Looking for Halsema

>> Monday, November 7, 2016

March Fianza

            The road space fronting Cooyeesan and the strip along the opposite side have become private parking areas but for some reasons we do not know, the police does not care to question that, more so with our public officials.
            Has a road been sold to become the parking lot of a building? Even an unattached Baguio returnee who comes up to recall memories of love ones at the cemetery notices this – pauses and in a fleeting moment asks what has become of this beloved city.
            Then the Manila-based Baguio soul passes the main gate of the cemetery manned by half a dozen policemen who frisk every corner of his wandering eyes. He sees cut grass inserted between unknown graves.
from it. Can a city with overflowing funds for garbage disposal in Tarlac allot a little money for cleaning the cemetery? No. Nobody thinks about that since All Saints Day and All Souls Day only come once a year.
I first looked for the burial grounds of Mayor Eusebius Julius Halsema and his wife Marie Boesel Halsema before lighting candles on the graves of my folks. What stirred me so was to see for myself if the grave of the first American mayor of Baguio was cleaned from the last time I saw it the other year. It was not.
  Baguio’s first colonial mayor was an engineer volunteer for the Bureau of Public Works before getting appointed as such. He developed many parts of the charter city and served as district engineer of Benguet at the same time.
It was during his term as mayor when city roads were widened and the first light airplane landed at the Loakan airfield. But the most important and most famous work by Halsema was the construction of the Mountain trail that was later named after him.
Mind you, the mountain highway’s name was changed to Ninoy Aquino Highway but the Igorots who traverse it daily refuse to recognize the replacement becauyse they know history.
Halsema started carving a mountain road in 1919 while he was Baguio mayor, city engineer and district engineer of Benguet. Although enveloped by fog most of the time, the slippery road was opened to vehicular traffic in 1930.
It was also during his time when the Asin hydro-electric plant was built to energize a lumber sawmill that supplied Pine timber to the gold mines in Benguet. By the way, it puzzles us today how the Baguio government came to be the “owner” of the Asin hydro-electric plants.
Not even the Americans who built it do not have any single document to show that it was turned over to the city. The only connection that links it to the city was that it was built by the first American mayor and first Benguet district engineer, and energized the old city hall and a private sawmill at Tadiangan, Tuba. But it was built and operated on Tuba soil.    
On March 15, 1945 the Japanese bombers came but Halsema preferred to stay in a room next to the doctor's office as he was recovering from a bout of dysentery. He was killed when bombs hit the hospital, his body crushed under the concrete walls.
Somewhere in a forgotten spot just a few yards from the center section of the Baguio Cemetery, one used to read the original epitaph “Baguio is his monument” on the cement slab of Mayor EJ Halsema’s grave.
Again, for no good reason, somebody changed the epitaph to “The mayor who engineered Baguio City”. Eeeew! How it destroys history – in just the same way when the names of some of Baguio’s city streets are changed to satisfy the whims of politicians.   
There were four other Americans who were appointed as mayors for Baguio during its formative years before EJ Halsema took over from February 7, 1920 to May 31, 1937. They were E. W. Reynold (September 1, 1909 - February 5, 1910), E. A. Eckman (March 1, 1910 - April 1913), A. D. Williams (May 24, 1913 - May 16, 1918) and C. S. Dandois (June 10, 1918 - December 19, 1919).
By all means, the past administrators could have wanted that nobody tampered with the blueprint development of Baguio as envisioned by the urban planner Architect Daniel Burnham and wished for by genuine Baguio folks. The simple Burnham plan that was closest to the hearts of Baguio people was sustained by Mayor Halsema.
The old city was closest to nature – not too much concrete, no overcrowding, no traffic jams, no squatters and no TSA applications over forest lands, no serious garbage problem, no leasing of public parks, no private management at the skating rink, and no parking construction under Melvin Jones. But that’s not now if you look around.
The grasses around Halsema’s marble marker are tall as that corner of the cemetery has been neglected for a long time. After all the initial improvements, the city and its officials can stop cleaning Halsema’s graveyard, anyway they get no further benefit


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