It is an honor to join you today as you celebrate the City’s 110th Charter Anniversary.
Baguio has come a long way since the 1900s, when it was still a cold, idyllic marshland in the Cordillera mountains. Its history tells us that the city, nestled within the highlands, is a “mine of gold” – literally and figuratively.
Literally, it was the lure of Igorot gold in the Cordilleras that drew in the Spanish conquistadores and the Americans in the region. Figuratively, the rich culture of our indigenous peoples, panoramic views and abundant resources make for Baguio’s golden value as a tourist destination.
The once minor rancheria or rural settlement in the mountains maintained its moniker as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines,” and for a good reason: it is the best retreat from the sweltering heat of the lowlands.
I myself always find refuge in the welcoming vibe of Baguio, having to spend my transformative and arduous years as a young cadet at the Philippine Military Academy at Fort Del Pilar, Baguio City.
How I ended up in Baguio was a fascinating story to tell:
It was more than half a century ako in 1967, noong nag-aaral pa ako sa Lyceum of the Philippines na kumukuha ng Pre-Law or BS Poli Sci at the time. Sa Intramuros, Manila, na katabi ng Mapua Institute of Technology. At the time the examination center for the entrance for the cadets in the Philippine Military Academy was being held in Mapua Institute of Technology, kapitbahay lang po ng aming iskwelahan.
A friend of mine from our town of Imus, Cavite, approached me and requested me to accompany him to apply for the entrance examination. I ended up taking the entrance examination myself. To cut the long story short: he failed, I passed.
To tell you frankly, my dream back then was to become a lawyer, as I said. Not to prosecute or litigate or defend litigants in a judicial process, but to simply become a regular agent of the National Bureau of Investigation.
Thereafter, for four long years as a cadet in the hallowed grounds of the PMA, was an extremely difficult journey, especially the plebehood when during our time para kaming tumatama sa lotto kapag hindi kami nagugulpi ng mga upperclassmen sa loob ng isang araw. Sabi kasi nila noon, ‘he who does not learn to obey is not fit to command.’ As if we had a choice not to be with them.
But as we went through our being commissioned officers of the AFP and eventually as PNP officers and even in our second careers as elected officials, we have always managed to put that dictum into good use in performing our duties and leading our men in the field and in our offices.
Those were the most difficult and challenging days. Yet somehow, there was warmth and comfort in the cool mountain breeze and home in the pine-covered hills. Baguio, in all its glory, provides for an environment made most conducive to live and learn.
My cadet years may have long passed, but my regular visits to Fort Del Pilar and spontaneous retreat to the city have always been my meaningful repose. Suffice to say, Baguio City has always been my home.
No more than the residents of this city can attest to this. While many call Baguio an occasional “destination,” you proudly call it “home.”
But you and I would agree that it gets more challenging to live in a home where people balloon during the day, flock during holidays, even long weekends, drive cars that jostle into the streets and leave volumes of wastes.
There are many more telltale problems in the city: your tourist arrivals reach millions annually, from 1.5 million in 2017 to 1.8 million in 2018. You also stand as the fourth highly-urbanized city outside the National Capital Region with the most population density per square kilometer.
The picture of the “City of Pines” becomes even bleaker with pine trees dying by the day, 45 of which were proven to be killed intentionally early this month. The mountains are balding, and no less than the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) blamed the construction boom and expanding urban sprawl as the reasons for the decline of the city’s pine trees.
Like many developed cities, Baguio City has not been spared from new and challenging environmental concerns, such as the impact of increasing population, loss of green and open spaces, and waste management issues, to name a few.
Hence, the theme of your 110th Charter Anniversary poses a challenging call: “Nurturing the Environment for Sustainable Development.”
Needless to say, tourism brought significant changes in both Baguio City’s ecology and way of life. Now more than ever, you need to regain the glory of Baguio; you need to nurture your home.
And the very sense of home imbibes discipline, sustainability, and progress.
We find hope in the city’s institutionalized efforts to promote the “sense of home,” among which is the 6 o’clock habit when the city siren sounds for five minutes every single day to symbolically instill discipline, goodwill, peace, and unity among the populace of the city.
The “revitalization of the environment” as one of the city administration’s three-point priorities is also a welcoming start. Meaningful development programs like this must be the focus of local government officials as they gear towards sustainable development goals.
Allow me to quickly share. A few months ago, my team and I have come here to Baguio as part of our information drive on the equitable budget distribution intended for local government unit (LGU) development.
The empowerment of LGUs has been my personal advocacy, as demonstrated by the bill that I filed in the Senate, last Congress and in this Congress, known as the Budget Reform Advocacy for Village Empowerment (BRAVE).
In principle, this proposal intends to augment the development fund of provinces, municipalities, cities, even barangays, to create development opportunities and attain all-inclusive growth.
Taking off from the 2018 figures as an example, Baguio City had P150.5-million fund which can be utilized for local development programs, projects, and activities. This was 20% of the city’s P752.6-million share of the Internal Revenue Allotment from the national government.
Should BRAVE be enacted into law, we are looking at an additional P150 to 300 million to fund your development projects. That’s on top of the P150.5-million budget of Baguio for development. You can just imagine kung gaano karaming programa pa ang maipatutupad ni Mayor Benjie Magalong at ng buong city government para sa ikauunlad ng Baguio City.
I was told by my friend, Rep. Mark Go, that he’s going to file a counterpart bill in the House tomorrow. So let’s work for it together in both Houses.
Mayor Benjie Magalong, as I have known him, is a man who values results over excuses. He is a true leader who values integrity, honor and service to country and people.
I vividly remember the first time Mayor Benjie had told me that he was contemplating on running for office. His exact words were: “Sir, gusto kong bumalik at maglingkod sa sarili kong bayan.” With his exceptional record as a police officer and public servant, I am confident that the odds are going to be in his favor.
With him at the helm, I’m sure that Baguio City would be in good hands.
As I leave you this morning, allow me to underscore that any noble cause without collective action yields no progress. This must be the core of our sustainable development efforts as we reach our shared goal: “A Better Baguio.”
Again, happy 110th Charter Anniversary. Mabuhay ang Baguio City!