Forbidden Histories: A Tour of Restricted but Historically Important Places in Baguio
Frank Cimatu takes us on a subversive but enlightening tour of some of Baguio’s historical sights.
I was sitting beside US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas as he was reading to about 60 elementary students. The room was very American, with portraits of George Washington and other U.S. Founding Fathers on the walls. Beside Thomas is a fireplace. There are even red-white-and-blue buntings outside the porch.
What makes this place different from other American offices is a large painting of what looked like 60 soldiers sitting and standing in front of a long table. I later learned that this was painted by the great Fernando Amorsolo. It is a painting of the surrender of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita known all over the Pacific as the Tiger of Malaya in September 1945. The room where the reading was is the place where this historic event happened.
And you can't just include this to your "Historic Tour of Baguio." We were at the Ambassador's Residence in Camp John Hay. By diplomatic rules, it is American territory. When the Americans handed Camp John Hay to the Philippines in 1991, the Ambassador's Residence was the only area they took with them. You can only come in through official invitation from the ambassador.
Some members of the media and other people who thought they can just barge in during Christmas parties or other official events uninvited were left at the gate.
By my quick look-through at the residence, I saw what seemed to be other Amorsolos in the house. There is also a library and some bedrooms. The place was built in 1940 to house the American High Commissioner during the Commonwealth Period. The architectural design was Southern Plantation and 1930 Modernism. What I first thought of as ivy scaling the walls were actually old bougainvilleas. During the war, the building was taken by the Japanese and became one of the headquarters of their generals. In 1945, it was returned to the Americans and became the summer home of the US Ambassador.
There are other places in Baguio which are also greatly historical but are restricted from tourists, and even to Baguio residents.
One is Brent School, which is located where else, but in Brent Road.
An old carved table that was shipped from the US was part of the table where Yamashita signed his surrender. There are other relics in the Brent Museum which can bring you back to more than a hundred years ago at the advent of the American occupation.
Episcopalian priest Charles Henry Brent came with William Henry Taft in 1902 and was brought to the Philippines. Brent emphasized education instead of religion and started Brent School for the children of the Americans in 1909 and Easter School for the Igorots even earlier, in 1906. The Brent students were children of American pioneers in the Philippines like Cameron Forbes, Eusebius Halsema and even Ike Eisenhower. If Easter School is the first private school in Baguio, Brent School is the first boarding school not only in the Philippines, but in Southeast Asia.
Ogilby Hall, one of the original structures, is still there, and is the oldest wooden building in Baguio. Other pre-war structures in Brent include Amos Hall (built 1914), Binsted Hall (1913), Bishop Mosher Cottage (1930), Hackett Hall (1927) and St. Nicholas Chapel (1925).
Life in Brent in the early 1970s was retold by friend Mark Walther in his blog, Waldo Wanders. Brent remains one of the most expensive schools in the country and tourists are not allowed, although there were plans to include it in the Baguio Heritage Tour.
Another off-limits place is actually one of the most famous houses in Baguio.
You must have watched the Regal Shocker movie, White House. Yes, that house where the Addams Family would gladly call their Philippine house, but some of my psychic friends said that they see nothing unusual with the house located near the Brent Circle.
It was built in 1920 as the home of the Laperals, one of the most influential Baguio pioneers at that time. They also own the Laperal Mansion beside Malacanang Palace which was seized by the Marcoses and is still used by the current occupants of the palace.
The Laperal House was bought by Lucio Tan and no one knows about the fate of the house, which is unfortunate because the house is well kept, with an American Colonial exterior while the wooden interior showcases Art Deco and Spanish influences.
And because this is Baguio, the fireplace will make you stare, with or without a fire.
The Hans Menzi Mansion along Outlook Drive is another must-see in the Can-Not-Be-Seen Tour.
It was owned by the Manila Bulletin publisher and Marcos aide-de-camp Hans Menzi, but all people here knew that it was owned by the Marcoses. This is even the place where the Marcoses partied.
Sequestered by the PCGG when the Marcoses left, it again hogged the headlines in 1998 when PCGG announced that the Marcos gold could be hidden in the mansion.
Security became tight because treasure hunters began to dig beside it. Come to think of it, even Brent became a target of these so-called Yamashita treasure hunters, that is why security is also tight there.
Recently, the government announced that the Hans Menzi Mansion is up for sale. Maybe we can finally view this favorite Marcos haunt.
Another place on our list is the Baguio Cemetery along Naguilian Road, and again for historical and not gothic reasons.
In February 1945, the Americans troops where on an offensive against the last Japanese holdover, Gen. Yamashita's Shobu Group. Northward from Manila to Pangasinan, the Americans during that summer were pushing the Shobu Group so they could reach Baguio, which was then the headquarters.
The Japanese then were passive, but one Japanese garrison in the Irisan Gorge where the cemetery is now decided to fight it out. On April 27, the "Battle of the Irisan Gorge" ended in favor of the Americans, but it was said to be one of the deadliest. It is ironic or apt that it had to happen in the cemetery.
Our Forbidden History tour would continue to Kiangan, Ifugao where the last of the Shobu Group fell. And in a roundabout way, on September 1945, the surrender of Yamashita was held in the Ambassador's Residence, where you cannot go.
The Accessible Histories: the Museums in Baguio and Benguet
1) The Baguio Benguet Museum below SM Baguio and near the Baguio City High School. Still a work in progress for decades. There are lots of old Baguio photos and Cordillera artifacts. A campaign is on to get more electronic and print books for the library. What makes this interesting are the occasional curated exhibits.
2) Bencab Museum. National Artist Bencab is also an astute collector of Cordillerana. His collection of lime containers called tabayag was made into a book, and some can be seen here. His bul-ul wall is one of the most impressive displays I have seen. Cordillera furnitures are all around. And Bencab being Bencab, look for his Erotic Room.
3) Aguinaldo Museum at Happy Glen. President Emilio Aguinaldo never slept here but the Aguinaldo collection including photos, clothes, and a wheelchair is here. The centerpiece is the ornate Philippine flag said to be the first official presidential flag.
4) Saint Louis Museum. The museum contains Cordillera artifacts collected by SLU priests for almost a century. Museum director Ike Picpican can give you a thirty-minute lecture on Cordillera artifacts.
5) The Philippine Military Academy Museum. The evolution of the uniforms, the photographic history of the academy, and photos of the classes are among the attractions here.
6) The Teacher's Camp Museum. Learn about the Thomasites and how the Igorots learned to play baseball and speak in English.
7) The Capitol Museum at La Trinidad is filled with Benguet artifacts and readings. Curiously, it also houses the most extensive coin and paper bill collection in the region.
8) The Ibaloi Living Museum in Loakan is still starting its collection. It wants to be a living museum where photos of Ibalois, the first settlers of the city, all over the world are exhibited and replaced every year.
9) The Baguio Media Museum at Sumulong Street. Art Tibaldo wants to give a tribute to his fellow media colleagues, as well as give hands-on training on animation and broadcasting to students.
10) The photo collections of old Baguio by Boy Yniguez at Hillstation Restaurant and the McCanns of Mountain Lodge are worth the wait for the food.
Basta Pinas, Napintas!
Frank Cimatu is a Palanca-Award-winning poet and a correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. His CV lists him as a "poet, blogger, NGO worker, editor, newspaper reporter, art critic and eventologist."
Go to list of Baguio City resorts and hotels