• Issues on Baguio (2): Camp John Hay

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    [Opinion Editor’s Note: This article, which is the second of Mr. Ricardo B. Ramos’ promised two articles on “Issues on Baguio,” is his last column in The Manila Times.  He bids farewell to Times readers and editors.  We wish him Godspeed and success in his future endeavors.] 

    THE only place in Baguio that has retained most of its pine trees and open space is Camp John Hay, the former Rest & Recreation (R & R) destination of the US Armed Forces.  At 5,000 feet above sea level, it is much cooler and has much less humidity than the lowlands. Baguio has a mild climate similar to the many states back home in America.

    It is truly a blessing that then President Theodore Roosevelt signed an Executive Order on October 25, 1903 setting aside 695 hectares of land for a military reservation in Benguet province. Without Camp John Hay and the contiguous areas of the Baguio Country Club with its golf course, and the Teachers Camp, the country’s designated summer capital would never be the same.

    Other than the major tourism attractions of the Burnham Park, Mines View Park and the Wright Park & Mansion, what really makes – or defines –Baguio is Camp John Hay. Unfortunately, the former American R &R station high up in the Cordilleras is no longer the same as what it used to be.

    After its turnover by the US government to the Philippines in July 1991, Camp John Hay became open to Filipinos and the public at large. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed the pristine environment and the facilities of the former American facility. However, after the Philippine government awarded a 25-year lease in 1996 (renewable for 25 years) to the Fil-Estate company, it was never the same again.

    The redevelopment of the 247 hectares of land inside the former American base by Fil-Estate’s Camp John Hay Development Corporation (CJH DevCor) can be best – or worst – described as elitist and “anti-Filipino.” The places that visitors and residents of Baguio used to go to are no longer accessible to or off-limits to the public.  Worse. some have been  demolished or just left to deteriorate.

    The favorite place in Camp John Hay that Filipinos frequent is the elevated area with the view of the Cordillera mountains. This area used to house the former Officers Main Club of the US Armed Forces and the 19th Tee & Tee Bar where you could buy meals and refreshments with a view of the golf course. My family and I loved this area not only because of the food, but also of the lovely one kilometre promenade.

    Today, this one-of-a-kind prime area of Camp John Hay is long gone. It is now occupied by the luxurious Manor and the Forest Lodge hotels of the Fil-Invest company under Mr. Robert “Bob” Sobrepeña, together with Executive Vice-President Alfonso “Boysie”Yniquez. They cannot entirely be blamed for the elitist redevelopment because the government allowed them to do so.

    The only way you can enjoy walking around the same area is either to be booked at the ritzy Manor hotel or to eat at the high-end fine-dining restaurant. Per our visit last June this year, the landscaped park of the Manor is now poorly-maintained with some areas over-grown with grass and plants and awfully muddy.

    Two weeks ago, my family and I visited the Forest Lodge beside the Manor Hotel.  It is most unfortunate that what was taken away from the Filipino people to enjoy has been turned into a parking lot for the hotel guests. This is such a grave injustice to us, Filipinos, who have been oppressed by our government through their sheer greed and/or incompetence!

    The wrong that has been done can still and should be rectified by the next president of the Philippines since Pnoy Aquino’s administration is already a hopeless case. The parking lot of Forest Lodge together with the contiguous area at the back of the Manor Hotel can be REDEVELOPED as one integral part of a park open to the people. This can be done without adversely affecting the operations of the two luxury hotels.

    What I would like to see is the redevelopment of Camp John Hay when the areas at the back of  Baguio Manor and Forest Lodge are RETURNED to the people for them to enjoy.
    While the rectified redevelopment is being undertaken, the old road that goes up and leads to Scout Hill can also and should be made open to pedestrians. The Scout Hill area should be redeveloped to bring back the recreational facilities (there was the mini-golf and skating-rink before) and some food stalls and a restaurant across, which are gone now.

    What has become of Scout Hill is that the old white cottages built by the Americans were demolished to give way to the exclusive luxury log cabins and townhouses. Unfortunately, they were not even properly planned and were built too close to each other, creating a high-density area characterized by the congestion of the structures.

    What is perhaps even worse is that the Camp John Hay Development Corporation (CJH DevCor) has not bothered to fix the road going up to Scout Hill from the main road. The pavement of the road has severely deteriorated over the past five years and neither the CJH DevCor nor the BDA has done anything to improve it. It is in such pathetic state.

    However, the CJH DevCor has asphalt overlayed the circular road where the CJH DevCor office is located. Nearby is the historic Bell House & Amphitheater named after Major General James Franklin Bell who was responsible for many, if not most, of the structures. The Bell House is, of course, of American architecture and furnishings where the American Governor-Generals and other top US officials stayed in Baguio.

    One of the greatest sins committed  inside Camp John Hay is the closure of its main entrance gate  that before allowed visitors to just walk in with easy access and  enjoy its pristine environment:  the pine trees, plants and open space. You could roam around the areas near the golf course and enjoy the view of the greenery. These simple pleasures are all gone now with the closure of the main gate and the redevelopment of the golf course.

    Instead of just walking to the former American recreational facility, you now have to commute by either taking a taxi via Loakan Road or by taking South Drive all the way down to Baguio Country Club. The closure of the main gate near the city (walking distance from SM Baguio) has made Camp John Hay no longer accessible to many Filipinos.

    The other best part of Camp John Hay is the area where CJH DevCor built the Clubhouse for the golf course designed by the world-famous Jack Nicklaus together with the upscale Forest Cabins & Country Homes. However, this area is now off-limits to the public unless you are a member of the golf club or own one of the exclusive houses. It is truly sad to see the Filipino people deprived of the simple pleasure of enjoying just being in Camp John Hay.

    Today, there is really not many places to go to and enjoy in the remaining wooded area in Baguio City. Near the entrance from Loakan Road is the Ayala Techno Hub with its building for the CONVERGIS call-center and the retail areas for restaurants. Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI) did little architecturally to make its structures blend with the  Baguio environment. They could have done more if they wanted to.

    First, ALI used the ugly green-colored roofing! From the Green Valley Club, you can see this roofing eyesore of Ayala. They should have used more of the earth colors like the color of the brown trunk of the pine trees. And to think that Ayala prides itself in having the
    Environment as one of the “Three Es” of its Corporate Social responsibility (CSR).

    Second, the design of the buildings is just like the ones in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu or in the San-Fernando-Angeles area in Pampanga. There is hardly any attempt by Ayala to make the visitors appreciate the distinct environemt and architecture of the area they have developed.

    A good lesson here is that the government must have the Development Guidelines that can include a Conceptual Development Plan (CDP) of the area. The winning bidder cannot be allowed to do whatever it wants just like what happened at Camp John Hay where both the BCDA and the CJH DevCor failed miserably.

    Rick B. Ramos at rbrpilipinas@gmail.com

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    14 Comments

    1. Rafael Bozeman Rodriguez on

      I read all the comments and am so sad at the deterioration of a lovely place – Baguio City. During the time the it was under American rule they had the managerial form of administration and Baguio was run rather smoothly. But once it was turned over to us, Filipinos, and politics came it this was the result. I remember Baguio as a 7-year old boy when my whole family vacationed there in 1937 (yes, I am 85 years old now) then later with my own family as a member of the faculty at Brent School in 1959-1967, and now as a member of the board of trustees of Easter College, Guisad Road. And the deterioration of the city is appalling. Nuff sed.

      • Thank you for your comments. It is much appreciated. Speaking of Brent, i have friends who went there during your time like Lou Jurika, Chris North, Skip and Charlie whose surnames I will check. Senior moments. Mabuhay.

      • Rafael, good to know that you are still in touch with Baguio through the Easter College. When we go to Baguio, we stay in a place nearby Easter College. In fact, I am looking at a property inside a village beside it.
        So you still stay in PH?

        You can email me at rbrpilpinas@gmail.com or pilipinasheritage@gmail.com

        Mabuhay

        Rick

        P.S.

        Are you related to Jackie Rodriquez.

    2. I could remember when as a young boy my mother brought me to Baguio riding in a public bus. The bus had no aircon and the ride was long but there was not much traffic. What struck me was when we entered Kenon Road, the pleasant scent of pine was all around which gave me the impression that I was in an entirely new place – pristine, cool, etc..

      Walking along session road late in the afternoon was a big treat for me. There were scarcely any cars then and one can experience the cool fresh air even in the middle of the City. A good merienda in Star Cafe brings pleasant memories.

      All these are gone now. Entering Kennon Road is quite depressing nowadays. Gone are the pine trees and the pleasant scent of pine. Session Road is clogged with traffic and the smell of diesel fumes are all over the place. There is zero zoning and structures/ shanties are all around. Right in the middle is the monstrous structure of SM. I am sad that my children and grandchildren will not be able to see Baguio for what it really was, a pristine area where even an ordinary child can have a magical moment with his mother amidst the pleasant scent of pine.

      God has given us Filipinos so much in terms of beautiful and bountiful scenic places. Slowly, one by one, we have destroyed them. From Baguio to Boracay, we have managed to abuse our blessings. Indeed, the government should be faulted because it is responsible for preserving our environment. But we too, the ordinary citizens, are to blame because a lot of us never spoke up when others were destroying our environment.

      Now, I only stay in Camp John Hay even if it is somewhat pricey already. At least, there are some pine trees left to bring back beautiful memories. I just pray that during my children’s lifetime, they will not cut down the remaining trees there for the sake of progress.

      Lastly, may I say we don’t need new zoning laws. We just have to have people in government who know the meaning of zoning and strictly enforce it!

      • Claro, i have written more than six articles on the degradaion of Baguio since last year. I have also written several articles on issues on Baguio when I was a columnist in the BusinessWorld for more than 10 years.

        I have taken up Baguio and its environs, as well as Banaue and Sagada as part of my advocacy. To put focus on said advocacy, I will be living in Baguio six months a year beginning about a year and a half from today. That would be on Jan. 2017 or even earlier in December 2016.

        So I am doing something from my end. Would you like to get involved. I can use all the help I can get.

        In before, I have been giving some help to some issues in Baguio and its environs. So much to do. But the problem is that we. Filipinos, just complain but hardly do anything pro-active to improve the situation.

        Rick

      • Plenty of pine trees at PMA, Wright Park an just on the periphery of Baguio and contiguous towns.

    3. Rick, I think you are being too kind to the private individuals (generally) who are parties to the alienation of the public land to their own control. Governments are supposed to have a higher obligation than private entities, and this is an obligation which many of those in positions of power ignore, for reasons of personal profit. Governments have been the playthings of the private elite and political oligarchs whose influence extends into the deepest reaches of the public pocket. Places of history and beauty are thus transferred into private hands. The outcome, of course, is what you describe – if a profit can be turned, then places of beauty become off-limits to the public. If a profit cannot be made, then the buildings of significant historical or cultural value are deliberately deteriorated so as to provide the justification for their demolition. Environments are similarly despoiled. Why? Because we are told (by the elite, naturally) that we must accept that private owners have such rights by right of free enterprise. Pshaw! What the country needs is a robust mechanism to ensure that historic and cultural buildings, environments and even landscapes can be protected from total alienation into elitist private playthings. There should be a means of placing a zoning encumbrance upon a land title for public heritage purposes. Otherwise, what it means to be Filipino will change, ever subtly, to mean “Despoilers of Heritage.”

      • Paul, you are right that I was being too kind to the private individuals of the Camp John Hay DevCor of the Fil-Estate company. My position is that without any Deed of Restrictions and Development Guidelines from the Government that the Concessionaire will just do what it wants.

        The Government has also miserably failed in Fort Bonifacio that is now Bonifacio Global City, Fil-invest in Alabang, Muntinlupa and the latest is the former Food Terminal, Inc. (FTI) in Taguig.

        So the fault is really more on the government side for being remissed in its mandate to regulate. We cannot expect the privates sector to do the right thing if it is compelled to.

        Rick

    4. Susan Fertig-Dykes on

      Thank you for publishing this article. I was born in the Visayas but grew up in Baguio, leaving home for the U.S. when it was time to go to college. Returning in 1968, I was pleased that much had not changed. But when I visited again in 2001 I was so shocked by the changes, most especially that the pristine mountain air had been replaced by air pollution and that the pristine natural beauty of the raw, green mountainsides had been replaced by squalid squatters huts. How could the Philippine government allow this to happen to the summer capital of the nation? I don’t know anything about the development company in the article, or their sins, but it seems to me that there does need to be a resettlement program for the squatters and an environmentally sound solution to the air pollution. I left Baguio, a place I consider “home,” so disoriented and distressed after my visit in 2001 thinking that I couldn’t bear ever to come back–the Baguio I knew had been destroyed, not by the earthquake, but by human beings and a government.

      • Susan,

        Thank you for your response. Great to hear your story of being born in the Visayas and growing in Baguio. Would you happen to know Maribel Garcia Ongpin. She is a good friend. Her family owned and operated Casa Vallejo.

        Baguio is sill nice in spite oh what I have written about Camp John Hay (CJH) and the degradation of Baguio. I invite you to visit Baguio again in the near future and I will be happy to show around, including a side trip to Sagada and even Banaue if you are up to it.

        My advocacy is the RECTIFIED REDEVELOPMENT of CJH and the correcting the deterioration in Baguio. I will be spending six months a year in Baguio beginning Jan. 2017 or perhaps earlier by Dec. 2016.
        My family and relatives have been going to Baguio since the mid-50s before I was born in 1955. i have photos when my mother was on the family way with me waiting to be born.

        My email address are as follows: rbrparadigm@gmail.com and pilipinasheritage@gmail.com

        Mabuhay!
        Rick

      • Yes, Baguio started to deteriorate 15 years ago in 2001, but it was NOT that bad then. My family and I went to Baguio in May 2001 and it was still okay although the air pollution issue started already.

        I agree about the need for a resettement area for squatters. Plenty of land outside Baguio in Tuba, Itogon, Sablang and La Trinidad, which are only 20-30 minutes from Burnnham Park. I am really surprised that both the national and local governments have NOT done it. The latter (LGU) most probably due to vested interest of keeping the votes of the squatters. For the former, it could be due to Apathy and/or sheer Incompetence.

    5. Tory Brainard on

      How sad. I was at Brent School in 1953-54 and remember Baguio and Camp John Hay very well. That year was one of the best in my life. Baguio was beautiful and the people were great. It was my best school year ever. I still am in touch with many of my fellow students. A hamburger and milk shake at CJH was a real treat – a piece of the USA in a very great foreign land that still liked Americans. I have often wanted to go back to those wonderful mountains and the clean air but after seeing pictures of the development and smog around Baguio that urge has left me. Better to remember the good times and beautiful land.

      • Tory,

        Baguio is sill nice in spite oh what I have written about Camp John Hay (CJH) and the degradation of Baguio. I invite you to visit Baguio again in the near future and I will be happy to show around, including a side trip to Sagada and even Banaue if you are up to it.

        My advocacy is the RECTIFIED REDEVELOPMENT of CJH and the correcting the deterioration in Baguio. I will be spending six months a year in Baguio beginning Jan. 2017 or perhaps earlier by Dec. 2016.

        My family and relatives have been going to Baguio since the mid-50s before I was born in 1955. i have photos when my mother was on the family way with me waiting to be born.

        My email address are as follows: rbrparadigm@gmail.com and pilipinasheritage@gmail.com

        Mabuhay!

        Rick

      • By the way, were you together with Skip Haven and his good friend Charlie and Charles North. Lou Jurika also went there. Lou’s parents went to Brent in the 1930s.