[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 email@example.com