Monday, October 28, 2013


KAPAMPANGAN HIGHLANDERS. A Kapampangan belle and her tribe of kids pose for a souvenir photo while dressed in genuine Igorot attires. Lowlanders found the exotic costumes of the northern highlands attractive enough to be used as favorite dress props for photography.

 Baguio, the country’s summer capital, was developed by the Americans in the early 20th century as a mountain resort, a cool refuge from the oftentimes unbearable tropical climate they were unaccustomed to. Chinese and Japanese laborers were employed to build Kennon Road leading to the pine-clad city.

 It would soon become apparent that Baguio would bloom into a city unparalleled in beauty and natural charm. Daniel Burnham laid out the city and build the famous park that now bears his name. The Manila-Dagupan Railways made access to the highlands easier and it was just a matter of time that lowlanders would go to Baguio to find work and eventually, a new home.

 A lively building boom began immediately, peaking about 1915. At first, Japanese carpenters took an active part in the construction of the city. Sawmills were set up and these were manned and managed by Japanese settlers who invited relatives over to join them.

But in the 1930s, Pampanga carpenters gained more favour, as they were more adept in erecting houses of Spanish-Filipino style. Also, the Kapampangans charged fees that were more affordable. While the Japanese carpenters employed Ilocano, Ibaloy and Kankanay peons, the Pampanga carpenters brought in their own assistants, also from their home province. As fate would have it, it was the same Pampanga builders and their aides in the 1930s who went on to rebuild the devastated city of Baguio after World War II.

Many of these Kapampangans would fall in love in Baguio and eventually make it their home. Leogardo Mendoza, a Baguio resident since the 1930s, had a grandfather who was a maestro carpintero from Guagua. He took along his family in Baguio and Leandro’s parents went on to run baguio Theater and Bowling Alley along Abanao Street.

Some members of the Gosioco Family also had houses in Baguio and became permanent residents of the city in the 50s. As a child, I remember going to their popular general store located within Baguio market grounds, which carried everything from school supplies to Baguio sweets and souvenirs.

My uncle, Mateo Castro of Mabalacat, brought his young wife, Aurea Samson of Dau, to Baguio, and decided to settle there permanently. They made their home on top of a steep hill along Bokawkan Road, and their stylish bungalow would be a welcome home for their Kapampangan relatives every summer. As a teacher at St. Louis Boys’ High and later, a college professor at the Belgian-run St. Louis University, my uncle and his family found it easy to be integrated in Baguio society that was open and .

In the 60s and 70s, Baguio began attracting students as it grew to become a become a major center of education in the North. By then, it had become known as a university city, home to such fine schools as St. Louis University, Baguio Central University, University of the Philippines, University of Baguio, Baguio Colleges Foundation and even an agricultural school in La Trinidad.

My sister Celine would be the first of my siblings to go to Baguio for her college education at St. Louis University, and she would eventually get married to Ferdinand Hamada, whose forebears were among the first Japanese pioneers of Baguio. My brother Gregg and I would follow as well and it was always a delightful surprise to find many Kapampangans in my school, that included students from Sta Rita (Jeannie Saplala-Parker), Mabalacat (Robby Tantingco, Olga Hipolito) and Angeles (Lito Nievera, Rizal de Guzman, Ruby Pineda).

Just about the same time, Baguio developed a lively art scene, and artists from all over the country gravitated to the city, including Kapampangan painter, Ben Cabrerra (BenCab) and his wife Carolyne Kennedy. BenCab, now a National Artist, would found an art center called Tamawan Village, which houses a BenCab Museum, a 2000 square meter modern facility on a 4-hectare property beside the mountain town of Tadiangan. Today, it is a must-see destination for art aficionados.

 Baguio has lost much of its wonder and mystique in the past years, its green mountains studded with unsightly developments, with many of its heritage buildings like Pines Hotel, lost forever. It has also become overpopulated due to the influx of lowlanders and informal settlers. My last visit to the city of Pines was over 8 years ago, and although the city has dramatically changed, I was happy that I could still catch glimpses of its glorious, beautiful past, etched in the still warm and welcoming smiles of its hardy people.

No comments: