Baguio City has become sort of a second home to me. Since I was a child, my parents would my siblings and I to Baguio. There were the typical places to visit: Camp John Hay, the Mines View Park, and even the PMA (Philippine Military Academy). Whatever the place we visited, the real purpose of going to Baguio was to enjoy the cool fresh mountain air.
Staring 1903, the American colonists began to develop Baguio City as their getaway from the scorching tropical sun. Lead by the architect and urban planner, Daniel Burnham, continuous development lead to Baguio City to be declared as the Summer Capital of the Philippines.
By the 1990s, I was going up to Baguio to participate in art events. Then, after 1999 Baguio Arts Festival, I stopped going up.
In 2011, after a twelve year hiatus, through the invitation of Katrin de Guia, I returned to Baguio with my family to participate in an exhibit at the VOCAS (Victor Oteyza Community Art Space).
With a ship and other structures made from discarded lumber from old houses, the layout of VOCAS looks like it was drawn from a scene of Peter Pan, in Never Never Land. So during exhibit openings, many of long-haired artists converge in VOCAS, making the whole place look like a pirates’ lair and Indian (Native American) village all rolled into one.
VOCAS, along with its vegetarian restaurant “Oh, My Gulay!”, was opened by the husband and wife team of Kidlat Tahimik (Eric De Guia) and Katrin. Since then it has become a hub for both the artists and students of Baguio. Out of respect to the couple, everyone calls them “Tatay” (father) and “Nanay” (mother).
Since 2011, our family has been going up to Baguio, usually to participate in the annual Mandala exhibition at VOCAS. Here I am being interviewed by the local ABS-CBN news team about the exhibit.
Here is one of my artworks “The Mandala of the Mahal na Likha: The Beloved Creation” (2011) alongside BenCab’s 1978 “Portrait of Victory Otyeza” as part of the permanent collection of VOCAS. Victor Otyeza was one of the first proponents of Modernist Art, especially in Baguio. He is the uncle of Kidlat, and his strong influence in the local art scene has lead to the naming of the establishment after him.
Aside from the exhibits, we took our daughter to experience all the things that Baguio could offer. Baguio and the province of Benguet is the one of the chief producers of vegetables for many other provinces, including the National Capital Region (Metro Manila), and this creates a bevy of many cheap fresh vegetables in the local market. The restaurant business has boomed in Baguio because of the fresh and affordable produce, which why dining out is one of our favorite pastimes in Baguio.
My favorite things to buy in Baguio City Market are the indigenous organic coffees, with a choice from Benguet, Sagad and Kalinga beans. They also have some beans roasted with flavored oils such as Hazelnut, Vanilla, and Mocha. Aside from coffee, I sometimes buy so freshly brewed Tapuy, which is a local rice wine of the indigenous people.
Beside the Baguio City Market is the Maharlika Commercial Complex, which was Baguio’s first mall. Now a days, most of the stalls are hawking cellular phones and part, but you can still can find some shops that sell traditional crafts of the region.
The Maharlika Commercial Complex was built in 1971, after the Baguio Stone Market burned down in 1970. At the entrance of the establishment, you will still find the 1917 Eagle Marker, that commemorates the old market.
For two years, our daughter’s favorite activity in Baguio was the horseback rides in Wright Park, with her preferred horse “Most Wanted”. She became such a regular that the owner gave her one of the horse’s shoes as keepsake.
In 2013, we went up to Baguio with my sister-in-law and nephew, and both kids enjoyed the rides in Wright Park. The placed was named after Governor-General Luke E. Wright, who presided over the Philippines, when the Americans were building Baguio City.
Another place that she enjoyed was the row boats in Burnham Park. The park is named after the American architect and urban planner, Daniel Hudson Burnham.
Baguio was developed by the American colonizers, with the designs of Burnham, who also did the plans for the cities Washington DC, San Francisco, and Chicago. The Americans carved out kilometers of mountains to reach the area of Baguio, so that they could have a summer place when they couldn’t stand the tropical heat of Manila.
Aside from picnics, boat rides, renting bicycles, you can wear the traditional costumes of the Ibaloy people for a photo-op.
Baguio City is found in the middle of the Cordillera mountain range, where many traditional ethnolinguistic groups live. In fact, many of the towns and provinces are named after the ethnolinguistic group of that area; such as Ifugao, Kalinga, Benguet, and Apayao. Because of these many cultures, Baguio has become a melting pot for these people to come and celebrate their heritage.
That same multi-cultural heritage and history is celebrated by Toym Imao’s 2002 “Cordillera Freedom Monument”, which is found at the Igorot Park, at the end of Burnham Park.
Abdulmari “Toym” de Leon Imao (born 1968) comes from a family of artists. He first took up architecture at the University of the Philippines, but the call of the arts was too strong and he became a sculptor. Later he took his Masters in Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art as a Fulbright Scholar. Aside from sculpture and installations, Imao has also done production design work for theater and film.
Over the decades, Baguio has become an artists’ haven. During the Marcos era, many Manila artists went up to Baguio to avoid the chaos of the lowlands. There they would work with local artists, to create a thriving creative community. The UP (University of the Philippines) Baguio offers a Fine Arts course, and many of them would eventually join the Baguio Arts Guild.
There are many places to see great artworks and interact with artists, such as the VOCAS, Tam-awan Village, the Bencab Museum, and the Baguio Museum to name a few.
Here I am with my host, Kidlat Tahimik, who is known as the godfather of Philippine independent cinema.
Here I am with another friend, the performance artist, Rene Aquitaña.
Since Baguio City is also a melting pot for the many traditional ethnic groups found in the Cordilleras. Collectively known as the Igorot people, these “tribes” are the Ifugao, Kalinga, Ibaloy, Benguet, Gaddang, Ilongot, Bontoc, Isneg, Kankanay, and Tingian. Along with the Ilocano culture, the groups create the colorful mosaic of culture you can only find in Baguio.
Because of that diversity, in 2012 Baguio City became host to the Kapwa Conference, where different indigenous groups converged in the city to interact and share ideas and art. This conference was organized by Katrin De Guia, who wrote her dissertation on the “Kapwa” culture of the Filipino people.
In this photograph, I am posing with Fil-American advocates Leny Strobel and Lily Mendoza.
The Kapwa Conference was held in different venues across the city, with the main talks conducted at the UP Baguio (University of the Philippines). Established in 1961, the UP Baguio heralded the expansion of the UP educational system to different parts of the Philippines.
What would a UP school be without its own version of the National Artist for Sculpture, Guillermo Tolentino’s 1939 masterpiece:“Oblation”. This is Anastacio Caedo’s 1962 cast of the original artwork.
Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890 -1976) is a classical sculptor who was named National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1973. Tolentino took his art studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and later at the Ecole de Beux Arts. In 1926, he started teaching at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and he would later be given the position of director. Tolentino sculpted the University of the Philippines’ most recognizable emblem, the “U.P. Oblation”, as well as the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City. He was also awarded the UNESCO Cultural Award in Sculpture in 1959, Araw ng Maynila Award in Sculpture in 1963, Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1967, President’s Medal of Merit in 1973, and the Diwa ng Lahi Award in 1972, before given the highest honor as National Artist.
Anastacio Tanchauco Caedo (1907-1990) graduated from U.P. School of Fine Arts; under the tutelage of National Artist, Guillermo E. Tolentino. During his apprenticeship under Tolentino, the two took to body building as a means to understand the human anataomy and strengthen their bodies for he very physical work of sculpture. This love for body building led Tolentino to fashion his opus “The Oblation” after Caedo’s physique. Later Caedo made name for himself by sculpting many religious works for the Jesuits at the Ateneo de Manila and busts of the National Hero Dr. José Rizal for many of the Philippine Embassies around the world. Caedo was nominated three times as a National Artist of the Philippines (in 1983, 1984, and 1986); which he turned down, to avoid the politics in the art world.
The UP campus is lush with pine trees, which is typical of the Baguio experience. And amidst those trees, one may find the National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleon Abueva’s 1968 sculpture “Inang Laya” (Mother Freedom), which is UP Baguio’s Statue of Alma Mater.
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
Beside UP Baguio is the Baguio Convention Center, which was built for the 1978 World Chess Championship, highlighted by the battle between Russian chess masters Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi.
Kidlat Tahimik is very active in promoting the arts in Baguio and all over the world. Aside from creating VOCAS, he is now developing the Ili-Likha Artists Community. In 2014, he invited us to join a traditional Ifugao baptismal in Ili-Likha.
Some people may say that the heart of Baguio City is Session Road, where many of the business and government establishments are located or nearby. Last September 1, the city government closed Session Road to allow the people to celebrate Baguio Day, in which Baguio was declared a chartered city in 1909. As part of the celebrations, people were dancing and drawing on the street, while a concert played up Session Road.
Some people chose to celebrate by attending mass at the Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral, which is more popularly referred to as the Baguio Cathedral. Built between 1926 and 1936, the Baguio Cathedral has been the heart of the Catholic majority of this city.
No matter what the sights and events one can see in Baguio, my family and I keep returning for the cool clean air, the great company of friends, and the delicious food. This is the view from our home in Baguio, which belongs to the family of a very good friend. Sunset and the cool air with the scent of pine makes the nights seem like magic.