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Baguio City: Then and Now (From a Monocultural Village to a Multicultural City)

This article relates the beginnings and developments of Baguio City, as well as the present issues and realities which the city encounters today!

 |  21 min read

via igorotage.com

Baguio City belongs to the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) in the Northern part of Luzon. This place has diverse people and culture because "most of the ethnic groups are concentrated on the northern mountain ranges of the Cordillera area." According to William Henry Scott, "Filipinos born on the Gran Cordillera Central are generally known as Igorots," and they were the earliest inhabitants of Baguio City, too. The developments of the place and its becoming a city intensified all the more these diversities due to the irresistible phenomena of migration and globalization. "Multiculturality", which characterizes the people in Baguio today, is one of the new forces that challenges and shapes the Church's missionary endeavors in the 21st Century.

Baguio City is the Summer Capital of the Philippines. It is typically described by both local and foreign travellers as "a highland in the Grand Cordillera in Northern Luzon, with pine trees, crisp cold breezes and low verdant knolls and hillocks." This has made the city very attractive to visitors, tourists, learners, and business-minded people all over the world. Accordingly, it "has made its mark as a premiere tourist destination in the Northern part of the Philippines with its cool climate, foggy hills, panoramic views and lovely flowers." To have a better grasp of the context of interculturality in this paper, let's dig deeper into the underlying backgrounds and developments of Baguio City. Throughout its history, Baguio has revealed how a small remote village turned into a highly urbanized settlement, from a "hill station to a highly urbanized center," and from a monocultural village to a multicultural city. There are diverse peoples and cultures living permanently and temporarily in the city. These diversities made Baguio City as a "melting pot of peoples and cultures." Estoque and Murayama admitted that, "The availability of essential urban services and facilities has helped transform the settlement into a summer capital of the country, a major educational and tourist center, the seat of regional government, and in recent years, an emerging industrial and health service center in the north."

Since the end of the 19th Century, many foreigners especially from the West were attracted to the natural beauty and cooler mountain towns in the highlands of South and Southeast Asia which includes the province of Benguet, where the city of Baguio is located. Benguet had been under the governance of Spanish colonizers which lasted for more than three hundred years (1521-1898) until the Americans came into the rescue in 1898. The coming of the Americans in the beginning of 1900s started the development of Kafagway, the original name of the place, which is later renamed Baguio. Baguio was designated as the capital of the then American-established civil government in the province of Benguet. In 1909, Baguio was decreed the second chartered city of the Philippines, after Manila.

Accordingly, Baguio has derived its name from the Ibaloi word "bigyiw", "which is a moss-like green plant that grew around the area where Burnham Park is now located." Baguio City is perceived as an "American creation" because the arrival of the American signalled the beginning of Baguio's development in structures and infrastructures. This all begun when the American Governor Luke E. Wright commissioned Architect Daniel H. Burnham to develop a plan, also known as "Burnham Plan", for health resort where the American soldiers and civilian employees could find a place of leisure and relaxation. This plan "paved way for rapid physical development" and envisioned a physical framework integrating the construction of road routes, parks, and amenities which could "accommodate up to 25, 000 people." Much of these developments still stand today as important historical landmarks in the city such as Burnham Park, Baguio Country Club, The Mansion, Teachers Camp, Kenon Road, and among others. The construction of Kenon road awakened the entry of immigrants in the city. Since the early 1900s, there were already different races and cultures working in Baguio. This is evident because "a motley of races manned this [Kenon Road] construction, notably Chinese, Japanese, British, Americans, natives of the Old Mountain Province, and Ilocanos from Eastern Pangasinan." The coming also of Catholic, Anglican, Seventh day Adventist, and other missionaries in the city marked Baguio as "the first place in the country where ecumenism took an early and firm root." These missionaries established several learning institutions, health centers, churches, and convents. Au Alambra affirms that the Baguio Cathedral is the true symbol of these faiths since during the time of its construction, all faiths-Anglican, Lutherans, Catholics, and even the natives contributed to its cause.

Baguio City has also experienced tremendous crises in the past, both natural and man-made. The Second World War left the city in total devastation. Similarly, the great 1990 earthquake massively shattered Baguio City and the neighboring provinces, which stalled all developments. However, "these did not deter its growth and development." Today, the city is transformed as "premier urban center north of Manila," and "restored the glory and status of its pre-earthquake years as the educational, tourism and commercial hub." In 2017, Baguio City was declared to be "the first Philippine city to be part of the global network," and it has been hailed as a "creative city" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its distinguished crafts and folk art.

Baguio City is situated in the province of Benguet, "approximately 250 kilometers north of Manila." Although it is a "chartered city," "Baguio is situated within the province of Benguet...being bounded by the municipalities of La Trinidad (the provincial capital of Benguet) in the North, Itogon in the Northeast, Tuba in the west, and Sablan in the northwest." It is politically and administratively divided into 129 barangays. Accordingly, "the area of the city is 49 square kilometers enclosed in the perimeter of 30 kilometers." The city's climate is characterized by the dry season (usually from November to April) and rainy season (May to October), and it is also famous of its cool climate ranging from 15 to 26 degrees Celsius.

As regards to accessibility, Baguio can be reached from the western lowland areas via three national roads: Naguilian Road, Kenon Road, and Marcos Highway. Likewise, it is accessible from the north eastern part through Halsema Highway and Ambuclao Road, and through the Baguio-Bua-Itogon Road from the eastern part. The easy access to Baguio City attracts visitors from other places which make the city always busy and compact. Having a small territorial land area, which was originally planned to accommodate 25, 000 individuals, the construction of establishments and residential houses have led to a more compacted city. Baguio's "high-impact development", however, did not consider the carrying capacity of the city, which brings problematic consequences.

The urbanization and development of the city brought both positive and negative effects. Among these negative effects are the environmental disintegration, pollutions, and other environmental-related problems. Baguio Herald Express admitted that "The continuous influx of people, either as tourists or to establish residence, translates to increased volume of motor vehicles, as the major cause of monstrous traffic congestions around major roads in the central business district and those streets leading to the different tourist destinations around the city." Nevertheless, the unstoppable influx of people in the city shapes new vitality on how to deal with the plurality of religious persuasions and cultures in the city. The emergence of these situations continuous to pose threats in the environment but at the same time, they convey challenges which are in need of immediate response.

Baguio City is one among the most populated cities in the Philippines. Based on the 2010 Census of Population and Housing (CPH), "Baguio City posted a total population of 318,676 persons as of May 1, 2010. This is larger by 66,290 persons compared to its total population of 252,386 persons counted in the 2000 CPH. The increase in the population count from 2000 to 2010 translated to an average annual population growth rate (PGR) of 2.36 percent. This is lower than the 3.26 percent annual PGR of the city between the census years 1990 and 2000." The city's population includes other native groups from across the country as well as foreign nationals who have opted to settle in the city. NSO reports that out of the 315,800 household population in 2010, females accounted for 51.2 percent while males comprised 48.8 percent. These figures resulted in a sex ratio of 95 males for every 100 females.

The population in the city is continuously increasing despite the fact that the city was historically and originally intended to house 25 to 30 thousand people only. In the abovementioned population total, Baguio City has gone almost to a twelve times increase and is unremittingly increasing. The continuous increase of population in the area consequently effects congestion and density escalation which brings with it corresponding complexities such as the greater land use and development, encroachment of forest reserves, continuous industrialization, the need for sustenance of socio-economic welfare in health and nutrition, education, public safety and protection, etc. Increase in population, especially through migration, also entails conglomeration of different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and ethnicities in the city. Indeed, "the city's population has now become diverse," which constitutes challenges on how to live and interact meaningfully in this kind of context.

Further, the city's population increase has also affected the atmosphere of social relations and interactions. The influx of diverse people in the city makes the city more and more multicultural, diverse, and pluralistic community. "During the peak of the annual tourist influx, particularly during the Lenten period, transients triple the population." Besides from the indigenous Cordillera dialects such Ibaloi, Kankana-ey, Bontok, Kalanguya and others, foreign languages are also spoken in the city. These various dialects and languages indicate that "significant migration has taken place, also accounting for the large population growth" in the city.

Thus, the on-going and unstoppable increase of population in the city demands necessary response not only from the government but more so with the Church. Dealing with issues intrinsic to the demographic rise, such as multiculturality, is equally important. The current demographic trend in the city calls for a theological response. This can be done through the aid of other natural sciences like sociology and anthropology. Social location is important and "anthropology has a crucial role to play in promoting a more humanistic vision of social change, one that respects the value of cultural diversity...it focuses on similarities and differences and human adaptive strategies."

Contemporary Realities and Issues Socio-cultural Realities- "The pace and manner of urban growth are closely linked to demographic dynamics" which characterizes the socio-cultural status of Baguio City. Essentially, social interactions of people in the city are wrought or conditioned by the characteristic of postmodernity. Globalization and migration are factors that led towards the shifts even in the city's social realities. Amir Mirfakhraie affirms that "Globalization can also be understood in light of the movements of immigrants, migrant workers, and refugees across the world. It has resulted in the intensification of cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity across the globe. Events in other parts of the world have had direct and indirect consequences for the social, economic, and cultural organizations of localities." Baguio City as a place of "encounter" between different cultures instigates to the growing anonymity between peoples. It is observable that one doesn't even know intimately his/her neighbor living next door. As such, the interactions and relationships are weakened to merely functional and superficial. It is functional or superficial for it renders limited significance. In result, the struggle for authentic intimacy and intersubjectivity is compromised.

As regards to family and kinship, they still exist in the city. However, due to the pressures in the city sphere, parents are more concerned about livelihood and financial assistance for their children. Children are left on their own to which their focus are limitedly directed on their education and peers. This reality is prompted by the assertion of Hierbert and Meneses that "Urban mobility, individualism and freedom are acids that erode family stability."

Culture is a very important part of human phenomenon and it means that everything a human being thinks or does is an aspect of a pattern or whole. Baguio, categorized as highly urbanized city, is significantly surrounded by this human phenomenon today. It was earlier affirmed that Baguio is a "melting pot of cultures". Mondal describes that "If villages are the symbol of cultural homogeneity, the cities symbolize cultural heterogeneity. The cities are characterized by diverse peoples, races and cultures. There is great variety in regard to the food habits, dress habits, living conditions, religious beliefs, cultural outlook, customs and traditions of the urbanites." Baguio is evidently a multicultural city and one could surely find anyone, from the local/tribal to the most modern and foreign, in the city.

The National Statistics Office reported that the city is predominantly occupied by Ilokano speaking people. "Ilokano is the predominant dialect in the city." Likewise, nearly one third of the population in Baguio City reported an ethnicity of Tagalog.

Of the household population in Baguio City in 2010, 32.8 percent reported Ilocano as their ethnicity. The others were reported as belonging to these ethnic groups: Tagalog and Kankanaey (11.7 percent each), Ibaloi/Ibaloy (6.7 percent), Applai (6.3 percent), Bontok (4.7 percent), Ifugao (3.3 percent), Bisaya/Binisaya (2.3 percent), Kalinga (1.8 percent), and others.

Undeniably, English is also widely spoken and understood in the city. It has been the medium of instruction in all public and private schools; and most newspapers and magazines are printed in English.

In terms of foreign citizenship, NSO reports that: Of the 1,932 foreign citizens who were enumerated in the city in the 2010 CPH, 26.2 percent were from South Korea. Foreign citizens from the United States of America comprised 25.3 percent, from China, 9.9 percent, from India, 7.3 percent, and from North Korea, 5.1 percent.

Indeed, there was a significant demographic increase of foreigners in Baguio which contributes to becoming a more multicultural and multinational city. Koreans and other foreign nationals increased in number for several reasons. Apart from being a tourist destination in the North, Baguio also functions as a leading "educational, trading, tourism, and administrative hub in northern Luzon." For these reasons, many move to the city to study, do business, or simply spend their holidays. Migration, therefore, is very much alive in the city today.

Migration is a very pressing social issue in the city. Many people from different walks of life come to the city. Seemingly, one may find answers in the city which provokes human existence like poverty. However, the issue of migration consequently carries innumerable challenges and also opportunities. This phenomenon reinforces the reality of multiculturality and religious plurality in Baguio City which need to be addressed.

Economic Realities-The City's economic credential is sustainable due to many opportunities found in the city. Its economy largely depends on commercial wholesale and retail services, which provides both employment and business taxes which generate substantial income for the city. Kottak believes that one of the questions which economists and anthropologists are concerned is "What motivates people in different cultures to produce, distribute or exchange, and consume? Here the focus is not on systems of behaviour but the individuals who participate in those systems." We shall limit our discussion with three pertinent aspects in the economic realities of Baguio City which consequently gives rise to multiculturality; namely, employment, health and education, and tourism.

Due to rapid industrialization and urbanization of Baguio, it swiftly gave rise to population surge because of migrating populace from all corners of the neighboring provinces and abroad seeking for employment. Some major economic activities in the city include commercial retailers, real state leaser/boarding house operators, services contractors, restaurants and cafes, and wholesalers. The city also hosts a special economic zone (SEZ) under Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) which caters nine foreign firms; the largest of these is Texas Instruments Philippines, Inc. There are also small medium scale handicrafts industries such as woodcraft, metal craft, garments production, food processing, and ceramics production with unique localized touch. Baguio City's income has been sustained by the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) coming from the national government and tax and non-tax revenues which supports the city's projects, public facilities and services. Annually, there is an increase of enrolees in private and public schools in the Baguio City. Education is another fast growing sector in the city which generates an average annual income of two billion pesos. It has helped the city's income since it caters both local and foreign students. Students prefer to study in Baguio not only because of the quality education and good standards of the learning institutions, manifested by the city's literacy rate of 98%, but also its cool conducive climate. Thus, the sector of education affects greatly the multicultural status of the city because of the fact that students, as well as teachers, come from different places and cultures around the globe.

Lastly, tourism also contributes much to the economic well-being of the city. Despite the historic 1990 earthquake and other financial setbacks in the City's economy, Baguio City remained the prime tourist destination in the North. The City boasts several tourist attractions including historical landmarks, cultural heritages, natural, religious, and man-made features, parks and gardens, and seasonal events and festivals such as the Flower Festival or Panagbenga. Alongside with the positive economic developments and realities in the city are also the negative consequences. Andrew Recepcion affirms that "Any big city is always characterized not only by positive realities of progress, multi-culturality, postmodernity, and upward mobility but also by negative situations of social inequality, criminality, prostitution, displacement, marginalization, traffic congestion, and pollution." Indeed, this is a reality in Baguio today which poses challenges to the Church's missionary activity.

Political Realities-Politics is an important aspect of human society. Hierbert and Meneses enumerated two social glues that hold the city together; namely money and power. Baguio City is not exempted of this reality for it sometimes drives politicians for these same reasons. Nevertheless, the political situation of Baguio City is relatively peaceful. Today, Baguio City does not only enjoy peaceful politics but also it was adjudged as one of the "safest cities in Southeast or East Asia given by NUMBEO."

The city's voting-age population (18 years and over) accounted for 65.7 percent of the household population of the city in 2010, up from 59.8 percent in 2000. People choose their best bet on election time and the citizens respect their elected officials. Among the politicians, they also establish cooperation and good rapport with each other. This is evident in the city government officials' collaboration in projects and other efforts for a better Baguio. Collaboration is beautifully indicated in the mission statement of the City Government, "We shall create a sustainable and enabling environment that will promote economic stability and ensure the general well-being of our citizenry."

Politicians have different ethnic and cultural tribes or origins. Most of those who seek political power are almost always the rich, influential, and popular. Tribal affiliations are also used to gain prominence and power. For example, Ibaloi citizens would often support an Ibaloi electoral candidate. This is one of the sad realities prevalent in the city which indirectly supports or reinforces the "palakasan system' and political dynasty.

However, there is a visible shift from traditional political-giants towards "rookie" politicians. There is also a growing people's recognition for politics-seekers from other cultural backgrounds or tribes. Thanks to this shifts, this brings fresh air to the political life in the city. The citizens are now asserting their political rights and views. Such vigor are essential in fighting against anomalies, corruption, opportunism, and injustices in the political arena.

Above all, both the politicians and city folks need a deeper awareness of the significance of cultural diversity in the political sphere. This can be realized through dialogue, constant appreciation of uniqueness, and respect of differences. Through this, Baguio City's dream to be a "home of diverse and dynamic cultures, center for education, trade and tourism in harmony with nature managed by God-loving steadfast leaders in partnership with responsible and peace-loving citizenry," can be fully realized.

Religious Realities-Religion, as an indispensable part and parcel of society, is a visible reality in Baguio City. History attests that since time immemorial, religion has always been present at every level of human society. Like any other human instinct that every person possesses, "religious instinct" is also a fundamental attribute to human consciousness. Kottak asserts, "Religion is a cultural universal because it has so many causes, effects, and meanings for the people who take part in it." In other words, religion is a part of culture to which the cultural diversities or differences are explicitly and implicitly revealed in religion.

Further, religion is instrumental in upholding order, and promoting and adapting to change. Kottak affirmatively claims that "Religion helps maintain the social and ecological order, but it can also promote change...religion plays a role in the adaptations of human populations to their environment." Religions are founded not only to guide and usher human beings for a greater appreciation of spiritual welfare, but also to foster grander quality of human existence. They promote values that are good, true, and beautiful for human flourishing. Religious beliefs offer people opportunities for a more morally upright society. "Religiosity is a basic socio-cultural characteristic that makes Filipino character distinct and unique as manifested likewise by Baguio residents." Based from the previous census and demographic statistical reports, the number of religious sects in the City has been increasing. Among the fifty three enumerated "religious affiliations" in the Baguio City 2010 Census, Roman Catholic is the predominant religion which constitutes 74.2 percent (or about 234,300 persons) of the household population. The next largest religious affiliation in the city was the Non-Roman Catholic and Protestant (National Council of Churches in the Philippines), comprising 5.3 percent of the household population. This was followed by the Evangelicals (Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches) with 5.2 percent, Iglesia ni Cristo with 3.7 percent, and Jehovah's Witness with 1.4 percent.

In as much that Baguio is a multicultural city, it is also religiously diverse. Religious pluralism is also a reality. In fact, even non-Christian religions are already present in the city such as Islam (2, 945 persons) and Buddhists (170 persons). These shifts in the religious sphere of the city are unimaginable before, but now it is a reality. Its continuous emergence cannot be stopped because Javier claims that "Twenty-first century is characterized by the emerging prominence of religion."

In the past decade, there was waning of the sense of religion and the sense of the sacred due to the fast pace introduction of technology and boom of modernization. The unprecedented lure of secularization affected the city folk's outlook and attitude towards religion. Secularization "as the dethronement of God and religion and the enthronement of science and technology," are manifested in Baguio City coated with a beautiful name called progress and development. Indeed, people in the city are so much fascinated with the latest discoveries and inventions of science and technology, and some people in the city would prefer playing gadgets, watching television, mall-shopping, or going to amusement parks over their religious and spiritual responsibilities. In result, they only go to God or to the church as their last resort and option; usually they turn to science and technology.

Religion has become a commodity, a commercialized institution where people could "drive-thru" and buy grace instantaneously. The establishment of malls has gradually substituted the place of the church (Cathedral) as the only previous "center" of the city. New centers were introduced which attract many, yet unknowingly, paralyzes the religious life of the city folks. Priorities were altered, and religion has become a less or even the least priority.

However, today new vitality of religious life is being recovered even among Baguio city residents. The shift of historical timeline from modernity to postmodernity brought both blessings and challenges. Thanks to the currents posed by postmodernity, it brought people's awareness to turn towards religion to find meaning and answer on the questions of human life. The busy and noisy atmosphere in the city reinforces the hunger for silence and intimacy with God. Today, people in the city of Baguio experience spiritual hunger too, a hunger that "longs for experiences and structures of meaning, purpose, and passion."

Today, there is a growing dynamism of city people's participation in religious activities, shown in the flourishing of different religious movements. The advent of religious pluralism indicates that people in the city are reclaiming their sense of the sacred and godliness. In the Catholic circles, many engage in different religious ministries, organizations, movements, and lay apostolates. Likewise, the young are growing in their appreciation of ecclesial involvement. However, there is still a need for rigorous evangelization and catechesis on their mission as members of the Church and as children of God not simply as "church goers".

In Baguio City where religious pluralism is evident, religious-Others are sometimes viewed as threats instead of allies and collaborators. This is a great challenge in the religious realm of city life. Contacts with the religious-other is inevitable. Today, one is living, studying, or working with religious-different people. Hence, a great recognition that "the religious-others offer us opportunities and challenges to experience global religious realities" is an imperative.



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