Growing up in Baguio: a collective memory

>> Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ramon Dacawi

Dummy swords, shred morning glory, of children at play among the ruins of man. -- From Freddie Mayo’s Session Road
BAGUIO CITY -- Those who grew up here share a collective memory of childhood that cuts through the generations. Recollections of boyhood - or girlhood - in Baguio often come in the form of anecdotes. They are stirred up by morning coffee or evening brandy inside watering holes along Session Road., the city’s main street which façade of stores are now changing.
We cling to memories for they are the tie that binds, at least for us children of Baguio’s formative and nostalgic years. Even our lowland and Metro-Manila counterparts trigger memories the moment they reiterate the obvious and take us to task over the loss of what was distinctly a mark of Baguio then.
They too pine for the loss of pine, that distinct, fresh and undeniable scent on their first ascent of Kennon Rd. that told them they were almost here. Still, they forget that the eventual fulfillment of that common yearning for a personal and private piece of the Baguio they embraced at first sight also has something to do with that loss.
Whoever comes up for the first time wants a piece of refuge and sanctuary in this temperate paradise. The knife cuts deeper whenever Baguio boys –and girls – who settled in the metropolitan jungles return to what was once their cherished turf and playground. They seek us out for old times’ sake, initially for the sharing of memories.
Suddenly, reunion coffee turns bland. Wine sours the moment they begin to demand to know what we who never left had or hadn’t done to mangle the once-familiar landscape they had left behind.
It’s difficult to nurse in silence the more painful wound opened by the insensibility and condescension of a boyhood buddy and fellow native who has just reappeared. So we get back at them, inflicting our own hurt, as the late fellow journalist Willy Cacdac did.
We stood our ground and tried to man the fort while you left and built a personal fortune, Willy reminded a former broadcast media colleague who had arrived for a high school reunion. The guy saw us inside the rebuilt Rose Bowl restaurant, came over to our table and poured his sentiment, asking us to account for lost pine.
Willy’s own diatribe silenced the visiting buddy who sheepishly returned to his own table to re-think his position. If he had pushed on, I felt sure Willy would have dared him back to Mt. Mary, that once thick pine stand where boyhood differences used to be settled through fisticuffs.
I had wanted to offer the guy an unsolicited advice: Share some of his millions earned to pay for a piece of remaining pineland, thereby saving it from subdivision developers coming in to build vacation houses.
For the generations of fellow newsboys and bootblacks who grew up to be newsmen, lawyers, doctors, politicians and such, then were those years until the 70s. Then was when it took our elders an hour just to walk up or down Session, the city’s short, inclined main street
Pedestrian and vehicle traffic was light then. Yet it took people time to walk through as they had to greet and chat with each other. Almost everybody knew everybody, either by name or face and which part of Baguio the other lived in. That was when Baguio was one neighborhood, not 128 barangays.
There were traffic lights and blue-uniformed traffic cops, true-blooded members of :Baguio’s Finest”. They were more for visitors who didn’t know when and where to cross and pass. Then was when the whole city – traffic and all – would come to a standstill at dusk, signaled by the siren blast from city hall. The angelus was always a surprising moment for visitors who could only wish it would also be restored back home somewhere down there.
Peppot Ilagan, who, three years ago, joined fellow newsman Freddie Mayo in the great newsroom in the sky, walked home from school to Jungletown, now Salud Mitra Barangay. Its original name was a misnomer, but which Baguio is turning into – of the urban, concrete kind. Peppot went to the public schools with Steve Hamada, my five-year editor at the Baguio Midland Courier.
Steve said he had to have a perfect class attendance for an A rating in math at the University of the Philippines College here. Peppot appeared only for the final exams and also got an A. “His formulas were not in our books but they were correct,” Steve swore.
Notwithstanding his mental gift, Peppot never learned to equate “squat” outside the comfort room or beyond the corporal punishment imposed by cadet officers for long hair, unpolished shoes and buckles during out ROTC Sundays. He married late and had to rent for his young family the basement of the home of school teachers Jose and Macrina Olarte at Aurora Hill.

(Note from the editor: Ramon Dacawi wrote this piece in this same section of the Northern Philippine Times in September 2007. We reprint it considering he is again on dialysis which he has to endure four times a week. For those who would like to get in touch with him, here is his cell number: 09167778103 or email:


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