Feb 26, 2009


I just find it quite amusing that quite a few people now have reacted more or less in this manner to our documentary, PORTRAIT OF A HILL STATION:

"Kayo pala nakakuha ng raket na 'yan? Nag-bid din kami diyan e..."

As far as we know, the Baguio Centennial Commission has asked various production groups to submit proposals for a documentary on the history of Baguio, this year being the city's centennial and all. One group proposed a budget of P400,000.00.

Well, for the record we didn't join "the bidding" for this "raket," as they call it, truth is, we didn't even know there was a bidding at all. As far as "PORTRAIT..." is concerned, this was how it came to be:

2007, Open Space got to dip its many hands into video production, and we thought we were ready to seriously pursue this new form of creative expression after dabbling in it in our multimedia theatrical presentations. After a planned co-production of a TV show with another institution fell apart, and since we suddenly found ourselves having access to a 3-ccd camera (the relationship, with the camera, that is, didn't last long. But that's another story.), I brought up the idea of producing a TV show to the group, called "Portraits Of A Hill Station." It was gonna be a weekly television show that will feature snippets of life in Baguio.

We knew that on our own, we wouldn't be able to sustain even just one season of 12 episodes, we can only stretch our very meager resources to cover 4 episodes at most. So we decided to make the first 4 episodes tell the story of how Baguio became a city. That way, should the show end up with no sponsors and/or any means of support, the first four episodes could stand alone as a substantial and relevant project.

Another reason why I thought it was best to springboard the TV show with Baguio's genesis was, well, it wasn't because I thought I was an authority in the history of this wonderful city, but quite the opposite: I wanted to know more about the city I've decided to call my home, the city that has sheltered me for more than a decade. I wanted to know Baguio's story.

The thing about preparing for the worst is that more often than not, the worst does come - save for a few friends, some in high places and some whose hearts just happened to be in the right places who thought that the project was worthy of their generous support, the show was shunned by sponsors. Some not only dismissed it but also predicted and even hoped for its doom.

Doomed the tv show was, and instead of four we were only able to air three episodes in September, 2007, and those three episodes told the story of the city from pre-colonial times to post-war Baguio. And despite the absence of sponsors, we were overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouraging reactions from people here in Baguio and abroad. We received inquiries about the possibility of putting those episodes on DVD, and we seriously considered the idea.

But our pockets have already gone very dry at the time to do it, so the idea stayed on our to do list until late last year, after a couple of personal commercial projects, we had enough to once again give the DVD idea a go. It wasn't much easier this time - we knew we needed a re-shoot, and we didn't have a camera anymore which meant the added expense of renting a camera. That we did, and since the main equipment was now running on a meter, time wasn't on our side: ten shooting days.

We would chip in for gas money so we can go around the various locations, and while some of us would be out there waiting for the sun to set to get that shot we thought the documentary needed, some of us would be at home in San Luis stretching their creativity to come up with a decent meal for everyone at the lowest possible cost. Not enough fresh mini-dv tapes for this documentary, there simply wasn't enough money for that, which meant re-using 2-3 year old tapes and hoping that the images would come out alright.

After ten days of shoot, we worked for about two weeks on draft version and on December 14, 2008, we aired the one-hour documentary called PORTRAIT OF A HILL STATION. We had three minor sponsors this time (Camp John Hay Dev. Cor, the City Mayor's office and the FRB Foundation), so we had enough to cover post-production expenses and the airtime cost and didn't need to dig into our shallow pockets for those anymore.

And then the DVD - even if the production didn't earn enough to cover even just basic expenses, we were still unanimous in our plan to give free copies of the DVD to various school libraries in the city and to hold free screenings of the documentary. Production is slow, we can't afford to mass produce the DVD so production's done at home on a regular DVD-burner, and given the loads of other work we do on my abused desktop pc, we average about 2 or 3 DVDs a week.

But that's ok, in doing "PORTRAIT OF A HILL STATION," we learned about Baguio's story. And it's a great story, and we just want to share that story to as many people as possible. We thank the Baguio Historical Society for endorsing the documentary.

It is our hope that, given the current sad state of Baguio, in telling the city's history, its journey from being a pastureland to being one of the most beautiful hill stations in Asia, the obstacles thrown its way and how Baguio and its people overcame those obstacles, how the city rose from the ravages of war, how it quickly got back on its feet after the devastating 1990 earthquake, this documentary might just help re-kindle our people's sense of community and start working together for a better Baguio.

As the documentary says in the last segment... we inherited a paradise from the city's pioneers who built Baguio a hundred years ago, what kind of Baguio are we passing on to the next generation?

So for those bidding for that "raket," don't worry, we didn't "outbid" you, we didn't even know there was such a bidding.

Open Space did this on its own, independently, just because we thought it's a good thing to do.

It may not look like a 400,000-peso documentary, we don't actually know exactly how much we spent on this... but we did invest our hearts and souls into its production.

And we are just glad to have been able to do this for the city.

We thank everyone who helped us and believed in this project.

Feb 10, 2009

Oh What A Circus

Panagbenga, the annual month-long event that is the Baguio Flower
Festival. Among its institutionalized components are the opening and
closing parades, the parade of floats, the street-dancing parade, the
Market Encounter (a trade fair), and Session Road in Bloom (when
Session Road is closed to vehicular traffic and is filled to brim with
stalls selling, among other things, cellphones, corn and hotdogs…
fine, among others).

One year you may see Baguio's various VIPs fighting over who gets to
captain the Panagbenga ship, and another year they're avoiding it like
the plague. Every year, the current captains move heaven and earth
(lots of it in Burnham Park) to prove that they can do better than
their predecessors. That's not necessarily a bad thing, for every year
we are assured that whoever is at the helm, he, or she, is doing
everything to come up with something better than last year. Panagbenga
has become so big that I make it a point not be in town during the big
events (the parades used to be a joy to watch, but in recent years,
standing for hours craning your neck to get a glimpse of flowery
advertising billboards on wheels has become less and less attractive
for me). If I can't afford to leave town, then I sit in front of the
TV and watch the goings on in the comfort of our living room. And I
particularly find it amusing to watch the bickering between past and
present organizers, politicians, and "concerned citizens."

Anyway, what exactly is my beef? Panagbenga has become a showcase of
what Baguio doesn't have, or of what Baguio has that's ignored by the
powers that be. It is that time of the year when Baguio plays second
fiddle to everything and everyone which/who were brought in to amuse
the tourists. Instead of taking the opportunity to show to the world
what Baguio is all about, we end up being a mere staging area.

We all know that Baguio is not a flower growing community, and even if
we were once a city of flowers, the building frenzy going around the
whole city in the name of development and progress has surely erased
that tag. It would be really great for the city if the festival would
inspire the people of Baguio to make their city a true city of
flowers… but sprucing up one's backyard only once a year does not make
our city one of flowers. We become poseurs.

And I'm just not impressed by pronouncements by organizers that begin
with, "this year we were able to bring in…" followed by, "next year we
hope to be able to bring in…" Bring in? What about doing something
with what we have? Wouldn't it be better to brag about what one was
able to put together with what Baguio does have? Isn't that what most
festivals are about, celebrating traditions and what this or that
place is blessed with and proud to have? And who the hell are the LA Divas and why are we putting a group on center stage whose claim to fame is being copycats of a American pop group?

And to rub salt to injury, when elements from outside are brought in,
the question is, just like true blue mercenaries, "how much?," and
organizers, again, move heaven and earth to come up with the money,
and when locals are lucky enough to be included in the festival's
events at all, they are told not to complain about the dishonorable
honoraria because they're "doing it for Baguio."

It's true, though, what we locals are doing we do it because we love
Baguio, while for the others it's simply just another gig.

Clowns, jesters, poseurs, mercenaries, corn and hotdogs. Oh, what a circus!

Jan 30, 2009

Keychains and Bonnets

It was going to be a rehearsal for the planned historical tour of Baguio, an idea hatched by Noants Travel and Tours and inspired by our group's video documentary, Portrait of a Hill Station. We were to guide a group of over a hundred conventioneers around town - they had their own itinerary, and were asked to inject bits and pieces of Baguio's history as we jump from one destination to another.

First stop was Camp John Hay's Historical Core, and there we introduced them to the genesis of this famous hill station. We were joined by Camp John Hay Management Corp.'s Nonette Bennett who offered the group interesting details about the sites inside the former American military reservation. We allotted around an hour for them to take in as much as they could, but after several photo ops beside the entrance to the cemetery of negativism and with the Bell Amphitheater in the background, and after learning that there are no shops selling key chains or bonnets around, the group was already itching to move on to the next destination:

The Baguio Botanical Garden, which at one point also housed a zoo, really has nothing much to offer these days. While the Baguio Arts Guild's Greenhouse Effect Gallery still offers exhibits every now and then on top of artists offering to do on-the-spot sketches of tourists, only a sprinkling of landscaped patches of common flowers and ruins of the animal cages remain. Sure there are rows of souvenir shops selling key chains and bonnets, but that's not what a botanical garden is supposed to be about. The flower beds proving to be not so attractive to this group of tourists, they spent the allotted 45 minutes just buying souvenirs, not one even bothered to look at the ongoing exhibit inside the gallery. Moving on...

At the Mansion House, after hearing a five-minute spiel about Baguio being the official capital of the country during the summer months in the early 1900's and what that meant, we learned that the museum inside is not yet open to the public, so not much you can do but have your picture taken in front of the gate, which is said to be a replica of the Buckingham Palace gates. Across the road vendors selling Sagada oranges and kiat-kiat were being chased by elements of the Public Order and Safety Department of the City of Baguio. I thought those were better buys than the key chains. Anyway, the group couldn't wait to get to our next stop:

Mines View Park and the Good Shepherd Convent. At the former, the joke goes: there are no more mines, so there's no more view, and there's no parking. More rows of key chains and bonnets and silver trinkets, plus the occasional ukay-ukay stall. They weren't really interested to hear about how the mining boom of the 1930's fueled the growth of Baguio as a city, so we kept that short so they could once again buy more key chains and bonnets, only this time they also have the option of getting a taste of the famous Good Shepherd ube jam, which is really good, I must add. Having nothing much to offer but more of the same, the group didn't stay long and after a whole morning's tour, they were off to their lunch break lugging plastic bags of key chains, bonnets and ube jam.

At lunch, our group of four storytellers assessed the first half of the day. Though they found the spiels on Baguio's history amusing, their minds were focused only on one thing: shopping for souvenirs and finding the best ukay-ukay stall. But, we had a story to tell, and we're gonna tell it (there's nothing much they can do en route to our destinations inside those buses but listen, so we decided to just take advantage of that).

After lunch, the tourists requested a stop at Camp John Hay's Mile Hi, now a strip mall with restaurants and shops selling export overruns. It was a quick stop - after fifteen minutes, they were back inside the buses and adding to their collection of key chains and bonnets were bags of comforters and pillow cases and Baguio City t-shirts. The next drive was a longer one:

We reached Fort Del Pilar in over half an hour, and we herded the group towards the Audio Visual Room of the Philippine Military Academy to view a 10-minute video about the academy. Two minutes into the viewing and half of them were already outside in search of souvenir shops. After posing for photos with cadets, they were back in the buses with, yup, you guessed it, bonnets and key chains, this time stitched with or stamped with the words Philippine Military Academy, instead of Baguio City. Oh, and they had t-shirts too.

Last stop for the day, Burnham Park and if time allowed, the Baguio City Market. Burnham Park, that area that Baguio's original settlers used to call Minac. The only large piece of flat land in the then future city, which, instead of using it for the most revenue generating project, Daniel Burnham reserved for a public park where the general public can go to breath and rejuvenate. At the end of the spiel, we asked them if they had any more questions:

Where's the cheapest ukay-ukay store in Burnham Park?

Where can we buy more souvenirs?

Where can we buy... you know, bonnets and key chains?

And I thought, well, that's what Baguio has become to be known for these days - ukay-ukay, bonnets and key chains. Because we just couldn't stand the site of open spaces in the city, and we keep on trying to put in ridiculous stuff in it like bump car rides and commercial stalls, ignoring the fact that the best parks are those with nothing much in it but wide open spaces and trees to purify the air. Because we didn't value the city's beautiful skyline and ruined it by allowing towering structures to cover the mountainsides, cutting down pine trees that Baguio was once known for in the process. Because we took Baguio's miraculous, healing air for granted, we simply look the other way at the site of taxicabs, jeepneys, SUVs spewing out poisonous black smoke and this made the city among the most polluted in the country - that's coming from being the cleanest and greenest not so long ago. Because we probably didn't care enough, this is what Baguio has become to be known for these days:

The buses parked next to the Baguio Athletic Bowl, and as soon as the doors opened, to the delight of this particular group of tourists, they were greeted by vendors selling... key chains and bonnets.

Welcome to Baguio.

Jan 17, 2009

Falling in love all over again

It's been a long time since I first saw her, and I had no idea then
that getting to know her better bit by bit through the years would
forever change my whole life. I fell in love.

I remember thinking how beautiful she was that first time. And though
from the first time I saw her I never stopped wanting to be with her,
in the beginning I only saw her from time to time, happy to be with
her each time and hardly able to wait to be with her again another
time. I remember going through great lengths just to see her, dropping
everything else for a chance to see her - I thought I could just sit
and stare at her forever.

And then I found myself not able to be away from her anymore - what
can I do? She lured me, seduced me, easily, effortlessly. And just
like any devoted lover, I abandoned the life I was leading, I decided
to be with her forever.

Despite the admonitions of my friends then: it won't last (how can it
not?), that I can never really live my life with her (how can I not
when at that time there I couldn't think of any other life but one
lived with her), that her beauty won't last forever (I believed then,
as I do now, that she existed at all primarily because of her beauty),
I remember how happy I was the day I made that decision - I blissfully
relished each sunrise with her, lovingly watched her go to sleep each
night. With her, I realized who I really was, what I really wanted -
she nurtured me, helped me grow, made me see things the way they
really are.

I knew from the beginning that I was not her only lover, I didn't
mind: as a matter of fact, I was happy about it thinking that the more
lovers she takes, the more defenders and protectors she will have. As
for me, just like anybody who's in love, I couldn't stop talking about
her, I told her story to as many people as I can - her timeless
beauty, her heartaches, her hopes and dreams. I did what I could to
protect her confronting every single threat to her. But alas, it was
not enough.

And soon after I made the decision to live my life with her, she was
brutally raped.

She was stripped naked, abused, neglected, mocked, disgustingly
exploited. Though some of her lovers did what they could to prevent
the crime, the others just stood and watched as the rape happened,
some even ran away and abandoned her.

Looking at her now, her lovers shed tears seeing her ravaged body. She
has been defaced, those who knew her before the rape can hardly
recognize her anymore. Some have even given her up for dead.

But she is alive, barely able to breath but alive. And while there are
those today who would laugh at the thought that this ugly, dirty,
desecrated poor thing was once so beautiful that everyone who laid
their eyes on her was soon under her spell, awed by her magnificence,
her elegance, her allure. Some say that's gone forever, some say she's

I don't think so. Though she can never be what she was before, with
the help of her numerous lovers, one day the rape will be stopped and
she can rise again in all her splendor. I'm in, I have no choice, I
have fallen in love.

And when that time comes, I know that I, for one, will fall in love
with Baguio all over again.

Jan 3, 2009

Bagong Baguio

Somewhere in Baguio. New Year's Day, 2009. I sit down with taga-Baguio for an early morning coffee.

Taga-Baguio: Kape?

Session Road Blues: You better have a good reason for forcing me to wake up early for a morning appointment on New Year's day, bro... salamat sa kape, one sugar, no cream... so what's up?

TB: Baguio's not.

SRB: Ok, what about it?

TB: Don't you miss the old days?

SRB: Oo naman, siempre. I think a lot of people do. This coffee's strong and I'm fully awake now and you have my full attention.

TB: Well, they're not coming back.

SRB: Who's not coming back?

TB: The old days. They're not coming back, ever.

SRB: Why not? A lot of people are clamoring to bring Baguio back to what it was before...

TB: What do they want? The Baguio of the 70's and 80's when there were no malls yet and practically everywhere in Baguio is just five minutes away? Or the Baguio after the war when the city had to be rebuilt practically from scratch because the Americans razed it to the ground by carpet bombing in their attempt to liberate the city from the

SRB: Hmmm... yeah, sure... siguro nga.

TB: Or maybe the Baguio during Halsema's reign as mayor, when the city reached Burnham's proposed population limit, and the city enjoyed the latest technological advances while preserving its natural beauty, but that could be a tall order. I don't think they're talking about Mateo Cariño's Kafagway, becasue then we would all have to leave town and leave only the Cariño, Carantes, Camdas, Molintas and Suello clans, give or take a few more families, the first settlers in Kafagway, and...

SRB: No, no, I don't think that's how far they want to go when they say bring Baguio back to what it was before. But a lot of people are beginning to do something about it.

TB: Really? Doing what?

SRB: Talking about it, a lot. In blogs, newspaper columns, in coffee shops, may mga nagagawa naman e para ibalik yung dating Baguio... (M cuts him off)

TB: Like what... getting rid of all the houses built after the earthquake? Because that would probably mean getting rid of more than alf the residencial buildings in the city. Or are they evicting people who moved to the city in the last couple of decades? Because if they do that then that would probably mean evicting two-thirds of the city's population today, which includes you, by the way. Are they thinking of demolishing all the buildings that violated the city's
supposed building code? That's a lot of buildings, bro. Are they actually aggressively going after colorum PUVs by putting up check points and checking if their papers are in order and their vehicles are in good running condition? You have any idea how many taxicabs and jeepneys would have to be taken off the street?

SRB: Er, I don't know what to say to you.

TB: Alam mo kung ano'ng kailangan natin?

SRB: I really wish I did. But I have a feeling you do.

TB: Aminin. Tanggapin.

SRB: What?

TB: Aminin na lahat tayo medyo nagkulang sa pakiki-alam, at least in the last 15 years or so.

SRB:  What do you mean?

TB: Nagkulang sa pagbabantay sa mga taong nilagay natin diyan sa City Hall, hinayaan lang natin silang gawin yung gusto nila. Tapos magrereklamo. Tapos pagdating ng eleksyon, sila't sila rin yung ibabalik natin sa pwesto.

SRB: Sabagay...

TB: We complain about the fast disappearing pine trees of Baguio, pero nung pinuputol pa lang, kulang naman yung kilos protesta. Reklamo tayo ng reklamo sa problema sa basura, pero kulang din naman yung ginagawa
natin para mabawasan yung problema.

SRB: Oo nga naman. Ano'ng magagawa natin ngayon?

TB: Tanggapin. Tanggapin na wala na talaga yung Baguio ng nakaraan, ang nandito ngayon, Bagong Baguio.

SRB: Bagong Baguio.

TB: May Bagong Baguio, and what we need to do now is to make the best out of what we have. The malls are here to stay, hindi mo na maaalis yan. The crowds are here to stay, hindi mo naman maaalis 'yan. Kaya imbes na magtatatalak tayo tungkol sa Baguio noon na wala namang maaaring puntahan, ang pagdaldalan na lang natin e kung ano'ng magagawa natin sa Baguio ngayon.

SRB: So tell me, ano'ng magagawa natin sa Baguio ngayon?

TB: There you go...

SRB: What?

TB: There you go, there's a good start... ano'ng pwede nating gawin sa Baguio ngayon?

SRB: Hmmmm, Happy New Year, bro. Salamat sa kape.

TB: Anytime.

SRB: So what exactly was it that you wanted to tell me?

TB: Happy New Year Baguio.

Dec 7, 2008


I was invited by a university instructor to participate in a mock press conference for her journalism class. The topic would be our documentary on Baguio, "Portrait of a Hill Station." As soon as the instructor introduced me, and what the topic for the day would be, the students were hardly able to hide their disinterest. And I thought, well, this was exactly what pushed us to produce this documentary in the first place. I also thought that if I could get these students to be interested in the project itself and what it's trying to achieve, then there's hope that "Portrait…" may just make a small dent in next year's much-anticipated centennial celebration.

I believe that the Centennial Commission's tagline, "Fostering a culture of caring," is a great take-off point for next year's celebration of the city's hundredth year, for that was the first thing I thought the young minds infront of me needed – a culture of caring. From the time the instructor gave them a brief background on the project to the time I started giving my own introduction to it, a couple of students tried to stifle a yawn, another looked at her watch and perhaps thought about how long the next 55 minutes would be until the class is over.

Infront of me was the generation whose Baguio is about malling on weekends and mauling by gangsters on weeknights; Gagamba 1 has male strippers and Gagamba 2 has female strippers (or is it the other way around?); instead of fog rolling on to blanket and cool the city in the afternoon after a long day, it's smog covering the skyline during rush hour. They never got to delight at the sight of sunflower covered mountainsides in November, or pine-scented approaches to the city.

After speaking for a few minutes about the Baguio they never got to experience, I made some progress, and the questions started pouring in. What happened to "that" Baguio you're talking about? When can we see the documentary? And one of the best questions for me, What's your next project after this?

And our conversation made me realize one thing: Looking back at the last hundred years, the city's history may perhaps be divided into two major periods: pre-war and post war Baguio. The former paints a portrait of a city built because of and to make the best out of what it had: the magnificent mountain sides, the breathtaking skyline, a generous share of mother nature's resources… or simply put: utter beauty. 

The latter gives us a totally different picture, in fact the total opposite of the former. After the war, the city went in the direction of eradicating what it had: the magnificent tree-lined mountainsides were ravaged (those pretty sunflowers trampled on to make way for condominiums and hotels and malls), the breathtaking skyline ruined (the city's horizon today shows a hard, unfeeling, gloomy silhouette of ugly concrete structures), and mother nature's resources abused (how much more than 300,000 people can the city really carry?).

At the end of the mock press conference, I think both me and the students at least agreed on one thing: we wished we had more time to talk more about Baguio. At least I thought that during that hour or so, they were moved, and they cared.

The airing "Portrait of a hill station" has been moved to December 14, 2008, 7:00PM on SkyCable (Baguio) Channel 12.

Nov 23, 2008

You get the picture

Really, the picture Jocelyn Bolante painted at the Senate inquiry into
the alleged fertilizer scam back in 2004, is an ugly one. Sure he
tried to coat the real picture with layers and layers of tall tales,
tales too tall to be true. Sorry, Joc, it's an ugly picture, and
that's the way I see it.

The premise: P728 Million was released by the Department of Budget and
Management in February of 2004. The fund was supposed to finance
various farming projects all over the country, with the noble aim of
benefitting the country's farmers, to which group much of the
country's poorest belongs to. The fund did not specify for which
project it should be spent, the local government units that received
the money were free to spend their share for whatever purpose they
deem their constituency needed more urgently.

He thought that the picture he was showing us yesterday showed that
there was absolutely nothing wrong with the whole thing. And that's
exactly what was wrong with the picture: how do you explain then his
desperate efforts to avoid testifying at the Senate inquiry for four
years, going as far as seeking asylum in the United States if there
was nothing wrong with the picture? Not to mention his last minute
efforts to prevent himself from facing the inquiry by holing himself
up in a hospital as soon as he arrived in the country.

At yesterday's hearing, Bolante wanted us to believe that it was just
a coincidence that most of those who received the money needed the
same thing: liquid fertilizer. That was part of the picture he
painted, almost all the farmers in the country needed the same thing,
whether they're rice, vegetable, tilapia or bangus farmers, they
needed fertilizer more than anything else. He also wanted us to
believe that coincidentally, almost all the local government units in
the country get their fertilizers from one particular supplier. That
it was just too bad that there were reports that these liquid
fertilizers were diluted with water, and that the fertilizers were
overpriced by as much as over 1,000(!) percent. That it was just a
coincidence that the money was released during the run up to the 2004
presidential elections.

A triple whammy, Senator Loren Legarda called it – it's more than just
a triple whammy: we have an undersecretary who was so powerful he can
have the release of hundreds of millions of pesos in a day; the money
was distributed among local politicians during the campaign period;
most of the fertilizers were bought from one supplier; farmers
complain that no fertilizer reached them and that a lot of those who
did receive the goods say the goods were bad; and bad goods were
grossly overpriced.

And Bolante wanted us to believe that there's nothing wrong with that picture.

Not only is the picture so wrong, the saddest thing is that that same
picture is painted all the time all over the country in practically
all branches of the government. The same picture is painted whenever a
local government official puts his name on a billboard next to a
waiting shed, or deep well, or road construction project; whenever a
politician approves a useless projects such as a concrete pine tree
instead of using the money to truly serve the people; whenever a
policeman offers you to settle a traffic violation fine "on site"
earning him "pang-kape." You get the picture.

Pang-kape or P728 Million, the picture is as ugly.