Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The way to Baguio

The way to Baguio

Posted 00:56am (Mla time) Feb 23, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 23, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LAST Friday, the Baguio Country Club began a series of activities to celebrate its centennial. It started with the usual things: a thanksgiving Mass, the unveiling of a bronze National Historical Institute marker at the entrance, and the launching of postage stamps with a picture of the club as it looked a century ago. These were followed by golf tournaments, photo exhibits, eating and drinking to celebrate the club's surviving well into a second century.

The club was established through the initiative of William Cameron Forbes, the governor general of the Philippines who is best remembered for the street in Manila that bears his name but is mispronounced "Por-bes." It is one of the street names sanctified by usage and one that has withstood some rather ill-considered but well-meaning changes. (Other Manila streets now threatened by legislators who want to foster historical amnesia are Espa¤a and Taft. Now that is worth another column.)

Forbes is also remembered for the upscale gated community in Makati called Forbes Park whose name is pronounced correctly but is sometimes sneeringly referred to as "Pobres Park" because some wags would want to believe that the premiere subdivision in the country is filled with mortgaged lots. From "Por-bes" in Manila to "Pob-res" in Makati-that's a world of difference best tackled by "Cocktales."

I had to look beyond contemporary history and go back 100 years to know more about the Baguio Country Club. I dusted off the two hefty volumes of "The Philippine Islands" by Forbes himself and published in Boston in 1928. I was surprised to find in the first volume, which tackles the history of the Philippines and of course the pillars of American colonial government in the islands-Civil Government, Public Order, Finances, Justice, Health, Public Works, Education, etc.-one whole chapter on Baguio. The reason for this was the justification of the now famous Kennon Road built by an army colonel named L.W.V. Kennon at a cost of well over $2 million dollars, which was widely questioned, because it was believed that this great expense was merely resorted to give a handful of high colonial officials a cool place for rest and relaxation. I'm sure digging into contemporary materials on the building of Kennon Road will make interesting reading.

When people plan a trip to Baguio by land these days (flying is much faster and convenient, but people can't seem to forget some recent high-profile plane crashes), they figure five to six hours of travel. That already takes into account traffic, going around tricycles, trucks and kuligligs and making the usual rest and meal stops along the way. We have two choices of routes these days: it is either the Marcos Highway, which is is supposedly longer but faster, or the scenic Kennon Road, which is shorter but takes longer to travel.

In the early 1900s, Forbes said that to get to Baguio from Manila one had to take a boat "to San Fernando, de La Union, and from there by horseback on a very fair trail known as the Naguilian Trail, as it passes through the town of that name. This was a comparatively easy trip, but it involved nearly a day on horseback into the hills, which in itself consumed a whole day."

This is hard to imagine today, but this was the same route taken by William Howard Taft who made it up to Baguio on horseback. There is a famous photograph of the heavy, smiling Taft on his horse and an equally famous quotation uttered when he reported to US Secretary of War Elihu Root that he made it up to Baguio in one piece, "but I'm afraid, I can't say the same for the horse."

A better road was planned and it was then known as the Benguet Road. It took about 4,000 men to work their way up, blasting a trail out of the mountains and paving these into what later became Kennon Road. Forbes wrote:

"As the Benguet Road began to creep into the hills, a stage line was inaugurated from the northern end of the railroad at Dagupan through the province of Pangasinan to the end of the road, from which point the remainder of the trip was made up the Bued River. During the construction of the road, stages passed from camp to camp of road-builders, until finally, at a point called 'Camp Four,' all passengers had to take to horses and follow a new rail which zigzagged up the mountain-side on an extremely steep grade, where it was often necessary to walk, leading the horses. The trail reached the high levels at a place called Loakan, from which point seven miles of delightfully cool riding on easy grades brought one into the site of the future city of Baguio."

Even when Taft left the Philippines to assume the post of secretary of war in Washington, he was keen to see the completion of this road up to Baguio.

Today it is easier to get to Baguio, but then a lot has changed from the Shangrila they described a century ago. The scent of pine that used to mark the ascent and entry into the city is no more. As a matter of fact, there is even a concrete pine tree on Session Road leading to the latest marker of progress, SM Shopping Mall.

Looking at Baguio's past will help us appreciate the city and hope to preserve its climate and character.


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