Convention Center, malls sprouting one after another in different parts of the city, the closing down of theaters along Session Road, a snatcher being chased by the police and young men hurting each other for no reason.

And we told these stories to the community, my wife and I. We staged plays that we believed asked relevant questions, that provoked, inspired, painted the real picture. We made films that reminded all of us of the city’s beautiful history. We’ve tried to voice out the aspirations of the community, its heartaches, its dreams…

Ang mithiin ng Baguio
Isapuso mo
Itaguyod mo
Isulong mo
Ang kailangan ng Baguio, ikaw at ako

14 years. Isang daan. And so our fifteenth year together begins on Baguio’s 100th.
And so soon, we go onstage once again to tell the story of “Kafagway: Sa Saliw Ng Mga Gangsa,”a performance art piece that will sing the city’s songs, and our songs.

Happy anniversary, RL. And we wish you well, our beloved Baguio, on your 100th year.

Saturday, June 6, 2009
Back to where it all began

The air was surprisingly cool at the Makati Park that afternoon. By sunset we were all there: While Yoshi and I were going through the notes of a Beatles song; Roman was running back and forth between the reception hall and the open area by the fountain supervising the caterers setting up the tables, the lights and sound people trying to make do with what they had; Delo had the toolbox wide open looking for an extra bulb socket he needed to light up the red carpet that ran from the back of the fountain to what served as the altar; Arkhe have started putting sand in the cute orange paper bags that Rose made that will serve as lanterns that will light up the whole area; Jojo was there to lend a hand to everyone.

At around 6 I drove back to Zari's house a few blocks away from the park, that's where the staging area was, where everyone took a shower and freshened up after the long 6-hour drive from Baguio. When I got there everyone was ready to go - the little girls were already dolled up (Kyra and Gabriela were going to be the evening's flower girls) and Aeneas looked sharp with his mohawk while wearing a Barong Tagalog. RL, Zari, Eunice and Rose had to prep themselves up in 15 minutes since the little girls' hair took forever to fix up.

It was already dark when we got back to the park, and everything was almost ready - the lanterns worked perfectly well, so did that extra par 38 spotlight that Delo nailed to a palm tree. The groom nervously asked for a cigarette while I was briefing the bride's brother, Earl, who was going to be the evening's emcee. We were all just waiting for the bride.

Earlier that day, the bride, Syrel, sent me a text message that something like, " I am just so glad to belong to the OSP family, thank you all so much for being there for me..." OSP is Open Space Productions, a Baguio-based theater group.

I looked at the street beyond and saw a white car with the blinkers on, that has got to be her already. One last "company call": Tolits will be manning the entourage's entrance, Eu will usher them to their respective seats, Zari, Rose and RL were part of the entourage, the OSP kids were already in line. I walked over to where the car was and there she was:

Two minutes, Kuya, she said, I just need to put on contacts. I opened the door for her two minutes later and escorted her to where she was supposed to wait before she makes her entrance. Roman stayed with her while she waited, and I gave the cue to start the ceremony.

RL and I, Godparents to Syrel and JP, walked down the aisle first. I escorted her to her seat and proceeded to where the keyboard was. "Piano/String", key of G, "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles and as Yoshi sang the first lines of the song, the procession began.

The bride's entrance was wonderful... the trees, the lighting, the paper bag candles, the wind, I just hoped the ABS-CBN crew who came to document the event on video caught not only what was happening on their camera, but how the scene of the veiled Syrel walking down the aisle felt. From all corners of the park, Jojo, Arkhe and Delo were clicking away, capturing the moment from different angles.

At the end of the long ceremony,during the photo ops, after the Bride's family and the Groom's family, the "OSP family" was called for a photo with the bride and the groom. At the reception, Roman has set-up his laptop and the LCD projector for the videos he and I made for the couple. Arkhe sang the Bride's requested song, Iris. Eunice sang "The Rose" during the cutting of the cake and the releasing of doves part.

And after a long trip from Baguio to Proj. 6 to Makati, a couple of hours' set-up, an unexpectedly long ceremony (the Judge who officiated the wedding got carried away), a couple of hours at the reception, Zari requested for a nightcap at Penguin Cafe. The women changed from high-heeled shoes to sandals, the Barongs were taken off, the kids back to their sandos and tsinelas, off to Malate we went.

Pinikpikan was playing that night, and there was a 150-peso cover charge, everyone agreed it wasn't worth it so we had our nightcap instead at the Oarhouse. Wilson the bartender was already lying down on the couch when we got there, I woke him up and ordered our coffees and beers. After a quick sip of our coffees and beers and a recap of what just happened, I brought everyone to the Remedios circle.

In the summer 1995, on an evening just like that one, I put up JC Live! right there in Remedios Circle. They've altered the circle's look since then, gone was the stage where Waling-waling, the Manila Youth Symphony Orchestra, Lolita Carbon, Raul Mitra, Jet Melencio, Julien Mendoza, MArgarita Gomez, etc., performed songs from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" to raise funds for a shelter for streetchildren. Also gone now was RJ Leyran, my partner in putting that concert together. There are no videos nor photos of the first production, and with RJ gone, also not even someone to share the memory of that evening with.

I don't even recall the exact date of the concert, but as we, the OSP family, posed for a photo right in the middle of the circle, it felt like it happened on that evening, 13 years ago.Thursday, May 14, 2009

Candy, anyone?

Candy’s remarks left a bitter taste, pun intended. That’s Candy Pangilinan, tv, film and stage actress. Since they say that in showbiz, you’re only as good as your last performance, I am not inclined to call her a comedienne right now, her recent faux pas at a performance in SM City Baguio was not funny at all. “Tao po ako, hindi po ako Igorot,” a blog entry said that was posted, and linked to, all over the internet, particularly Facebook and Multiply.com. And the reactions, as expected, were vicious: “She’s dead meat next time she comes to Baguio;” “There will be no next time, she be persona non-grata;” “…a comedienne with little or no talent;” “boycott anything she’s involved in;” just to quote a few. There are even nastier unprintable ones. And perhaps she deserved every single one of those tirades that came from, among others, the very descendants of the first families who lived in these mountains, of that man who fought the most powerful government in the world in court (and won), Igorots who’ve risen above stereotypes and have contributed so much more to the country than Ms. Pangilinan can never, ever, equal.

I’ve seen her teary apology on TV and heard her explanation, accepted by others, rejected by some. But, though what she said is in itself a major blunder, I believe her other mistake is uttering those words in public, with a microphone, in the presence of Igorots. Because, really, most of us would never say to a child who wants to play out in the streets, “sige ka, kukunin ka ng Bumbay,” in front of an Indian man. Nor would we laugh in the face of a pirated DVD vendor when he offers us “dibide-dibide.” Ok, we’ve heard some of us utter unkind remarks about Koreans in the presence of Koreans, but that’s only when and because we know they can’t understand Tagalog or Ilokano.

Perhaps this incident brings to the fore, aside from the ugly face of racism, the fact that centuries after the Spanish colonization attempted to make this archipelago one nation, tribalism, at times defined as “the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates oneself as a member of one group from the members of another” (Wikipedia.org), exists and continues to define the way some of us view ourselves as a people. While we’re all Filipinos, for a lot of us we’re Igorot or Bisaya or Aeta or Kampampangan or Ilokano or Maranao , etc., first. Not that that’s essentially wrong: it is good when it forges unity among a group of people, but not when it separates us from others. It is good to belong: to a family, a clan, a tribe, a region, a nation. It’s not good when, as Filipinos, we separate ourselves from others because we come from a different region, or ethnic group, etc.

In Baguio alone, there are several groups that exist and at times divide us as a community: taga-Benguet, taga-Kailnga, taga-Ifugao, taga-Bontoc, Ilokano, taga-Pangasinan, Muslim, taga-baba, taga-Manila, Koreano, Amerikano, Australiano. How many Rotary, Soroptimist, Lions, etc., clubs are there in this small city? Artists belong to different organizations. The youth belong to different fraternities, gangs. Even in the small circle I mostly move in, the theater community, parochial mentality creates a great divide among the different groups, as if it is not hard enough that there are very limited opportunities for theater artists in the city.

And from there stems our condescending attitude towards others: when we separate ourselves from others. From there stems our ignorance of others when we stop understanding those who do not fall inside the fences we build around us. And that’s probably why there wasn’t as much noise when the Baguio Country Club decided that because some Koreans do no behave properly on the golf course, all Koreans must be banned from entering their premises. In some of the barriers we have created, the Koreans do not belong, and since most of us didn’t belong inside the barriers of the Baguio Country Club, we didn’t care as much.

Candy Pangilinan’s remarks are deplorable, terrible, unacceptable. She can explain all she wants - she was referring to an Igorot statue, she was tired, she didn't mean it. Nah, we know exactly what she meant. But we ourselves can also put a different spin to it: “Hindi lang tayo IGOROT, Taga-BAGUIO rin po tayong lahat” (and perhaps we can really begin to make Baguio a better place). Or “Hindi lang tayo taga-BAGUIO, FILIPINO rin po tayong lahat” (and maybe we can start making this nation great again). Or “TAO po muna tayong lahat, bago pa man tayo naging mga IGOROT at mga taga-BAGUIO.” And then we maybe we can start making this world a better place.

There’s an update on my Facebook wall that says, “Domogan forgives Candy Pangilinan.” Well, if our good congressman can forgive and protect a president who mocked our electoral process and continues to take all of us for a ride, why not Candy?Sunday, May 10, 2009

Maybe this, is

I learned of some of the reactions regarding my article, “This was Session Road in Bloom” (April 26, 2009). Initially glad to learn that there were people who actually read my column (an artist always appreciate an audience, receptive or otherwise), it was also depressing to learn that a lot of them missed the point.
No, it was not necessarily a critique of the people behind Panagbenga’s Session Road in Bloom, but of the event itself and the concept behind it. For me, no matter who takes charge of that annual rape of Session Road, it would remain what it is for me: rape. Because of the adverse reactions to the article, I asked a few friends, some of whom were actually directly involved in that week-long event: did you actually enjoy Session Road in Bloom? Did you actually feel good about yourself and for Baguio itself walking down that road amidst the chaos and noise and, particularly at night towards the end of the day, filth? I'm sure you can already imagine most of the responses.

I was asked why I was “attacking” Session Road in Bloom when I myself was a part of it (our group performed and had a public screening of “Portrait of a Hill Station,” our documentary on the history of Baguio). We were invited to perform at the main stage of Session Road in Bloom, and we are very happy and honored to have been invited at all. Grateful, we truly are, and we thank the people behind Session Road in Bloom for the wonderful opportunity to tell the people of the history of Baguio and sing songs with lyrics such as “Kabunyan kami’y dinggin, kalikasan ay i-adya sa lahat ng masama;” “Sino ba’ng nagmamayari ng lupang ‘to, ano ba’ng tama kasaysayan o titulo?;” “Ang mithiin ng Baguio isapuso mo,” right there at the top of Session Road.

Consider the tentative schedule of events that was published ahead of the festival: 29 scheduled minor events, 19 of which were to be held in one mall, 10 pop concerts, a beauty pageant and a fashion show, a couple of promotional tours by television networks engaged in a ratings war who relentlessly elbowed each other out for better positioning the whole festival, you get the drift. Oh, and ahhh, a Pony Boys’ Day. Panagbenga is a Baguio festival, a good idea to begin with, and like most festivals around the country, you would think that it would highlight and celebrate the beauty of and the many other things that this city can be proud of.

And that Earth Day morning? That was a celebration of what Baguio is all about, that was something the city could be proud of. No rush, no filth, no noise, just children drawing, just people smiling, just the city heaving a sigh of relief. I also asked some people how they felt on that cool Baguio morning, you can already imagine all of their responses.

As I said, that previous article was not exactly a critique of the people behind this year’s Panagbenga. Maybe this, is:

And one night, a big night, Baguio artists played supporting roles in a musical performed on the lake which served as a front-act to La Diva, promoted by festival organizers as the country’s version of the pop group “Destiny’s Child.” Our group provided stage management support to that musical, and while we were packing up boxes and boxes of props and costumes, preparing huge set pieces for transport after the show, we were being harangued by both festival staff and security guards to quickly get out of the way because the La Divas were coming. And while festival staff sternly informed us ahead of the performance that there are no meals allocated for the unpaid stage management group during rehearsals, and no, they can’t provide a couple of hundred pesos worth of candles that could have added much to the musical’s aesthetic value, and no they can’t provide us with a few extra plastic monoblock chairs for the cast and choir to sit on backstage, and no they can’t provide a few extra personnel for the production that it badly needed, by the end of La Diva’s performance, there were suddenly throngs of Panagbenga personnel and security guards cordoning off the way from the stage all the way to Lake Drive for the three pop stars to make their way to their vehicle safely and comfortably.

Yeah, I think this one is.Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Losing my religion

It was supposed to be a routine spring cleaning of the machine... back-up files and save the drivers from the main drive in another drive, reformat, install the operating system, re-install the drivers... but in an age where almost everything is disposable, the wrong drive was reformatted, and in the click of the mouse, 10 years of production files, 6 years of photographs, articles, ideas, scripts, libretti... gone.

I spend hours everyday pounding on this keyboard, clicking this mouse, telling stories, composing images, making music... this has been my altar ever since that Pentium 300 13 years ago... I should've lost my mind, blown my top, cried even.

But I surprised even myself when I just shrugged it off and told Arkhe, a friend, inaanak and colleague whom I asked to help me overhaul the computer, the one who cliked the fateful click, to just forget and not worry about it... we'll just have to stack up a new digital pile of production files, shoot new photos, write new articles, come up with new ideas, write new scripts and libretti...

The bulk of the files in that drive were openSpace files... photos from performances staged more than a decade ago to ones staged just a few weeks ago... poster studies, property plots, checklists, stage managers' files, attendance sheets, budgets. I think I have a few of these production files saved on DVDs somewhere, I think I'd get a couple of scrapbooks today and start putting together hard copies of production books... with everything the digital age is, still nothing beats ink on paper.

It's ok, because, it's about time we purge some of the group's baggages. It's ok because there's more where all those lost files came from. It's ok because maybe it's time to move on with a clean slate because I believe openSpace is entering a new phase, stage, age... after all those years of trying to find our footing, I think we finally did. And on top of everything that fell into place in the group's last two productions, I believe what worked for us were the absence of malice; sincerity; the presence of everyone who were ther for one thing: to tell a good story and to tell it well, first and foremost. If a poisonous seed was planted, it was ignored or killed instantly. No hidden agendas, everything was out in the open. No whispers backstage (everything was said out loud), no second-hand information (nothing alterred, everything as it is and should be). There were no core groups, secondary groups, outsiders, newcomers, old-timers: there was only ONE group, there were only artists united by a vision: explore all artistic possibilities in communicating ideas.

Another friend sent me a program via email that can attmept to retrieve the files... I haven't opened it. Do I really need to? Do I really want to?

Tomorrow I will be sitting down with two colleagues to discuss the feasibility of a multimedia studio and what to do the rest of the year.

The status quo's fine with me for now.Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Under the stars

If this paper's editor-in-chief has forgiven this column's month-long absence, this piece will see print under a new column title. "Session Road Blues" is being recalled to serve as the working title of a new theatrical piece that our group, Open Space, is putting together that we hope to unveil later this year.

The reason for my absence here, in a nutshell, is this: four weeks, one concert, a couple of public screenings, three performances of two musicals in three different venues. We're coming from providing technical direction to the Panagbenga spectacle that was the "Phantom on the Lake," followed by screenings of our documentary on Baguio, "Portrait of a Hill Station," and a concert featuring original songs about Baguio. Soon after the last hotdog and corn was sold and the last complimentary cigarette lighter was handed out during Session Road in Bloom, we began putting together two musicals, one of which was the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic, "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Our mayor, Peter Rey Bautista, encouraged by the response to the Phantom performance at the lake, requested that we perform our production of Webber's rock opera for the community during the Holy Week. The original idea was to perform it on the stage built in middle of the lake, but after finding out that was already removed we suggested that we instead put it up at the Baguio Convention Center and Rose Garden for technical and aesthetic reasons: The BCC for the convenience of a roof in case the rains come on Good Friday (which it did), and the steps that lead from behind the bust of Arch. Daniel Burnham towards the lake provides an amphitheater-like feel, surrounded by trees and pocket gardens filled with roses, and it's been our group's dream to perform there.

The cast and staff of about 70 people met for a production meeting which was soon followed by daily (and nightly) rehearsals at the Baguio Convention Center. There were Open Space's resident artists, a hip-hop dance group Baguio Amplified in their theatrical debut and the AVP ensemble, an informal group of musicians and singers, vocalising, arranging, blocking, choreographing... giving life to the written text. Behind the scenes, other members of the group were all over town with the City Mayor's Office's endorsement letter requesting the support of some friends in the private sector.

The first to respond was Dr. Reynaldo C. Bautista, Sr. of the Rural Bank of Itogon, one of our group's ardent supporters. If we had any doubts at all if the production will really push through due to sponsorship concerns, those doubts were erased as soon as RBI threw its support behind the endeavor. Smart Communications' pledge soon followed, and we knew at that point that there was really no turning back anymore. The next thing we knew, we had Victory Liner's, The Manor's and the University of Baguio's logos on our posters. Later, Beneco pledged its support too and Alabanza Meat Store sent food our way during our second performance.

The reason why the group's very enthusiastic about this production is because it proved that given the government's endorsement, the support of the private sector is sure to follow, enabling us to stage free cultural presentations making the arts more accessible to the community.

This while providing a venue for our local artists to express themselves. This while being able to present great stories that present relevant social issues. This while perhaps reinforcing an alternative reason for tourists to come up to Baguio: its arts and culture scene.

During the second performance at the Rose Garden, on the grassy area on either side of the steps, families laid out mats while the children ran around waiting for the performance to begin. The steps began to fill with both locals and tourists wondering what the stage, lights and sound equipment set-up were all about.

Even the ambulant vendors set their wares aside for a night at the theater: under the stars and out in the open. And both the performers and our supporters agreed: let's have more of this.Sunday, April 26, 2009

This was Session Road in bloom

I kept on saying it over and over that morning, and I'll say it again here now: last Wednesday, April 22, 2009, also known as Earth Day, was truly Session Road in bloom.

I was even feeling a bit guilty that morning that we had to drive to town, but having three energetic kids in tow does not make for an easy commute from where we live to downtown Baguio. So off we went, I dropped the whole family off at the top of Session Road and parked at the mall where I had to do some errands. Half an hour later, I joined them.

Walking down from the mall and still a good distance away from Session Road, and there was already a different feel to the area. Session Road sounded different – without the sound of car engines, you hear the laughter of the people more, the sighs, a man clears his throat, a blind man playing a tune on his battery-powered electronic keyboard.

I entered Session Road, a quick glance at the hideous concrete pine tree, and looked for my family - and there were my children on all fours telling their stories with colored chalks. My eldest son Leon spelled out the word EARTH in various colors and forms while my youngest Aeneas drew what looked like tree-lined road. My daughter Gabriela tried to draw earth, but as she tried to add more bright colors to it it started to look more like a sun bursting with colors. In the end what she had was a simple kaleidoscopic orb.

People smiled, said hello, people breathed(!), in Session Road(!). It wasn’t a sunny morning, in fact it was quite overcast. But the feeling, yes Session Road felt so different that morning, was warm, it was nice. Baguio, on that gloomy Wednesday morning, felt like Baguio again. There was a different sense - a sense of community, something that seems to have been missing in recent years. Something that was totally missing the last time they closed down Session Road to traffic.

What is it with wide open spaces that our honorable (for surely, these are honorable men, and women) powers that be just can’t seem to stand it that they just have to mess it up. Last month they closed down Session Road for a whole week of crass commercialism, it was insane. And some have even claimed that this was among the best Baguio Flower Festival celebrations ever. Sorry but I just don’t see why anyone can be proud of being responsible for the rape of Session Road, or Baguio for that matter. For a whole week last month Session Road was a picture of greed, of senseless materialism, it was an orgy! For a whole week people squeezed in between other people and commercial stalls, shouted over loud speakers asking them to buy this and that not knowing, or caring, that for every item sold a piece of the city’s soul was sold with it.

And at the end of the day, this was how they measured the success of this year’s Panagbenga: how much money the city, and some people, earned. None of them cared how much of the city’s soul was lost. But that’s the thing about abstract concepts such as a city’s soul – you can’t put a tag price in pesos on it, and the honorables just don't get it.

It's not about power, remember? It's not just about money, right? And then there was that Wednesday morning on Session Road: both children and grown-ups down on their knees making known their hopes and dreams for Mother Earth, for the environment, for Baguio; last Wednesday, it felt like we were once again one community, working together to make the world a better place. That, dear honorables, that's what it's all about.

And then the heavens acknowledged a community’s prayers and let down the rains, and the colors and stories on the pavements merged and became one. Last Wednesday, Session Road looked, smelled, sounded, felt different. Again, without the madness, without the pollution and noise, Session Road was truly in bloom.

In the afternoon they let the cars in again. They gave that orgy known as Session Road in Bloom one whole week, and they couldn’t make that beautiful Wednesday last a even just whole day.Sunday, May 25, 2008
Make a u-turn or straight ahead

A sign next to the Magsaysay flyover says, “To Baguio: Make a U-turn, Go To Trancoville Junction, Make Another U-turn, Proceed To Flyover Ramp.”

There are signs everywhere. Up on the sidewalks, on doors, motor vehicles: on windshields or bumpers, on paper or tarpaulin, on billboards: in neon, in color, or in black and white.

You’ve got nationwidest coverage? Sure. You‘ve got it all for me? Ok.Katas ng Saudi? Noted. Will I be there? I’m done with school, but thanks for the invitation. Kailangan pa bang i-memorize ‘yan? You’re right, no need to, and I’d have forgotten it had you not kept on reminding me all day that there’s no need to commit the crap you heap on my helpless ears all day to memory.

Sure, the stuffy central business district; with its roads filled with smoke-belching motor vehicles; its sidewalks crammed with people spitting, pissing, throwing up, loitering, littering and not minding whose toes they step on or shoulders they bump into; its once picturesque skyline now obliterated by giant commercial billboards screaming into our faces to buy this, switch to that, eat here, get drunk there, may be signs of a developed city. But from a different angle, these may be signs of a city painted all over with greed and shamelessness – a portrait of an abused city.

Perhaps the ever growing bank account of the city is a sign of progress. But what kind of future does the city face with it and is it worth it? The signs that say “Don’t Be A Scofflaw,” put up by a corporation with a legally questionable contract with the city government that was found to be illegally occupying public property and usurping the powers of several government entities, can still be seen all over the city. There are still signs proclaiming the city to be the cleanest and greenest in the country, next to piles of uncollected garbage. There are no parking signs next to parked cars, no loading and unloading signs next to jeepneys picking up and dropping off passengers.

What’s a row of bars infront of an elementary school a sign of? What’s a row of sleazy establishments near the city hall a sign of? What’s a police car passing through a red light a sign of? What’s the sight of elderly locals with baskets of vegetables and fruits being chased by the government in our streets where legitimate shops selling illegal merchandise thrive a sign of? What’s the plan to provide elected officials with brand new cars while the same elected officials often cite the lack of money as the reason behind the failure of the city government to efficiently deliver public service a sign of?

I’ve said it before, walking down Session Road, one only has to stop and look at the signs to know where the city has been, where it is, and where it’s going.

The sign may say, “To Baguio: Make a U-turn, Go To Trancoville Junction, Make Another U-turn, Proceed To Flyover Ramp,” or we can simply say, “Straight Ahead.”

Or maybe the sign could’ve stopped at, “Make A U-turn.” Looking at where Baguio is today, that makes sense.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Panagbenga - keeping it simple, yet meaningful

In ’97 we were there, a small bunch of artists, a couple of benches, a box-full of tapuy and an ice chest-full of sodas, a basket full of tuna and chicken sandwiches, and several hand drums. We positioned ourselves somewhere near the post office steps – next to us were other artists with their hand-painted shirts and prints and paper beads – we don’t remember having to pay tens of thousands of pesos to sit around all day banging our drums and sharing sandwiches and good tapuy with both familiar faces and friendly strangers.

Then, no, we didn’t have to wake up before sunrise to set up our sandwich stand, which was actually just an excuse to have a place where kindred souls can gather and celebrate life in Baguio, there was no hurry nor jostling for prime spots along Session Road: anywhere on the road was a prime spot. And when we found our spot taken over by another group the next day, we only had to move a few meters down from where we were the day before: a small price to pay for enjoying the tapuy a bit too much the day before and waking up late the next morning.

Then, those who participated in Panagbenga’s “Session Road in Bloom” seemed a lot, but still leaving enough space for people to walk up or down the road without having to squeeze themselves in between other people and merchants and merchandise. There was enough space for Session Road to breathe, and people cared enough not to abuse the plants on the island in the middle of the road.

Then, it seemed to be truly in bloom.

Then, we didn’t earn that much money. In fact, we didn’t earn any. That’s ok, we danced and laughed a lot for a few days, and that’s priceless. And after having too much fun and much too little money by the third day, we decided that the rest of the tuna and chicken sandwiches would be the food at our tables at home for the rest of the week. Fry the tuna spread and it’s a mean tortang orilles. But we didn’t stop going to Session Road the rest of the week – there was always some space somewhere where we can lay our mats and play our drums.

And today, so what if one makes millions cramming as many commercial stalls as if there’s no tomorrow along Session Road, when you have as many people hating the experience? Why sacrifice the integrity of what was supposed to be a beautiful and sincere community effort by allowing the pretty costumes to be blighted with corporate logos and slogans just for a little extra money? Who wouldn’t hate hearing commercial jingles during a parade instead of the music that come from the hearts of the people of Baguio?

Back then, I guess the organizers didn’t make as much money from the flower festival, but it was those first few festivals, the ones free from crass commercialism, the ones free from too much politics and misplaced egos, the ones that had the spirit of Baguio painted on every smiling face: those were the ones that made the Baguio Flower Festival live in the hearts of people from all over the country and the rest of the world.

Surrendering and being slaves to crass commercialism: millions of pesos, and one’s left with nothing but an empty experience.

Keeping it simple yet meaningful: priceless.

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