THE late former President Benigno S. Aquino III did not seem to like Baguio while he was president.
The one time the media waited for him was during the opening of a Jollibee branch at Harrison Road and while a huge crowd assembled there for four hours, he came and probably munched on a burger then left without even saying a word.
He didn’t entertain any of the local media during the rare times he came up.
Instead, he stayed in a two-storey building within the Mansion House compound, unlike other presidents before him who really entertained their guests, including the media, at the Mansion House.
There was even a time when he came up to Baguio aboard a sports car he drove himself, to the consternation of his guard. And then it was hide-and-seek with the media on where he went and in what place he dined that Christmas time.
But when by chance he once spoke of Baguio, it was with a bit of nostalgia.
In one of his last speeches here in March 2016, he said that he often came up to Baguio when he was a child.
Before Martial Law, the Aquinos were often in Baguio back when his father was a senator.
He recalled how busy his father Ninoy was then in Manila and it was rare when he would come home at 9:00 PM. He would come home with siopao and spend precious time with his children.
“Sa Baguio ho, madalas nagbakasyon kami ‘yung mga panahon bago ‘nung Martial Law at pagdating sa Baguio parang kumpletong normal kaming pamilya, di ba. Sabay kayong nagsisimba parati, lahat ng needs: almusal, tanghalian, hapunan, magkasama kayo, dadalhin niya ako para mangabayo o kaya ‘nung panahon na ‘yun, hanggang ngayon meron pa ho ‘di ba, may boating sa Burnham Park. (In Baguio, we often came here on vacation, before Martial Law and in Baguio, we seemed to be like a normal family. We all went to church together: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we were complete. He would bring me to go horseback riding and, is it still there? we would go boating),” he said.
And then, President Aquino moved time and said that when he was already in college, he was allowed to go to Baguio with his friends.
He recalled driving his car up to Baguio at age 18 and already feeling like an adult.
So, ikwento ko ho sa inyo isang beses, ‘yung una namin pagpunta dito, sa totoo lang may konting daya ano. Nagluto ho sa bahay namin ‘nung kakainin namin dito, tapos — ‘yung half-cooked, kaya pagdating dito halos ipapainit mo na lang.
In his recollection, he interspersed with the reality of Martial Law. He would recall visiting his father at his detention cell in Manila and then go up to Baguio.
One time, they went up to Baguio without their half-cooked meals and instead brought with them canned goods.
Nagluto po sila ng pagkain, so may dala-dalang de lata, kumuha ng kawali, nilagyan ng tubig yung kawali, ipinatong ‘yung de lata doon sa kawaling may tubig, pinaandar ‘yung gasera. Sabi nila, “yan iinit na ‘yan.” Di uminit nga ho. Hindi naman binuksan ‘yung lata, sumabog ‘yung lata – punong-puno ‘yung kisame. Siyempre hindi na namin kinuwento sa mga magulang namin na hindi pa kami ganun kagaling. (They cooked their food, brought their canned goods, brought out their pans, added water to it and placed the cans in it then lit the stove. So they said, that will heat up and it did but they didn’t open the cans so they exploded and hit the ceiling. Of course, we didn’t tell this to our parents – that we were bad cooks).”
Another time he talked about Baguio was almost at the same time when he accompanied the Liberal Party.
He said he felt depressed coming up here when taking his walk because he noticed the trees in the pine forest getting thinner every time.
He also said that back when he was young, he could smell the pine trees on his way up at Kennon Road but that it wasn’t the case now. Or in this case, 2016.
He also remembered going to Crystal Cave with torches. Now it’s the heavy houses sinking in that area because of bad planning.
What PNoy was not saying was that he was constantly in touch with the late Bishop Carlito Cenzon in the greening of Baguio.
It was PNoy who helped fund the fencing of Burnham Park to deter tree cutters inside the park. Families and corporations also helped fund the fencing.
PNoy also helped fund the reforestation within the city during Bishop Cenzon’s time.
Compare this with the only time President Duterte decided to sleep in Baguio. It was in his first year before the PMA Graduation. He came in the afternoon and was supposed to sleep at the Mansion House.
But he said it was too cold there and decided to sleep at the Camp John Hay Manor. Since then, it was fly-in-fly-out for him.
But on that only visit, Duterte’s entourage took an interest in the Cordillera House in front of the Mansion.
For a long time, this was the home of the Philippine Information Agency – Cordillera.
It was a quaint wooden building where many of the Malacanang Press Corps used to stay. It also became the favorite haunt of the local media, so much a circular dap-ay was built there for bonfires on the cold nights.
That day in 2017, Malacanang men came to the place and found it wanting. They said that it was rickety. But then it was Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea who observed it and what wooden house would not become rickety when Medialdea walked inside it anyway?
So the house was condemned and set for development. It was supposed to be turned into a modern summer house of the Executive House and is still under construction now.
PIA is now only starting to construct its own building, after looking for another suitable site since 2017.
Baguio sees these two presidents. One a pilgrim, who felt bitter at times but quietly did something about the problem he saw. The other, just a tourist.