Sep 21, 2007

Looking back and up ahead

Welcome to Baguio, today: a bustling cosmopolitan of roughly 300,000 souls – though on certain days the number may seem so much more than that. A melting pot of different cultures, Baguio is home to people coming from the different parts of the country – and the world. Among those who have made this once quaint summer resort town their home are Chinese, Americans, Indonesians, Indians, Iranians, Australians, British, Afghans, Argentines, Arabs, Brazilians, Danes, French, Germans, Greeks, Jordanians, Mexicans, among others. And more recently and significantly adding to the ever growing Baguio population – Koreans. The city has gone very far from being a densely vegetated, mostly uninhabited pasture land to becoming an American rest, recreation and recuperation resort to a highly urbanized city bursting at the seams.

PORTRAITS: Tales From A Hill Station, is an audio-visual portrayal of the city – all its fascinating facets as told by its rich historical and cultural heritage, and its people.

Among the most common gripes of Baguio citizens these days is the seeming “invasion” of the city by “outsiders.” In a conversation with some locals recently, one lamented that the true citizens of Baguio, perhaps by true citizens he meant those who were born and grew up here, have become a minority in their own city. It is true that in recent years there was a sudden influx of migrants to the city – young families from Manila who wished for a better environment for their children, foreign retirees who took advantage of the city’s invigorating climate and a place where their dollar pensions went a much longer way, entrepreneurs who want to cash in on Baguio’s rapid commercialisation, and foreign students who take advantage of the lower cost of education here, among others. All this happened in what felt like the blink of an eye – one day everywhere in Baguio is less than ten minutes away and you wake up the next morning stuck in traffic and it took you an hour to cover a distance of four kilometers. This “invasion” happened quickly, and so easily, and this is quite interesting: while today all it takes is money and a willing dummy for a foreigner to own land in the city, the once mighty Spanish colonizers did not have it quite as easily as the city’s current “colonizers.”

Though most of Baguio’s written history seems to begin with the arrival of the Americans, it was the Spaniards who first stumbled upon this mountain paradise and realized its potential as a health and recreation center. But conquering the mountain people of the Cordilleras was definitely not a walk in the park, not even for a mighty country like Spain that for centuries was able to build and maintain an expansive empire covering parts of the Americas, Pacific and Southeast Asia. But, from the time Miguel Lopez de Legazpi claimed the whole archipelago in the name of God, his king and his country in 1565, up to the late 1700’s, the Igorots of the Cordilleras humiliated the conquistadores – despite numerous attempts to subjugate the highlanders, they remained free and unconquered. In fact as early as 1630, Fray Juan Medina, a Spaniard, conceded that the mountain people are the most unconquerable of all the natives of this country.

The Spaniards weren’t actually the first foreigners to set foot in the Cordilleras, certain historical accounts claim that the Igorots had a thriving trade relationship with the Chinese back during the Tang dynasty, or about 500 A.D. The Chinese were all over the Cordilleras – passing through Cagayan to reach the Kalingas and the Apayaos, via Vigan to Cervantes to get to the Tingians of Abra and to Bontoc, Mt. Province, and Pangasinan to reach the Igorots of Benguet. The Igorots had access to a much coveted commodity: Gold – among the main reasons the Spaniards just couldn’t turn their backs and ignore the highlanders’ continuing defiance of Spanish authority. So for two hundred years, they made several attempts to get their hands on that gold, but the Igorots prevailed – Governor General Diego Salcedo, towards the end of the 17th century, described the enduring freedom of the Igorots “a scandal, a mockery, a cause for derision among foreigners that right in the heart of the colony, in the main island of Luzon, this group of people remained pagans, and their gold remained out of reach.”

In the late 1700’s, the highlanders dipped their hands at something that was very dear to the colonizers – they defied the Spanish tobacco monopoly and maintained a clandestine trade of the product in Northern Luzon. This gave the colonizers’ resolve to subdue the Igorots a boost, which led to a proposal for a full-scale invasion of the mountains in 1796.

A series of unrelenting offensives were conducted, and, having to fight both the Spanish military might and diseases like small pox brought in by the invading foreigners, Benguet eventually fell into the hands of the Spaniards. It was not an absolute conquest: though most settlers in the area were forced to move deeper into the mountains of the Cordilleras, throughout the rest of the 19th century the Igorots bombarded the Spaniards with sporadic uprisings – and by the time the Spaniards have settled and fully established a commandancia politico-militar in what is now La Trinidad, a bigger storm was already brewing in Manila which would spread throughout the country, including the Cordilleras, and result in the demise of Spanish domination in the country – the Katipunan uprising.

And today, we ask, hundreds of years since their defiance of foreign domination, a century since its birth as a city, 50 years or so since surviving World War II, more than a decade since rising from the rubbles of the 1990 earthquake, what do these tales from a hill station amount to? The city’s centennial is fast approaching, and there’s no better time than now to look back and see where the city is now, what it has gone through, where it’s headed, and, hopefully, we may know where we really want it to go and what the best way is to get it there.

Today, as some of us lament the loss of Baguio’s original beauty, its charm, its pine scented air and sunflower covered mountain sides, we may ask: how did the people of these mountains manage to preserve their culture, protect their land and environment, guard their most valuable resources through the ages in the face of mighty colonizers? Perhaps it’s quite simple, really: past generations cared enough.

PORTRAITS: Tales from a Hill Station, presented by local multimedia production group Open Space Projects and sponsored by The Rural Bank of Itogon in cooperation with the Office of the City Mayor, premieres today, Sunday, September 23, 2007 at 4:00PM on SkyCable Baguio Ch. 12.

Created, written and directed by Karlo Marko Altomonte and hosted by Kelly Erin McGurk, PORTRAITS: Tales from a Hill Station is being produced with a purely local cast and crew including RL Abella-Altomonte, executive producer/narrator; Emiloone West Fianza and Ana Badon, researchers/production assistants; Jojo Lamaria research consultant and still photographer; Boybi Sarmiento, technical director; Andre Soriano, assistant director; Katherine Ebba and Freida Fernandez, marketing and promotions.

For inquiries: Mobile 0920.631.9593, e-mail, or visit our site at

Sep 20, 2007

Portraits Trailer 4

Portraits Trailer 3

Portraits Trailer 2

Portraits Trailer 1

Sep 2, 2007

PORTRAITS: Tales from a Hill Station

Open Space Projects' television special. For more info: